Seen and Heard Podcast Alise Morrisey

Episode 4

MY DARKEST MOMENT WAS NO LONGER GOING TO BE BLEAK

How serendipitous moments of being seen meant the difference between having her baby in her arms and her parental rights being terminated.

Hear from Alise Morrissey about the impacts of individualsa volunteer, a judge, an attorney, and a program leaderwho offered glimmers of hope by seeing her for who she was instead of her circumstances. Alise tells her story of going from straight-A student to giving birth amidst a prison sentence. She reveals how her faith, the people who showed her kindness, and the determination of being there for her child led to recovery from substance use disorder and reunification with her daughter.

00:00:55

Meet Alise Morrissey and hear her story from formative years to young adulthood where Alise recalls how her mom was her biggest cheerleader.

“She [Alise’s mother] made the hard decision to raise me as a single mom. She had her own history with stuff, she had been in foster care and a lot of adversity,” says Alise. 

00:02:55

Alise shares how she started to feel angry and rebel in her preteen years. She recalls being a straight-A student, but being angry at the world. To escape the fog she felt at the time, Alise began experimenting with drugs and alcohol to “numb any painful experiences,” she had. 

“Suddenly my addiction had perpetuated to where I mean I was truly a slave to it. And I had desire to get off of it, but then you’re in so much pain,” says Alise. 

00:09:00

What supports are offered to young Alise when she finds out she is expecting while incarcerated in the short-term?

Hear from Alise as she describes her rush of emotions. “I felt so scared, I felt so alone. And yet there was this part of me that longed for this beautiful baby to never have to experience the pain I had ever had and that this baby deserved to have everything under the sun,” says Alise.

00:11:50

After her mom held her hand through birth, Alise describes being in a fog, seeing shaking heads and disgruntled facessaying, You’re not going to be able to hold your baby until you deal with the 7-year prison sentence over your head and the meth addiction that had engulfed your life.”

00:12:30

What happens when pregnant women with substance use disorder aren’t met with empathy and understanding over judgement? Hear from Alise on what she says she desperately longed for.

00:14:00

Hear from Alise on the effect of her losing parental rights and learning that a foster family was told that she abandoned her baby. 

“There was a beautiful foster family,” says Alise, “and my moment of absolute despair was their moment of complete joy.”

00:15:30

Now, again incarcerated, Alise recounts a vivid memory of when she “gave her heart to Christ.”. Hear from Alise on how one inspiring person had a profound impact on her life.

00:21:02

As an indigent inmate and while her daughter is a few months old, Alise describes writing 60-70 kites or messages requesting to learn more about her case and find out what’s happening with her child. 

Definition: Indigent inmate means any inmate who has no more than $5.00 in the inmate account to spend at the inmate’s discretion during a calendar month, has no job, and has no other source of income. 

Definition: Kite (slang) can be a noun or verb and can refer to a request or message from an inmate to another person, either another inmate or facility staff. 

00:22:45

Hear what can result when a judge asks questions about a CPS case and asks to hear from the mother before terminating parental rights. 

“I went in that courtroom in shackles and the judge looked at me like a human being, which is what I needed in that moment,” says Alise.

00:23:40

Alise describes being met where she was, as one attorney fought on her behalf and on behalf of her baby.

00:24:30

Alise describes meeting a CASA advocate that “saw beyond the yuck,” and decided that in order to support Alise’s child she had to get to know the birth parent.

“She saw a momma’s heart and a baby who, I believe, was longing to be in her mom’s arms. The bonding, the attachment, the voice, the nurturing, all of it,” says Alise.

00:26:40

Alise describes the effects of having two voices follow her through treatment: one of hope and love and another of unworthiness, with the latter coming from a treatment provider and social worker.

00:27:50

After being denied visits with her child after 12 months, Alise describes the joy she and her baby felt when seeing each other for the first time. At 25 years old, Alise regains parental rights.

00:30:55

What happens when a birth parent gets to connect with the foster family? Hear from Alise as she recalls reconnecting with the family that took care of her baby while she was learning to take care of herself.

“Why couldn’t this union happen earlier on? Why did it have to be so painful and awkward,” asks Alise.

00:33:40

Hear from Alise on why professionals should embrace the messiness of co-parenting.

“If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that there are some hard walls to climb and it is so much easier to have someone lifting you up to get you over that wall than it is to try and do it on your own,” says Alise.

00:35:34

What is the “Parent to Parent” program? Alise talks about her work as a parent ally and work with the Parents for Parents program in Washington.

“People needed to hear from a parent like myself that people change, families reunite, and these are the tangible, concrete things we can do to partner alongside families,” says Alise. 

00:39:00

What do children have to say about reunification? Hear one perspective as Alise recalls an interaction between her daughter and a legislator in Olympia, Washington.

“You know mom, I was thinking about it and I realized I would’ve forever had a hole in my heart until I found you,” says Alise as she recalls a words from her daughter. 

00:41:40

Advice from Alise on how to communicate with skeptics about families affected by the child welfare system.

