A King County court program that reunites families separated by addiction found that homelessness is a common theme.
Behind the sweet shy smile of 7-year-old Ravenna Chavarry is a girl recovering from trauma and a father who says he would do anything for her.
Luis Chavarry, Ravenna’s father, said her early years were difficult. He and her mother struggled with heroin addiction and Ravenna was taken into foster care four months after she was born. Chavarry signed up for the Family Treatment Court program, got clean and sober and went through parenting programs to be reunited with Ravenna in 2013.
“She’s going through so much for a little kid,” Chavarry said. “But she’s taken it so well.”
Chavarry, 43, is one of 127 parents who have graduated from the King County Superior Court’s Family Treatment Court since it started in 2004. The court is an alternative system for parents with child-welfare cases who also have drug or alcohol addictions.
On Wednesday, 25 current or former program participants — and their 28 kids — gathered for an annual family-court picnic at SeaTac’s Angle Lake Park.
The families, foster parents, grandparents, advocates, social workers, a defense attorney and court staff ate from a spread of snacks as younger children blew bubbles and older children drained the batteries of their parents’ cellphones playing games.
Families were at different stages of the process — some were living with their children again, others were there as a supervised visit.
Parents can apply if they are willing to undergo treatment, which is provided along with other services and case management, and are reunited with their children if they meet conditions, such as remaining sober for six consecutive months and living with their child under supervision, said program supervisor Jill Murphy.
A University of Washington study found that parents who went through the treatment court were more likely to utilize treatment services and successfully complete them than other parents with cases in dependency court.
Homelessness is a common theme in the court. More than two out of five of the families coming into the program in the most recent quarter, ending in June, were homeless, Murphy said.
One alumna of the program, Tami Rean from Kenmore, said the picnic was a reminder of how far she’s come: She and her husband used to sleep in the park under the covered picnic area, with their then-3-year-old daughter Isabella.
‘It feels good to be back here and not to be in that addiction cycle anymore,” she said.
Homelessness was also a theme with Chavarry — on his own since age 14, not always homeless, but living on the streets off and on. He said he had a job as an auto mechanic when his and his ex-wife’s addiction to heroin made their lives spiral out of control. Ravenna’s mother was on methadone when she gave birth and four months later, Child Protective Services came to pick up Ravenna, Chavarry said.
He said he was clean at the time, but the pain of losing his child caused him to relapse before he entered the Family Treatment Court program, with the goal of getting her back.
As he and his wife went through the program, they were homeless and lived in shelters. While Chavarry said he met all of the conditions to be reunited with Ravenna, the lack of stable housing was an issue, he said.
“When the judge asked what barriers we were hitting, housing was it,” he said.
Chavarry was able to change that with a subsidized rental voucher and a month later, in 2013, Ravenna came home. At first, she kept her backpack, shoes and blanket with her at all times — the only constants she had known in her life.
They lived as a family for about 2½ years, before his ex-wife relapsed and they separated, he said.
“We graduated as a family, but then things started going downhill,” he said. “I caught it before CPS came back into our lives.”
Chavarry became a single father in 2015. His mother welcomed them into her Vashon Island home, and Chavarry said Ravenna has been doing well in the close-knit community.
“She has a more solid foundation now,” Chavarry said. “We have a whole new relationship.”
He is now working as a peer advocate for other parents going through the program. He said housing is the biggest struggle for many of them, especially those who don’t have family support because of addiction.
At the picnic at Angle Lake Park, Chavarry held Ravenna’s hand as they walked to the water-park area.
Once they got there, Ravenna quickly let go of Chavarry’s hand and ditched her backpack to play in the water as he looked on.