PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- In the past 10 years, the Department of Health and Human Services has had a major change in thinking when it comes to the foster care system.
It used to be that family members were the last place DHHS would turn when a child had to be taken away from parents. And re-unification was not necessarily the goal. Not anymore.
Now, DHHS first goes to family membesr to see if they can care for a child, and except in the most egregious cases, DHHS works with parents to take the steps they need to get their children back.
We spoke with Heather Lunt, whose kids were taken into state custody two years ago because of her alcoholism and because there was domestic violence between her and her ex. Lunt's mother, Sharon D'Augostino, has been taking care of 8-year old Gabe and 3-year old Alex ever since. Lunt has been sober for 17 months, and will soon get her children back.
She says it's been a big comfort knowing that her boys are with family. D'Augostino agrees. She said, "I just want them to know that they're loved and I think being with the family is so much better than having them go off and not know who these people are how are they going to treat them?"
Lunt became pregnant after Gabe and Alex were taken away, though, and D'Augostino knew she couldn't handle another child. And so a foster parent, Debbie Johnson, has been taking care of one-year old Kylie. DHHS is making an effort for foster parents and birth parents to get to know each other. And Lunt says Johnson is now a huge part of her family, too.
"She's amazing. She helps me more than I've ever heard of a foster mom helping anybody. She helps me get to appointments. She helps me with everything," Lunt said.
Johnson says it has been exciting to watch Lunt grow as a person.
Relationships between birth parents and foster parents are not always this smooth, but Lunt says the foster care system has worked for her.
She says losing her kids was, "The most gutwrenching, heartbreaking feeling I've ever had. But I've really been able to straighten out my life because of it. And the kids can have the life they want now."