00:44:00

Matt shares final thoughts.

[00:00:00] Matt: I’m Matt Anderson and welcome to another episode of Seen and Heard by Institute for family. On this podcast, we engage in stories and conversations that recognize child welfare transformation starts with seeing families for who they truly. On today’s episode, I’m talking to Alise Morrissey about some of her personal experiences with the child welfare system and how many different moments of being seen and heard really helped her in her own personal transformation.

We also talk about her professional experience. As a leader in the parent ally movement. And one of the real key figures in the development of the Parents for Parents Program statewide program, Washington, I think has real national potential. I started our conversation by asking Alise about where she grew up and where her stories.

[00:00:56] Alise: My mom, she made the hard decision to raise me as a single mom. She had her own history was stuff she had been in foster care. She had been through a lot of adversity. And I really truly believe she tried to do everything possible to make sure I knew I was loved. And, you know, I grew up on 17 cent meals, even though things were challenging in terms of probably finances at times.

I never really knew it. She always made sure I had what I needed. What I would say is I always felt like something was wrong with me. I remember being a little girl, seeing a mom and a dad with their children, and I would ask myself like, what is so wrong with me that I’m not even worthy enough of having a father.

And it really fueled this perpetuation that I was garbage. And I think it’s important to remember that we might tell ourselves things that we learned later is not the truth, but it can really continue on a trajectory that, that we can end up in some pretty unhealthy things.

[00:02:04] Matt: Yeah. Those early days. I think often become our truth, as you’re saying, until they get interrupted by something that gives us a different story about ourselves or about our life.

But you said that your mom was always there for you. You always felt loved, like you didn’t feel the want that may be was there. What did your mom do? How did she show up for you that you felt that love and care from her?

[00:02:29] Alise: You know, I have these images of her pushing me on a swing. I have these images of her celebrating my awesome balling skills on the basketball court.

And I can say that it was pretty fantastic. She was always my cheerleader. She was always cheering me on, I think where things got really challenging was when she remarried. And then there was a divorce and I was so angry and she had her own stuff going on. And so, you know, being about. I don’t know what 11, 12 years old was really when I don’t want to say my troubles, I just don’t know how else to say it.

Right. I really felt, I was always a straight, a student, always did amazing in school, but I, I was angry at the world. I recognize I was really, I was in a fog, you know, I found early on that smoking weed and drinking numbed any painful feeling or experience I had. I found that there were certain crowds who were living lives on the streets and in crime that accepted me because I didn’t need to really come with anything.

It was just like, you’re here and you’re accepted. And for some reason the quote, or maybe it’s a song I was looking for love in all the wrong places that keeps coming through my head. Like that’s what it was. I was longing for something amazing. And yet every action thought was perpetuating the complete opposite.

Those were my teenage years to the point where I was a runaway, I was on the streets. I would say I hit a very deep bottom during that time.

[00:04:13] Matt: Tell me about that. How old were you? What did that bottom look like? What was happening?

[00:04:18] Alise: I would say from 14 to 16 was a period of time where I just remember the feeling of not knowing where my next meal was going to come from.

And yet I have this mom who’s wondering where her daughter is and who sat in this crying and who would tell me years later. That she would come home and she’d see the light turned on and she’d have this glimmer of hope that her daughter came home and would come upstairs and realized she just accidentally left the light on.

And so I know that the existence I was living, despite the pain, I felt I was hurting. I was hurting people who loved me and yet what, what is it going to take to truly come out of that.

[00:05:04] Matt: Right. No, exactly. And before you said that about your mom, that’s exactly where my mind was going is that as you’re this teenage kid on the streets hitting a bottom, as you describe, you know, and you have this mom that you describe as a loving mom who cares for you, I’m like, man, what’s happening with mom and how is she doing? And, and was she out like trying to find you.

[00:05:24] Alise: She was, and she was desperate to the point where she hired a private investigator to find me and I was on the run and was in and out of juvie juvenile you know detention. And she told me years later, you know, the detective would come close to finding me and then I I’d be gone, but eventually they did catch up. And eventually the judge agreed to send me away to a behavioral modification camp from 16 to 18 in Utah. And I actually believe it’s worse than jail.

[00:05:58] Matt: Right. Wow. So 14 to 16, you’re basically on the streets looking for love, looking for belonging, looking for something that was never there, or maybe taken away from you at some point, but out seeking and your mom’s seeking right behind you trying to find you, and then 16 to 18 and, uh, a behavioral modification program and then 18, what happens next?

[00:06:24] Alise: You know, I would say when I graduated, I really tried to stay sober. I remember I got a job. I had a job as a cashier and was trying to contribute positively to society.

But then some other hardship came along and I went back to my old ways. So then I, I had a major car accident. I was prescribed oxies and my early twenties. And that was the period of time where I was like, I had no idea that there was a drug that I had to take in order to open my eyes, or I had to take in order to feel like I had enough strength to walk across the room.

