Pierce County families celebrate 'Reunification Day' after completing Dependency Court

TACOMA, Wash. -- Every year, Pierce County celebrates the dozens of families who go through the hard work to regain custody of their children; the celebration is called Reunification Day.

On a beautiful summer day in Tacoma, it’s typical to see a park filled with parents playing with their children.

But for some mom and dads in the county, they know “typical” days with your kids should be cherished.

“I’ll hold it together because the beginning part is kind of the saddest,” said Jacey Harris.

Harris and her 1 1/2-year-old son, Jackson, played in the park during the Reunification Day festivities. She says there is nothing more valuable to her than her time with her son, because she knows what it is like to not have that time.

“It feels like my soul literally being ripped out of my body,” Harris said of their separation.

On December 14, 2016, Harris gave birth to Jackson. The next day, Harris celebrated her own birthday. Then on December 16, Harris says a social worker removed Jackson from her custody.

“I know what it feels like to not say good morning to a kid,” said Harris.

More than a decade earlier, Harris says she started to fall down a dark hole.

“Addiction, domestic violence, mental health,” she said.

During this dark time, Harris gave birth to two kids, and put them up for adoption.

“I couldn’t get on my feet; I wasn’t ready. I just wasn’t at the place I am today in my life,” said Harris.

Harris says she couldn’t let this happen again, and even though she says she did not use any drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy with Jackson she needed to prove that she was responsible enough to be his mom.

And the way she did that was by completing Pierce County’s Dependency Court.

“Keeping them with their parents, if we can do that is absolutely worth it,” said Erika Russell, the supervisor for Division and Child Family Youth Services with Family Recovery Court.

She helps families like Harris in Pierce County beat adversity like drug addiction, or even mental health issues, so they can be reunited with their kids.

She’s done this work for about two decades

Russell says as the challenging as the work can be, it’s just as hard for the parents going through the program. And that’s why every summer they have Reunification Day.

“It’s a time we celebrate their success, and it’s really about them and their families,” said Russell.

Reunification Day is like a mini-carnival, with games, prizes, and food for the families who have completed dependency court.

Russell says this group of strangers, some with very dark pasts, become family. She says some even return the blessings to others dealing with similar issues.

“If it wasn’t for them, we, as social workers, would struggle,” said Russell.

It took Harris just a few months to go through the program and get custody of her son.

She says even though she did not use drugs when she gave birth to Jackson, she is so happy that she faced the hardship of briefly losing her son so that she could prove to herself she deserves the chance to be his mom.

“I'm satisfied where I’m at today, even though I want to strive and do more, and be better, I’m a lot better than where I used to be,” said Harris.