TACOMA -- Dozens of families celebrated Reunification Day at a park in Tacoma. This is a party for families who were previously torn apart by addiction, domestic violence or possibly mental health issues. They’ve been reunited after months of work in classes and programs through the courts. While it looks like any other family reunion, these families worked so hard to get to this point.
“It took about two years, but I finally got my daughter back,” said Ashlee Campbell.
Campbell says domestic violence and an addiction to drugs separated her from her little girl. But this celebration is about family, and not just their own, but countless other families in Pierce County. They were supported by faces they would normally see in a courtroom: social workers, even judges, like Phil Sorensen of Pierce County Superior Court.
“These are families that were completely disrupted; broken. And they’ve been through hard work, of the parents and hard work of social workers and other professionals, but really hard work of the parents. And real patience on behalf of the kids who have hung with their parents through thick and thin and are excited about being back with them,” says Sorensen.
The road to reunion is not easy.
“Maybe it involves drugs and alcohol, maybe it involves domestic violence, maybe it involves mental health issues or general lack of parenting skills or being adept at parenting. They’ve got to take classes. They’ve got to go through treatment. In some cases, they are assessed for what they do well and don’t do well. They are expected to address those issues,” says Sorensen.
“It’s a really close-knit little community once you’re involved in it, so we get really personal. We get to know each other quite a bit, so I’m glad to see them here. It makes me feel special that they’d take time out of their day to come say 'Congratulations,'” says Campbell.
Campbell says now that she has her daughter back, she feels it’s time for her to give back to other families facing the same challenges.
“I just want to advocate for addicted parents. Get out there and get some help. You can do it. We’ve done it. There are people, that are here, that are willing to help you. They are not here to harm you,” says Campbell.
Judge Sorensen says the way it works is that over the course of time, there’s a reunification and a temporary placement of the kids back with their family to see how things go. After six months or so, if everything is going well, there’s an actual reunification and they are left to be a family without supervision from the state.