Suddenly my addiction had perpetuated to where, I mean, I was truly a slave to it and I had desire to get off of it. But then you’re in so much pain. You’re in physical pain. And then I met an individual who told me if you take meth. Your withdrawals are completely gone. And I remember saying there’s a reason I’ve stayed away from this stuff because my level of addiction takes me to a point of just absolute not being in control.

And yet I was desperate. So I took it, had this moment of euphoria suddenly had no physical pain, suddenly had no thoughts of being garbage or worthless. And that was definitely the darkest period of my life. And I think what makes it even harder is suddenly I was homeless again, somebody sold my car. I suddenly went from having a place, having a car, all this stuff that I had worked to actually achieve to nothing, back homeless.

I remember it was snowing and. I didn’t know where to go. And I remember not being far from my mom’s house and I wanted so bad to knock on the door, but I just, I was living so wrong and I just didn’t know where to take that hurt. I didn’t know what to do with that hurt. And instead I slept outside to the point where, I mean, I felt like my legs were about to fall off.

And, you know, to this day, I don’t like being cold. And I remember walking into a hospital just to be able to stand in the doorway to try to get warm, that feeling and that existence you’re in and out of jail. And then going into jail another time, I’ll never forget this lady’s face. She came walking towards my cell and she had a piece of paper and she looked at me and she said, you’re pregnant.

And I, I remember I was so scared. I felt so alone. And yet there was this part inside of me where it was like, I longed for this beautiful baby to never have to experience the pain I had ever had and that this baby deserved to have just everything under the sun and so much love and light. And so here you have this young adult by this stage.With the baby in her belly. And there was no support offered with that setting . Wasn’t like, hey, what’s your plan. You’re going to be getting released soon. What should we do? Right. Let’s get you connected with someone I was in and out of jail. I would have to look, but I want to say it was almost 12 times when I was pregnant.

And what I got was guards say, Hey, I run an adoption program, right? That’s my volunteer work. Your child should be adopted. That’s the message that I heard. And so it wasn’t leaving feeling empowered for change. It was leaving feeling like I’m not even worthy of being a mom with the sanctity of this baby growing in my belly. So it was a, it was a very tough time being homeless and pregnant.

[00:10:30] Matt: Yeah, it’s heavy and it’s heavy because too, I know you’ve told me a little bit about the vision that you had as a little girl for being a mom.

[00:10:39] Alise: That’s what I always longed for.

[00:10:41] Matt: Yeah. And then here you are. And prison pregnant and nobody even giving you the hope that you can be a mom and instead sort of giving up before you even have a chance.

[00:10:55] Alise: I think from the outside looking in, I mean, if you saw pictures of me, I was a mess. I think people could easily arrive at some judgment or stigma and just be like, look at her when this baby comes out. She’s not the one. And when I was giving birth, a friend had actually called my mom and said, your daughter’s down the street, giving birth.

And here, my mom runs to the hospital. Hadn’t talked to me or seen me in years and inspite all that, she stood next to me and she held my hand as I was giving birth. And I remember there were all these people in the room with clipboards to this day. I have no idea who they were, but I remember giving birth to this girl and holding her.

And then suddenly somebody came in and said, you know, they removed her out of the room and then someone else had come in and said, you’re not going to be able to have your baby until you deal with the seven year prison sentence over your head and the meth addiction that had engulfed your life. And that, that was the sum of it.

A lot of that early hospital experience is a fog. I think every trauma response inside of me had elevated, but what I do remember. Is people’s facial expressions. I remember people shaking their head almost in like disgust. I would walk into the room, body posture would change. And you know, these just harsh facial expressions.

What I desperately longed for was somebody to come alongside and say, this doesn’t have to be your future. This doesn’t even have to be your present, that there is opportunity for growth and for change. And when that is missing And we’re just keeping people within a state of like, shouldn’t, you know, better.

[00:12:50] Matt: it’s caring and kindness over judgment.

And I think it’s so fundamentally important if we think about this exact experience that you had. So what if all those doctors and prison guards and nurses and social workers, and everybody said what’s happened that got you to this point, and then they heard your story, they would say, yeah, This makes sense.

The decisions, the behaviors that circumstances around Alisa’s life like this all makes sense what’s happening here. And then come from a place of kindness and caring compassion, and what does she need? How can we help? How can we support? And then layer on top of that, this is an addiction that is a disease.

And if we understand it from that point of view, too, and not condemning and judging, but understanding and treating. And then maybe giving some hope on top of it. Just the potential to have a very different outcome.

[00:13:44] Alise: Well, what you just said was probably one of the most beautiful ways I could ever hear it articulated and pretty much makes me speechless for anyone who knows me.

That’s pretty rare to do so. That’s what I long to create. And I would say coming back to that setting. There was a beautiful foster family who could not have children of their own. And then, so my moment of absolute despair was their moment of complete joy. And I had a relationship with them over the years.

