Foster, adoptive, birth families celebrated
Four incredible families received PCSAO’s Family of the Year award at a luncheon today, the final day of the annual conference.
The conference theme, “The Journey Home: Partnering for Permanency,” was fitting for these foster, adoptive and birth families who are providing permanency and stability for their children.
Ashley Bryner and Family, Trumbull County – Birth Parent
Ashley’s story is one that’s all too common since the opiate epidemic hit Ohio, and the story is best told in Ashley’s own words: “While using, I conned everyone that I could to get money: Playing the victim that the boys needed stuff, having other people pay my bills so I could use my paycheck on dope. I was living in an apartment with shutoff notices for utilities and rent and car payments past due. I had a mental breakdown looking up rehabs on my phone and calling every one of them – but no one would get me in. I went home and forced a friend to take me to the hospital where I claimed to be suicidal so they would hold me.”
Today, nearly three years later, Ashley is clean and sober! She completed a year-long Family Dependency Treatment Court program, became involved in the twelve-step community, finished a residential program, regained custody of her two sons, Rylei and Robert, and is consistently employed. Because of Ashley’s success and commitment to her recovery, she was invited to be among the first to serve in Trumbull County’s Primary Parent Partnership Program. There, she works alongside a caseworker with families who have open child protection cases. She is an advocate, a mentor, a person parents can relate to and lean on for support.
Ashley’s transformation has been remarkable. As she tells it: “I went from unemployable to employable. The first thing I’ve ever completed was rehab and Family Dependency Treatment Court. I no longer lie. I know who my kids are and what they like today. My actions are based on whether they will hurt other people or not. I no longer blame others for the things I go through.”
Jeff Dubitsky and Family, Lorain County – Foster and Adoptive Parent
Five years ago, Jeff Dubitsky felt conflicted, frustrated by the uncertainty that comes with fostering children in our system. A brand-new foster dad, Jeff wanted to do the right thing for children even as his convictions were challenged by multiple court hearings, attempted reunifications, and the seemingly endless waiting demanded by our complex processes. Despite questioning the agency’s methods, Jeff hung in there for Chase, the foster child whom he ultimately adopted.
Shortly after, Jeff agreed to foster three young brothers, then aged three and under – and all with significant medical challenges and developmental delays. As with Chase, the boys thrived in his care and bonded with him. However, Jeff ended up taking off so many days from work to attend to their doctor appointments that he lost his job. After five months, the boys were reunified with their mother but returned to foster care with Jeff very soon afterwards. Seven months later, another reunification was attempted and failed. Finally, the birth mother asked Jeff to adopt her sons, knowing that he would see that their needs were met even though she did always see eye to eye with him. She brought Mikey, Tristan, and Tyler to him. They were excited and happy to see him again. Birth mother and adoptive father hugged and cried together. He promised to care for them always, and she knew he would.
Jeff makes special efforts to maintain contact with Chase’s older sister and with the other boys’ birth mother. He has a strong support network of family and friends. Despite his initial frustration with the child welfare system, Jeff maintained his dedication to these four boys, putting their needs before his own.
Bill and Penny Guelsdorf, Fairfield County – Foster and Adoptive Parents
Fostering is a family affair at the Guelsdorf home, where 11 people currently live and love and support one another. Bill and Penny became foster parents 15 years ago. Since then they have fostered 17 children and adopted two sibling groups – for a total of five adopted children who now range in age from 10 to 19. Currently, they are fostering a sibling group of three ranging in age from 3 to 7 years old.
Last year, the Guelsdorfs volunteered for an agency pilot program aimed at increasing support for children who have experienced trauma. This has been no small task. They have opened their home to a therapist on a weekly basis, increased contact with their foster children’s biological family, and committed to mentoring and providing respite for the birth mother upon reunification. Already adoptive parents five times over, the Guelsdorfs are intensively focused on reunification for foster children. They invite the children’s mother to attend their church, provide transportation to and from visits, involve her in doctor appointments and school functions, and regularly provide parenting tips when she struggles. They readily accept feedback from the professionals in their home and are being trained as trauma-informed parents. Their adult children and new son-in-law are also part of the Guelsdorf team that helps keep everything running smoothly in a busy household.
Bill and Penny recognize that young adults with a history of trauma need greater support as they enter adulthood, so they have been in no hurry to empty their nest. For their older adopted children, they continue to offer a nurturing environment and unconditional love. They exemplify commitment to children who have not always been able to trust adults. For Bill and Penny, they know their role is for a lifetime.
Michael Mills, Summit County – Birth Family
Michael Mills – known to the agency as “Mr. M” – has spent almost half of his 58 years in and out of prison. To his older children, he was an absent parent. Another child he was raising as his own was placed for adoption due to the mother’s substance abuse and Mr. M’s criminal history. Losing that child was a wakeup call for Mr. M. He spent his final term in prison making changes in his life, earning a barbershop license and successfully completing parenting classes. Upon his release, he fathered another child, Anthony, who was born late last year.
Born addicted to drugs, Anthony was removed from his mother’s care. Mr. M saw this as a chance to do right by one of his children. He attended every scheduled visit, bringing toys and clothes for Anthony. He prepared his home in anticipation of Anthony coming to live with him. He called the caseworker regularly to check on Anthony and get updates. He developed a positive relationship with the foster parents and worked with them to meet Anthony’s needs. He completed the county’s fatherhood program this spring and was granted temporary custody.
Mr. M is an attentive and nurturing father. He ensures that Anthony receives the medical and therapeutic attention he needs and takes him along to the barbershop and on speaking engagements for the fatherhood program. In June, Mr. M received legal custody of Anthony, and the agency is confident that he will provide the child with the loving home he deserves.