The Texas foster care system is not perfect. We’ve all heard stories about children bouncing around from one foster placement to another, or kids who are in and out of the system – as if going through a revolving door.
But that’s not the intent. Marissa Gonzalez is a spokesperson for Child Protective Services.
“When a child first comes into foster care, it is temporary,” she says. “The whole idea is for them to be safely reunited with their parents.”
But how long will a child stay in foster care is anyone’s guess.
Eve is the daughter of Courtney Meeks and William Welch. We met the couple last fall when they were homeless and dealing with addiction – months before Eve’s birth. Eve is currently in foster care.
From the day Eve was born – almost six months ago – a host of people have made decisions on her behalf trying to achieve her best interest. Although her parents are around, they’ve had very little input in these decisions.
First, doctors released Eve’s mother, Courtney Meeks, from the hospital – but kept baby Eve.
“She was a little premature and underweight, and her and I may have HIV so they are waiting on the test results,” Meeks said on the day she was released.
Eve stayed in the hospital’s neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a couple of weeks. Then, Child Protective Services took over her care, because Meeks tested positive for drugs. A month later when Meeks was able to secure a spot in a rigorous rehab program and showed progress in her treatment, Eve was able to join her mother.
William Welch, Eve’s dad, and I met Meeks and baby Eve during drug court one day.
Eve is a calm baby. Court went on for hours and Eve hardly ever fussed. “She’s a good baby,” Meeks said. Even Eve’s foster mother said so.
The foster mother had nine other kids, but she told Courtney that Eve was the best behaved.
I can’t verify that Eve, as an infant, was one of 10 kids under the care of a single foster family. That type of information is zealously guarded by privacy laws and CPS. But it’s not unheard of – that good foster parents are often asked to go above and beyond.
That day in court, Meeks had graduated from part of the program and was able to move into a sober house with baby Eve. Meeks’ room was not much cooler than the weather outside: hot.
Eve was asleep. Her face looked round and pink. Her legs had folds in them.
“She just went to the pediatrician on Friday,” Meeks said. “She’s getting chunky.”
Meeks looked at ease, her skin looked healthy. She had just baked a cake. It was her 30th birthday.
“I was thinking about maybe going into culinary school [to] do cooking stuff because I love to cook,” Meeks said.
Back when she was homeless, Meeks told me what she missed the most about being in a house was having a kitchen. While in rehab, meals were provided for her. But at the sober house, the kitchen was her playground.
“I’m like, ‘I can cook what I want! I can eat what I want,’” she said.
A few minutes later Eve woke up and Meeks went back to being mom.
But that night, my phone wouldn’t stop dinging with text messages from Meeks’ partner William Welch: “Courtney is at the hospital. No one will tell me what’s wrong. She overdosed. I don’t know who can take Eve.”
He was also at a sober home and wasn’t allowed to take the baby. The last message of the night said “Eve back with CPS.”
Marissa Gonzalez, the CPS spokesperson, says the first goal after CPS removes a child is reunification – finding a way for the birth parents to be able to care for their kids. For Meeks, that meant going back to rehab. At court again, she whispered into her attorney’s ears: “If I stay for 90 days could Eve be with me the last 60 days?” Her attorney responded: “Possibly.”
That didn’t happen. Meeks overdosed again.
Today, she has a crucial CPS hearing in court that will determine what’s next for Eve.
“They can either return to their parents, they can go to someone else permanently, another family member permanently, or they can be freed up for adoption or they can just be placed in CPS’s permanent custody,” Gonzalez says. “And so the outcomes for those children differ widely depending on what the permanent decision is about custody that the court makes for them.”
A permanent decision is usually made one year after a child is in CPS care – officials don’t want kids to go through the system’s revolving door indefinitely.