So when they told me that they were congratulated at the hospital, here you go. This is your baby. Mom’s never going to change. They were actually told that I abandoned the baby. And here you have mom who left the hospital, wandering the streets without any hope of a different way of life. I had left and I didn’t really fully know where to go.

I had a little relationship with my mom, right. A little moment there, but again, our relationship. Needed healing, you know, every moment, right after giving birth, I just ended up being on the streets to the point where the bottoms of my feet had major blisters. And when those popped, like the bottoms of my feet were pretty much gone.

So you have this beautiful baby going with this family. Smiling. You have mom on the streets awaiting a prison sentence. So when the cop car eventually caught up to me, I remember I had full relief. I remember there was almost a weight that lifted. It was like, let’s do this. And I remember being in the cell.

So you have a new baby. You don’t know where she is. And yet every part of me, I fell to my knees. I remember exactly. Where I was facing in that cell, it was implanted in me and I gave my heart and my love and my light and everything over to, to Christ. And I said, my way, I’m done use me, whatever you have for me.

Like I’m yours. And I remember words coming out of my mouth and tears coming down my face, and then this love hit me and I had this peace and this presence. That I was like, this is real. This is better than any high I had ever had. And it’s one of the reasons why my faith is so strong because in the midst of my ugly, I had felt loved and I had even felt whole, I don’t even know how to describe it. And I’m like, if I’m going to prison for seven years, so be it.

[00:16:32] Matt: Man that that moment that you just described is incredibly powerful. And I don’t even know how to make sense of it. Honestly, when those, those types of experiences happen, like the police come arrest you, the weight is lifted. You have this experience in the prison cell.

Like how do you even make sense of where all that came from, right. It just sort of happened. And do you even make sense of it? Do you even try to make sense of it? Are you just grateful for it.

[00:17:00] Alise: For me, I think it’s grace. It’s undeserved favor. And the really interesting thing is before, my arrest, I literally almost died three different days in a row.

It was 1, 2, 3 almost was shot. I mean, you know, a car came through my side. I mean, it was these three experiences. And I walked away untouched. And so you could imagine being in a cell, looking back and being like, whoa, I was just saved and spared and this new excitement had entered my heart. I was desperate to know is my baby okay? Right. I had all these other thoughts going on and yet suddenly these beautiful volunteers from different churches were coming into the jail and they were making this huge difference on my life. And I was watching this lady in particular, Terry smile, and she starts sharing her testimony and start saying all these horrible things that were happening in life.

Her husband had lost a job, you know, all these different things. And yet she was standing in front of. With the brightest eyes and the greatest smile. And I’m like, so you can tell me that we can actually go through adversity with love and light and kindness and faith. And she just inspired me that my darkest moment.

Was no longer going to be bleak. And it was up to me to partner with Christ and to partner with everything and every person positive to be able to change the narrative, not just for myself, but for my beautiful baby who I’d still at this point had not even held outside the hospital.

[00:18:50] Matt: Wow. So layered on top of this moment of grace, as you describe it, then Terry steps into your life and helps you maybe make sense of that moment and some new ways, but were there also things that she did outside of what she was telling you?

Just the way she was, the way you experienced her? There seemed to be these moments when people just feel fully seen and heard and kind of loved and accepted. Does that resonate with you with

[00:19:21] Alise: Terry? It does. What I saw in Terry was her eyes were so beautiful and bright. She had such a glow and a kindness and a gentleness that it was like, no matter what wave was coming her way, trying to crash her down and bring her down.

She refused to let it move her. And she was an early picture of selfless love that I hope to aspire to in my life that no matter what is coming our way, we don’t have to treat people poorly. We can take control over the negative thoughts that are coming in through our heads. So it is not  coming out in our behavior and retreating people poorly, right?

She just, she showed me what this picture of, of grace look like written on a human being’s heart. And I’ve been looking for her for all these years. And I still haven’t found her, but I’m going to hold onto hope. Maybe she’ll maybe she’ll hear this from this message. Come find me Terry because you showed me how to keep fighting the good fight, a faith.

[00:20:29] Matt: You know, some people come and go and some of the most impactful experiences in our lives happen in moments. They can be very fleeting, but they last forever. And they change us and, you know, Terry gave you that it sounds like. And, and then as that’s all happening, right, then you have, I imagine open court cases for, for your own charges, perhaps, and then child protective services case with your daughter. So what’s happening with those cases at that time?

[00:21:02] Alise: I was what they called into indigent. I had no money on my books. And even if I did have money, who do you call? What do you do? So my form of communication is called a kite, at least where I was in that jail. And so you write a kite and I’m trying to get the Sergeant to pay attention.

And I’m like, look, I just had a baby. There has to be court cases. I have no idea what’s going on. Can we please get me transported? And I would get zero responses. So you could imagine this desperation in a human being of being like, I think I wrote about 60 or 70 of them. I mean, I was desperate for communication and for information. Simultaneously my criminal charges look like they were moving in the direction of being sent to treatment. Well, that was exactly what I needed. Right. So I’m having this experience of like, okay, God, I see what you’re doing. I do need the help desperately, but yet I still felt powerless with the CPS case. And It was pretty amazing to hear later that there was a proceeding happening.

