The inseparable bond between Stephani Kuykendall and her son, Mason, age 5, is immediately apparent.
Their love for one another is so tangible that it’s very hard to imagine that they have ever been separated. Yet as strong as that love is, Kuykendall’s drug addiction was almost as powerful. Twice she had Mason taken away from her when addiction triumphed. But today they are reunited. As determined as she was to win back her parental rights, Kuykendall agrees she could not have done it without resources within her own community.
“I found the right people, or they found me,” she says. “They stuck by me when I relapsed, and I know they will always be there for us.”
“They” included two advocates from Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA); Mason’s foster care “mom”; and caring individuals from the treatment and justice systems. “I don’t know where I’d be today without them,” she says as she watches Mason race around the playground. “Mason is my whole life.”
When a child is removed from their home for abuse or neglect, the court appoints a CASA representative to advocate on their behalf. In Kuykendall’s case, a drug overdose led to Mason’s removal from her home. Sheryl Thierry, Clark County CASA Program Director, recalls how she first met Stephani at a family planning session.
“I was so impressed by her protective nature towards her son and her dedication for resolving the situation,” Thierry says.
CASA and a social worker recommended that Kuykendall enter Family Treatment Court, part of the state judicial system. The court accepts parents who are undergoing addiction recovery. It offers “wrap-around” services to reunite them with their children. Kuykendall’s rapid recovery soon convinced the court to allow Mason to leave foster care to live with her.
“Stephani came into Family Treatment Court acknowledging her addiction and not only how that had led to the removal of Mason from her care, but the impact her decisions had on him,” says Judge Jennifer Snider, who presided as a court commissioner over Stefani’s journey through Family Treatment Court. “She became a role model to others in the program.”
“CASA’s advice to enter Family Treatment Court really saved us,” Kuykendall says.
Come back to our blog to read more how CASA continued to support Stephani and Mason despite the challenges that COVID brought on.
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