It started with a willingness to just take one baby in need of help. Cristina had lost her husband, but lived with her son. At this time, her brother needed her help with his children because the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in Boston, MA had removed them both.  A Kinship family connection began.  

She asked the department to give them to her as a kinship family. This process took so long that DCF decided to unify the children with their parents.

Meanwhile, Cristina enrolled in the Trauma-Informed Partnership for Safety and Permanency: Model Focus Classes for Partnerships in Parenting (TIPS-MAPP) class that was presented by DCF so that she could become a foster parent. Meanwhile, she learned a lot about how the system works, fighting for reunification whenever possible and following the course of her own family’s plight.

Unsurprisingly, a support group member quickly asked if Cristina would be willing to have a baby placed in her home as part of Rhode Island’s foster care program. She quickly said yes, and the first baby – Ben* – was placed in her loving care at four days old. Now, almost 7 years later, that little boy is her adopted child. A total of three siblings are now in her family. 

The story that unfolds is one of both challenges and joy, as Cristina navigates the system, builds a relationship with the biological mom, while creating a warm, stable, loving home for the benefit of the little ones. 

Later, when the mother had difficulties, her second child – Julia* – was removed from her care at the hospital and placed with Cristina. Obviously, the birth mother was not happy, but Cristina brought presents to her shortly afterwards, trying to establish a conversation, and showing compassion and respect while hoping to open the door for continued contact and a better understanding of their background and situation.

Eventually, it was decided that Ben was to be placed for adoption; Cristina requested the adoption and both the social worker and lawyer responded positively. There was even discussion about asking to adopt both Ben and Julia so that they could be kept together. Wary that the biological mom might respond to losing both by rejecting even the first adoption,Cristina and everyone decided to leave the case as it was originally planned and to wait patiently. 

 As it turns out, the mom reached out to Cristina to speak with her. The mother had previously lost two of her children, who were placed separately, and another little girl, who, interestingly, Cristina helped reunify with the mother for a time. The biological mom asked Cristina to adopt both Ben and Julia  so that they could stay together. Pregnant again, she also asked if Cristina would also take the new baby girl.

 The mother of the children was aware of the good care that Cristina gave the children and that she provided them with a safe, stable physical, emotional and spiritual home, according to what she had heard from other people. She knew that Cristina would be the right person to take care of her children. Cristina was also sure that she wanted everything done right. Cristina also was sure she wanted everything to be done properly. 

 Cristina advised the mother to “Talk with [her] husband, discuss this with [her] lawyer,” wait and we’ll meet another day.” Cautious and aware of the court’s lengthy process, she responded empathetically to the mom, who acknowledged that she didn’t have the ability to care for the children as she and her husband had no home, among other issues. 

 Cristina’s experience in being a kinship mom, a foster mom, and adoptive mom meant that she knew well that such cases take time. And she learned that even with another pregnancy, the process worked best if she called the state’s hotline to notify them of the pending birth, to keep the siblings together. Cristina made this call, despite the biological mom’s having requested that Cristina care for this baby from birth. Four siblings are to be together, thanks to Cristina, and to her own supportive son and daughter-in -law.

 “When Cristina called the state, she told them, if [the mother] can’t have this baby with her, we are happy to have the baby with us at home”, is Cristina’s response to the DCYF investigator, who asked many questions about the biological family, the hospital, etc.

Once the baby was in her home, Cristina called the mother to reassure her. Shortly thereafter, they reunified the baby and the biological mother. Cristina supports this as a hopeful chance, and at the same time, reassures the mom once again that she will be there to support her and help her along the way. 

 Instantly, she adds, “But if somebody removes the baby from the house, just call me and let me know. I’m gonna be there.”

 In addition to helping this particular mother and her family, Cristina continues to help others in similar situations. She’s a trained peer mentor, meaning that she supports other kinship families as they cope with unexpected midnight calls for babies in need of placement. She also provides aid when calls for practical assistance – whether its food and diapers or access to a clothing closet – come in. Leading group meetings to offer help, referrals, share experiences, or provide information about the DCYF system, she has a depth of personal experience combined with the collected stories of so many families she has accompanied on their own journeys. Her Spanish language and culture bring an added layer of assistance to those who have opened their homes and hearts to kinship and foster care.

 In eleven years, she has welcomed thirty children into her home and life. As of this writing, there are four in the home, three of whom she has adopted. The children in her home welcome new children into the family just as she does. That’s what family is for Cristina. Kinship, foster, or adoptive, she loves them all.




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