Now, mind you, the jail and the CPS court. We’ll just call it CPS court. Just make it easy. Was three blocks away from each other. And so at the court, they were working to fast-track my parental rights, right. Babies in a great home.

[00:22:29] Matt: And how old is your daughter at this point?

[00:22:31] Alise: So she’s just a few months old at this point.

[00:22:34] Matt: Yeah. Okay. So you’ve been separated for a few months. And now it’s getting to the point of considering terminating your parental rights.

[00:22:41] Alise: I would imagine it was probably the four to five month range. So this was early. So to not have met the ongoing social worker to not have any of this happening, then there was this judge who actually, he stopped the proceedings and he said, No one’s ever met mom?

Mom, mom doesn’t have an attorney? Mom’s never seen baby? And mom is three blocks away. I’m not going to hear this I’m court ordering her for her to be transported down here. And if that judge did not do that, I don’t believe I’d be the woman I am today. I just can’t imagine fully healing from baby being gone forever.

And I went in that courtroom and shackles. And the judge looked at me directly like a human being, which is what I needed in that moment. And I was able to say, please, don’t terminate my rights. Please give me a chance. I’m on my way to treatment. And I’m not on my way to prison. And he did. He made sure that those proceedings stopped.

I had gotten an attorney who just met me where I was, and I remember the first words he said to me, This sucks. And I was like, yes, it does. Finally someone gets it, someone understands and he’s like, I can only imagine the horrible things that you’re reading about yourself that are being heard, but I’m here to let you know that I’m going to fight on behalf of you and fight on behalf of your baby and your baby needs you.

And then suddenly I’m back behind bars. And this sweet lady comes walking in and I’m like, who is she? Right for a visit? Mind you? I never had any visits because most of the people I knew were not going to go step into a jail willfully. So me having a visit was a miracle in and of itself, and she holds a picture of my baby.

To the glass wall and I hadn’t seen her. Right. And she said, this is what you have on the other side. I’m your CASA, your child’s advocate. And I believe in order to be able to be there for your baby, I need to know you and I need to get to know you and I’m gonna fight for you. And I believe. You can overcome this It’s going to be hard, but I’m going to leave this picture with you. So you know what you have on the other side. And might I say she actually later on used to get in trouble for being too pro mom, but what she. Was a mama’s heart and a baby who I believe was longing to be in her mom’s arms, the bonding, the attachment, the voice, the nurturing, all of it. So she saw beyond all the yuck and instilled a glimmer of hope.

[00:25:34] Matt: It’s amazing. These people keep walking into your life, Terry, and then the judge, and then your attorney, and then this advocate all seeing you as a mom who loves her daughter. At least willing to see you that way, right? Because it is easy to see you as the mom who’s addicted and has a seven year sentence hanging over her head.

I think just one of the reasons these conversations are so important in hearing this story is so important is that that can’t be happenstance. That can’t be serendipity. That can’t be luck. That has to be the way that our society operates. And no matter what we see mom as having the potential. And the possibility and that we give that hope and grace and allow what then transpires to at least have the chance to transpire.

So maybe you can talk about that, like you have your first visit ever with your daughter. Right. And what was that like?

[00:26:31] Alise: Yeah. Yeah. So you fast forward, right? That whole period of time. And I graduated treatment now I will pause and say, I even had a treatment provider who said. I don’t believe you should ever parent.

And actually, if you come to group tomorrow and say that you will be turning your rights over, I will graduate you early. You say that to somebody who has struggled with addiction, that could have been a death sentence for me. And I went and I remember I prayed about it and I went to group that next day and I said, it doesn’t matter how long you keep me here.

I’m going to fight for this beautiful girl, because I believe she deserves to know that she’s, she’s not a throw away. And that treatment provider actually ended up getting fired for that comment. So you could imagine I’m having two voives. I’m having a voice of hope and love, and I’m having this perpetual message that also my social worker had told me about adoption.

Your child’s in a great place, just do what’s best. So I was fighting these two messages and when I graduated treatment and a judge had stepped in, so baby was almost a year old at this point and had saud Mom has never seen baby get baby to mom. I mean, our system set up 48 hours, 72 hours that those early visits need to happen.

They have to occur. So I remember this fear walking into this visit for the first time I was thinking to myself, This little girl is not going to know me. We haven’t even had a chance to hold hands, put her little hand in my hand, like I had all these thoughts and I walked in and the visit transporter lady was holding her and my little baby had looked up made eye contact, smiled and held out her arms. Like she was trying to get to me, like she knew her, her mama was. And I just knew at that moment, it didn’t matter what voice, what experience, what situation I was going to demonstrate. I was the best fit for this child and do everything possible to show that.

