Written by Washington Foster Team
For many biological parents and children in the child welfare and foster care systems, life isn’t about second chances. It’s about third and fourth chances.
For Jason Bragg, the first time he sought help taking care of his son, he was turned down. Now, he’s making sure fathers in his situation always have somewhere to go.
Missed Opportunities For Help
In the summer of 2011, Jason Bragg heard a knock at the door of his mother’s house, where he and his son were staying. It was a CPS investigator, inquiring about a claim Bragg’s partner had made about him abusing their son.
Bragg was caught by surprise. He hadn’t done anything to his son. In fact, he had recently separated from his son’s mother. Bragg had made it 90 days clean and sober, but she continued to use and he wanted no part of it.
The investigator found no evidence of abuse, but Bragg saw the meeting as an opportunity to get help. “I got vulnerable with the worker and shared that I had been about 90 days clean and that I'd like to be connected with some treatment services and parenting classes. I wanted to be held accountable,” says Bragg.
But he didn’t get the help he needed that day. “She informed me that they had families with bigger issues than mine and that there was no help for me,” Bragg remembers. Four months later, he relapsed.
Battling A Relapse
When Bragg relapsed, he began seeing his son less and less frequently. His mother took care of the boy as Bragg dipped in and out of jail.
Eventually, he had another meeting with CPS. This time, they were taking his son. While Bragg went into a family drug court program, his son would officially live with his grandmother.
It would be 15 months before Bragg would finally get his son back. He kicked the addiction after just a few months, but it would take nearly a year of hard work to get through the remaining roadblocks in the system.
Bragg’s life became a swirl of meetings, appointments, services, and court dates. A lack of transparency from caseworkers and other programs made it a full-time job just to stay on top of what was expected of him. Adding to the complexity were challenges of a job and transportation.
He had no job and a revoked license, so he relied on public transportation. Using the bus to get to appointments around the city added hours to his days and made it impossible for him to hold down a steady job.
“As far as having a full-time or even a part-time job, it's next to impossible. You don't have any control over when the department schedules meetings. You don't have any control over when they tell you you need to go,” says Bragg.
Eventually, Bragg made it through and was reunited with his son, over a year after they were separated. But the experience had changed him. He wanted to help other parents going through the same thing and act as an advocate he knew they would need.
Helping Others, Supporting Reunification
“When I came into the system, I didn't know what a nurturing father was. I didn't have a father at home.” — Jason Bragg
Today, Bragg contracts with the Washington State Office of Public Defense (OPD) and their Parent’s Representation Program. He provides social services to families involved in the dependency system. In addition to his work with OPD, he works with fathers through a program called Father’s Engagement to teach them how to navigate all the various parts of the dependency system.
He also acts as an advocate for biological parents by helping foster parents understand how they can support reunification. For Bragg, it’s about putting yourself in the shoes of a child’s parents.
“You have to do some real deep soul searching and ask yourself why are you here? Are you here to save the children from terrible parents? Because you have to remember those parents are someone else's children too,” says Bragg.
Bragg makes it clear that fostering isn’t limited to supporting a child, it’s about supporting a family. When you support the family, it helps to build strong communities that come back around in a cycle to help support other families.
He advises, "Foster parents have to ask, 'What can we do?' They have to use their voice and say, 'Where are these visits for those parents? Why don’t the parents have any food for visits? How can they get food? What can the department help them with?’ ”
As someone who has been separated from his child, Bragg knows why reunification is so important. “I was talking to a guy from 60 Minutes and he asked me ‘Why do parents deserve an extra chance?’ The truth is we don't. We've messed up many, many times,” Bragg says. “The person that deserves another chance is my son, the chance to be raised by his father.”
For more information and advice on reunification, click here to read our full, in-depth guide. Then, when you're ready to start the process of becoming a foster parent, download our free checklist on preparing your home and family for foter care.