Putting Brennan first: A community bands together for safety’s sake
A knock at the apartment door disturbed an otherwise peaceful day. Expecting no visitors, Sarah Baillif opened the door anyway. The woman on the other side identified herself as a social worker from the Carver County, Minn., child welfare system. She said she was there to help.
On impulse, Baillif placed her hand gently on her swollen tummy. She was seven months pregnant.
Five years earlier, a different Minnesota county had removed her and her husband’s first child from their care after discovering that the little boy had serious bodily injuries consistent with physical abuse. To resolve the case, the Baillifs agreed to surrender parental rights to their son permanently.
“No, we are not going to go through this again,” Baillif told the worker before slamming the door in her face. The worker slipped her business card under the door, hoping the couple would see fit to call her. After a moment to catch her breath, Baillif grabbed the phone to call her husband, Brian, at work.
The young couple had believed they were permitted legally to raise another child someday without interference. But they were mistaken. Now in a panic, they figured they had two options. They could pack up their things and go on the run in a desperate attempt to keep their baby. Or they could call the social worker, Sarah Manthei, and find out if she meant what she said. If they ran, they’d be in a constant state of wandering and wondering.
“There was no avoiding it,” Sarah Baillif said. “Not calling only would have made matters worse.”
Manthei meant what she said. Her goal was not to remove the baby from his parents, but rather to keep the family together – as long as the Baillifs could demonstrate that they would be able to keep their child safe.
In the past, the Baillifs never would have been given a chance to keep their second child because of what happened to their first. Child protective services would have taken baby Brennan from the Baillifs at the hospital and placed him immediately into foster care.
In this case, though, Brennan never entered foster care. He didn’t need to.
Since the day Brennan was born, Sarah and Brian Baillif have been raising their son in the bucolic town of Waconia, 35 miles southwest of Minneapolis, in the same apartment where Manthei showed up that day. The Baillifs are together as a strong family that celebrated Brennan’s first birthday last December. Through the efforts of the child welfare system and the court system working in tandem with the family, Brennan has a solid network of people surrounding him to advocate on his behalf.
Brennan is supported. Brennan is loved.
And Brennan is safe.
Keeping children safe from child abuse and neglect remains the primary mandate and principal concern of child welfare systems across the United States. As systems place fewer children into foster care and – as an alternative – provide more in-home services to at-risk families, questions have been raised as to whether children are as safe today as they were when foster care caseloads were at their peak.