And that’s what, these months before. 50 hours a week of services. I had felony court, I had municipal probation court. I had CPS UA, treatment, mental health parenting classes. I actually have an entire piece of paper written that has all the things I had to do to demonstrate that right, UAS for five different agencies claims.

So find housing, the list was endless and I showed up and it was hard and I would end most days crying. But yet I held on to hope and I remember, I think I was, um, 25 on my birthday. Might’ve been turning 26 and I had gotten the call from the CPS social worker. We can not deny it anymore. Your baby’s coming home.

And, you know, I fell to my knees on the street corner, crying, praising God. And so what my day of the greatest joy ended up being the foster parents most horrible day.

[00:29:48] Matt: Do you remember that day, the day that your daughter came back to you?

[00:29:52] Alise: It happened so quick, quick, and the degree of getting the news. And then suddenly I’m a full-time mom, but I have this baby and she’s with me all the time and I will not lie it was hard. It was hard. She would be screaming and crying. I had heard and learned all these things that she had been going through. And I tried to show up. I was living with my mom at that point. I was pretty close to getting our own housing through a program, helping women who had been incarcerated and, I just remember those early days were, were super hard. I was excited. I knew that there wasn’t going to be any turning back. So it was a challenging transition.

[00:30:40] Matt: Yeah, no, I’m sure it was for you and for your daughter. And, and I wonder about the foster parents to what that experience was like for them. I don’t know if you ever had any contact with them in the, in those days following her coming home or,

[00:30:56] Alise: well, what I would say is. In our case, it was really a divide. They were told horrible things about me. And I know that they were probably terrified when they found out baby was coming home. I did not look good on paper and we didn’t have that opportunity for them to really know my heart and know what I was about for this baby.

And yet they were told this was their child. They didn’t come in for some short term placement. This was An adoption placement and their experience was so challenging and rough. They told me years later that, you know, they’re not interested in being a licensed foster parent. It was too hard. So I would say during our case, we didn’t have that closeness and I suddenly hear that the foster parents would like to see my baby would like to see her. And every part of all the yucky stuff that had happened in the system was just by the wayside. All I could think was if these beautiful people loved her while I was learning how to love myself, then let’s do this.

And I remember meeting them at a McDonald’s and I saw the smile on my baby’s face. I saw the smile on their face and it was fantastic. I was like, why couldn’t t his union happened earlier on why did it have to be so painful and awkward? If we ran into each other at court, why do we make up a narrative about people before really giving them a chance to tell us who they are and what they need and connect with them.

[00:32:32] Matt: I love that story at least. And I’ve, I’ve heard that same kind of story. A number of times over the years, I’ve experienced it in my work. Painful, right. Like, no doubt there’s pain, but what we’re dealing with there is pain. Let’s embrace the messiness of it and let’s bring people together around. Mom and dad, as parents who love their children and we should be giving them every opportunity to be able to raise their children.

And if we have to do that in a joint coming together sort of way, let’s do that, we can handle it. I think that people that are in my position as the social worker, right. I think we fear that messiness and that complication. And I think that prevents us from bringing these families together in the way that you’ve experienced it.

So thank you for, for sharing that when you were describing that moment of the first time you saw your, your daughter and she looked at you and smiled and reached her arms out and recognized you and wanted to be with you. And all of a sudden, I just had this image in my head of your mom making a choice. When she was pregnant with you.

[00:33:42] Alise: You certainly what’s that saying hit the nail on the head. And during this time of healing, my mom was my biggest champion and she took the hard step to choose me. I took the step of putting baby over anything I had ever experienced. And I also really. I want to make sure that people don’t take this as well what about the parents? Yeah, that sounds good. But what about the parents who quote unquote, don’t choose their children. I will tell you from hundreds and thousands of experiences, I know parents love they’re babies. Most of the parents in the system that I’ve worked with actually grew up in the foster care system themselves.

We cannot make a judgment or an assumption about what this person is going through. The impact of, of addiction, impact of negative images, a lack of support system, a lack of knowing where to go, all that yucky that comes into the picture. And that’s one of the reasons why when my case was closed, I found out about this movement of parents coming alongside other parents currently going through the system.

And I’ve been helping to mentor an advocate since literally the day of my case was closed, because I’m like, if there’s anything. I’ve learned is that there are some hard walls to try to climb, and it is so much easier to have someone lifting you up to get you over that wall than it is to do it on your own.

[00:35:20] Matt: Yeah. Let’s fast forward a little bit to more of the present. Just to describe what your work is. It’s more than just being an advocate. I mean, you’re running a program, that’s getting national attention and describe a little bit about what that work is.

[00:35:35] Alise: So the actual program, I help oversee. It’s called the Parents for Parents Program.

And that’s where I got my first start and this beautiful lady named Nancy Roberts Brown, who was like the mama bear of the parent movement in Washington state actually hired me. The woman actually hired me and I’ve been working there ever since. I want to say it’s been at least eight years. My early moments was helping to ensure that when policies were passed, trainings were happening of new social workers and foster parents conferences were happening people needed to be able to hear from a parent like myself, that people change families reunite, and these are the tangible, concrete things we can do to partner alongside families.

And now. I oversee the Parents to Parents Program at the state level. We are in every county in Washington state, and it’s so exciting and exhilarating. We’ve helped launch in a couple other states. I’ve had 30 other states that have called me saying, we know we need to do better for parents and child welfare. It’s been pretty exciting.

[00:36:46] Matt: Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s incredible what you guys have accomplished. And so, as I understand it, Parent ally, the parent who has experienced the system themselves coming alongside a parent who’s earlier in their child protective services case. And they’re going to walk alongside that parent to help them reunify, I suppose, what practically are they doing?

That seems to be so helpful.

[00:37:10] Alise: Yeah. Well, what I love about Parents or Parents is we don’t turn a single parent away. We’re not assigned to cases. And our approach is really helping to educate and inform families about the things that they can do to be the most successful in their case. So when you suddenly come in, you could imagine you’re staring at things in court paperwork that often I’ve still to this day have never seen, like anything positive written in those, all the strengths the family might have.

It’s all the negative. And some of it’s true. Some of it’s not, and you just feel exposed. So you can imagine being at court. So suddenly put a parent like myself in that court setting and we’re able to come up to parents and meet them where they’re at ans say, If I can do it, you can do it too. I’ve been right here where you’re at, and this is how we can partner to show them that we’re the best fit for our children.

And so we’re taking the time to make sure that they know what’s expected of them. We’re telling them to partner with their attorney. Don’t throw a chair at their social worker. Don’t chew gum in the court room, make eye contact the judge, all the things that someone could quote unquote use against them later on.

There’s all these pieces of just meeting people where they’re at. We’re making sure people aren’t falling through the cracks.

[00:38:34] Matt: Absolutely. In, in very practical, concrete support, types of ways, seeing them valuing them, hearing them, and then helping them with really practical everyday things that they need to be successful in their case.

[00:38:48] Alise: Yeah. And a big part of my years have been helping to craft legislation and testifying, and we’ve helped pass over 20 legislative items. And even just a seven-year period of time that included the voice of families included the voice of parents. And I will say, I think you’ll love this. My, my daughter she’s a spitfire she’s full of so much love. She’s just like me. And one time I took her to Olympia to go talk to lawmakers and just see the experience. And she walked straight up to this lawmaker who actually had been foster parent adoptive parent. And she went up to him and she said, can you believe they try to take me from my mom?

My mom the best, you know, do whatever you can to get kids with their parents. And then she walked away and then she came back and she said, and I have socks that don’t match on. Right. Just some random kid thought and walks away. And they cultivated the most beautiful relationship, her pictures all over his wall.

I mean, he would take her to lunch, like just getting to know. And my baby had said to me recently, She said, you know, mom, I was thinking about it and I realized I would have forever had a hole in my heart until I found you. So if I grew up without you, I would not have been okay until I found you. And I mean, it hit me that we often don’t hear from kids who have gone home reunified children and her life has been changed. She is about to skip a grade. She’s about to be a black belt in TaeKwonDo. She just is a joy. And there’s nothing else I can say.

[00:40:35] Matt: No, I don’t think so. You told the story of your daughter meeting with the lawmaker, the legislator. And what’s so cool about that. I think a lot about, you know, systems don’t change.

People change and then people change the systems and for people to change. I think for me anyway, for me to change how I’ve changed is because I was on the other side of that experience that, that lawmaker had. Like, you have to get close, you have to build relationships. You have to get to know somebody else’s experience on the other side of the work that you’re doing and learn from that experience enough that you change.

It’s incredible. I think that’s why I get excited about the work that you all do is because it’s not just the direct service to the parents that are in the system. Now it’s the work that people like view and, and so many other people are out doing in so many different spheres and really having a big impact.

And I think that’s just holds a lot of potential. You know, it holds a lot of potential for our society and how we see parents and how we see families and how we invest in families. So we’ve covered a lot of ground in this conversation. And we’ve talked a lot about a lot of different things that they’re going to be skeptics around.

We’ve painted parents as these are people we need to believe in, invest in support, encourage, and they’re going to be listeners to this conversation that don’t feel that same way. That don’t feel that strongly. And they’re going to push back against this conversation. So they’re going to be a number of points in our conversation that are going to create challenges for our audience.

[00:42:10] Alise: I would say no matter what a person might be exhibiting, they are worthy of us showing them. Humanity love decency, respect, kindness, compassion. So every opportunity we have to demonstrate that to another individual expecially who’s struggling as opposed to going to the old mindset of, I can’t believe they’re doing.

And at the end of the day, when you show kindness in the mist of a person’s struggling, you never know. I mean, I have chills saying it, what that will do for someone 10 years later, 15 years later, they can be those people that didn’t realize just by being kind the difference that was being made for someone who was coming out of a struggle.

That is powerful and that is compelling. But I do know that when we show up, no matter what we think, no matter what we believe with love, honor, dignity and respect to another human being lives change. And you’ll find generational yucky, yuck starts to break and you’ll see the children of Alise, right. And other people across the nation, recognizing their loved that’s what. And audience we’ll hear from this today.

[00:43:33] Matt: Well, I think that is the hope for going forward and I think that’s the work ahead of us. And so I just appreciate you sharing your expertise here, you know, with me today and all that you do out in the world. It’s been a joy to have the conversation with you. So I thank.

[00:43:49] Alise: Thank you, Matt, for having me and for calling me young. And the other miracle that happened is we were not interrupted by really cute babies during this time,

[00:44:02] Matt: Before we end today’s episode. I just want to say thank you again to Alise for being with us, for sharing her story. And I also want to share just a couple of thoughts that I’m taking away from this conversation, you know, throughout her story, Alise shared many different moments of where she was seen, where she was heard.

She talked about the police, she talked about the judge, she talked about the attorney. She talked about the woman in prison, and she talked about the woman who gave her her first chance to become professional in this field. And I, I wonder if any, one of these moments didn’t happen or happen differently? What happens to Alise’s story?

Does she still make it through to the other side? These were moments of serendipity, more so than being moments of design. And my takeaway is we really need to think about our practices today. And are we engaging with parents in a way in which we’re actually seeing them for who they truly are and embracing what they can be?

Or are we just seeing what’s on the surface? And thinking about how do we intervene? I’ll be continuing to think about that as I walk away from this conversation with Alise and now here’s Isaiah. Thanks,

[00:45:12] Isaiah: Thanks Matt! Guys I just got to say your support for the Seen and Heard podcast by Institute for Family has been absolutely amazing.

Thank you. You guys are leaving reviews and rating our show on your favorite podcast streaming platform. And we cannot say thank you enough for the support. If you haven’t already go and check out Seenandheardpodcast.com there, you can find videos, articles, additional clips, and all types of materials about our guests and the topics that we discussed on the show.

Please leave us a review and rate us because we want to see and hear from you. We want to know how these stories are influencing your work. I can’t end the show without saying thank you to our incredible team. Our executive producer is Michael Osborne, editorial assistants from Paige Williams, mixing mastering and sound designed by Morgan Honaker.

And our composer is Christian haikus. I’m Isaiah Strozier with the creative team here at Seen and Heard. And I hope to see and hear from you next week!

More from this season / 6 Episodes

WHAT IF WE DIDN'T HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL BAD ENOUGH

Spoken word poet, Slam Anderson, and her mom, Lillie Lee-Williams, engage in an emotional conversation with host Matt Anderson that demonstrates the strength of family bonds despite a 14-year child welfare-initiated separation. This episode questions what would happen if the child welfare system was designed to support root causes of family stress instead of waiting for late-stage intervention. Plus, Slam recites her spoken word poem “My Need for Change,” detailing her experiences with the system, which Matt Anderson refers to as the anthem” of the family well-being movement.  

LOOKING FOR THAT WARM HUG ALL MY LIFE

Shrounda Selivanoff takes us on a journey from childhood to motherhood, including a head-on collision with the child welfare system. Hear from Shrounda on how being seen and acknowledged for who she was changed her life forever. Shrounda is a passionate mother, kinship caregiver, and parent ally who inspires and helps other parents who experience the system through her work as public policy director at Children’s Home Society of Washington.

PEOPLE CHANGE THROUGH STORIES

Systems change when people change. And people change through stories. Dr. Bruce Perry candidly offers compelling insights on the power and science of storytelling. This episode demonstrates how some of the most important things we can do to improve family well-being and change systems starts with listening.

CRACK THE CONCRETE WHEN YOU WALK

Experience what life was like for Jaquia Wilson, the youngest of nine children, who went from growing up with a loving mother in the Bronx to aging out of foster care without a support system. Jaquia demonstrates resilience through the tragedy of losing her mother, becoming isolated from her siblings, experiencing an abortion, and entering foster care. With a little help from a caring social worker, Jaquia’s fighting spirit leads her to college and, now, advocacy work for youth in care.

THE WALLS STARTED TO COME DOWN

Hear about the loving relationship that developed between one foster family looking to adopt and one family fighting for reunification when they moved past the status quo and let their walls come down. Brett and Jessica Crisp decided to abandon their original plan of adoption to help a little girl placed in their care reunify with her parents. See what’s possible when this foster family decided to put their personal agenda aside and shift perspective to “what would I want to have happen if I were the birth parent?”

THE MOMENTUM IS BUILDING

From the national to community level, hear how the movement to prioritize family well-being is gaining momentum. In this season finale, Matt interviews three guests to hear the types of conversations taking place across the country around supporting families and recognizing their value. Jerry Milner, former Associate Commissioner at the Children’s Bureau, shares his perspective on the progress of the child welfare transformation work on a national scale. Sharee Pemberton and Hope B. Haywood of a rural county in North Carolina discuss how community leaders can bring about change and build trust through listening to families and meeting them where they are.