Shawn Brumadge, 30, of Largo celebrates with his daughter, Ianadene, 3, at a reunification ceremony in May.
LARGO – This Father’s Day will be particularly special for one Largo single dad. This year, Shawn Brumadge, 30, has his daughter, Ianadene, 3, back and under his full custody.
In May, Brumadge was one of the families invited to Eckerd Community Alternatives’ reunification ceremony that celebrated parents getting their kids back from foster care after having successfully completed their case plans. Not only has Brumadge overcome numerous obstacles in getting his daughter under his care, he has also helped his daughter go from what some called a “vegetable” to a responsive, functioning little girl.
Born at only 24 weeks, Ianadene and her twin brother were very sick infants. She was born at 1.2 pounds and her brother was 1.1 pounds, Brumadge said. At the time, Brumadge was in New Orleans trying to help his godmother, but he called the hospital every day to check to see how they were doing. One day, that phone call was different.
“This time, it was ‘How soon can you get here?’” Brumadge said. “They said my son wasn’t doing well and didn’t have much time left and I had to get there as soon as possible. So I called my mother and we got money together so I could come back.”
He talked with his mother, Essie Walton, to arrange for her to be there at the hospital so that in case he couldn’t make it in time, at least someone from his side would be there with his son. However, there was an altercation at the hospital between the two families, and he said that the babies’ mother had gotten a travel hold put on him by saying things like he was going to come there to harm her or that he was bringing drugs and guns to Florida from New Orleans, all of which he says is not true. Therefore he wasn’t allowed on a plane and was having a hard time getting onto a bus.
“Finally I said, ‘I’m getting on this bus. You can call whoever you’d like, but I’m getting on this bus,’” Brumadge said. “I said, ‘My child is on his last breath. I’m going home.’ I ended up giving the phone to him and he got a hold of my sister who put the doctor on and said, ‘Look, he needs to come home,’ and they apologized and finally let me on the bus. But then, the bus driver ended up falling asleep and swerved from lane to lane into the ditch. This was approximately the same time my son died. So I don’t know if it was God letting me know that my son was gone or whatever the case may be.”
He was barred from his son’s funeral, which broke Brumadge’s heart, and his ex wouldn’t let him see the surviving twin, Ianadene, he said. Brumadge was so frustrated and discouraged that he hibernated for a little while. Ianadene was in foster care, and the case had been open for a while without action on the mother’s part to work the case plan. The parents were called in for mediation.
“We were mediating because the parents were not working their case plan,” said Susan Hixon, senior case manager with Directions for Living through Eckerd Community Alternatives. She was the case manager for their case. “You go to mediation and you kind of figure out where the case is heading. Is the case heading towards adoption? Is the case heading towards reunification? And we find out where the parents are at and what they want to do. Mom didn’t show up, but dad did and said, ‘I’m here. I want my child.’”
Hixon said that when Brumadge showed up for mediation, she learned that the reason he had not seen his child or had been active in her life was because the mom wouldn’t let him, not because he didn’t want to.
“After his first visit with her, he called me and said, ‘I lay eyes on her and it changed everything.’ He said, ’I knew at that moment that I needed to do whatever I needed to do to get her back with me,’” Hixon said. “So his motivation to work and complete his case plan was her. At the time, she was definitely severely disabled. She couldn’t walk, she was drinking out of a bottle, she wasn’t eating table food, and he said to me, ‘I know I can do better for her. I know that I can help her to walk and I can get her to eat table food and I can get her mainstreamed.’”
Since she was born so premature, Ianadene has had major problems her entire life. When she was born, she had a sac on the back of her head that she needed surgery to remove. She doesn’t feel pain like other people, so they have to be careful she doesn’t hurt herself because she won’t react if she has. She was on numerous medications and in therapies, but she basically acted like an infant, even at age 3 – drinking from a bottle and eating baby food, not walking, not talking or able to communicate at all. She would also have intense fits, for which she took medications.
“When I got her, she was labeled like a vegetable and a lot of people that we had to interact with had never met her, never seen her, so they’d just go by the paperwork,” Brumadge said, and assume that she couldn’t do more. “When I started my case plan, they told me basically she’d have to have 24 hour care, and it’s going to be hard to work or take care of the kids.”
Brumadge has three other kids, and he pays child support for them and therefore has to work full-time – at least one or two jobs at once. His mother was going on disability for her diabetes and needed surgery, so the two of them teamed up to live together and figure out how they would cooperate and raise Ianadene together. He helped her out, caring for her when she needed him, and she helped him out with Ianadene.
He was working several jobs, including a telemarketing job that paid the bills, but he had a hard time getting the necessary time off of work when he needed to make a drop for his drug program or go to his daughter’s doctor’s visits and other important tasks to successfully complete his case plan. He had to put his daughter first, so he left that position and opened a barbershop that allowed him to be more flexible with his time. Now, he still works two jobs in security that allows him to be secure financially and also get to spend time with his children.
At first, Ianadene didn’t know Brumadge and had kind of an attitude toward him, he said, but he kept trying and kept seeing her, and eventually his day visits turned into overnight visits and then getting her for more and more days. All the while, he was convinced that she has more potential in her and was determined to pull it out of her. As he worked his part of the case plan – going to Operation PAR for drug classes, taking parenting and other classes – he also worked with Ianadene on her therapy, pushing her more than she had been pushed before.
“They were saying that she can’t be in public, that we can’t take her to grocery stores or all of them because she acts out or she has this fear of people,” Brumadge said. “And I explained, I can’t keep her locked up in the house like a monster. So I started out small at the (Pinellas Park Wagon Wheel) Flea Market. There’s a lot of people there. People aren’t really paying attention there and there’s a lot of kids running and you’re outside. So if she started to yell, I didn’t have to try to find an exit. We were already outside.”
She did just fine at the market, he said. Sometimes she would reach out to grab people, but he was happy because it showed that she isn’t afraid of people. Then he tried taking her to a playground. She hated the swings, so they tried other things. He got the stroller to take her to the mall or out to dinner to see how she would react.
“As long as me or my mother was there, she was fine,” Brumadge said. “So I explained to my mom, it’s not that she has episodes or is afraid of people, it’s that if she’s uncomfortable.”
Likewise, she used to have major meltdowns every time she had a doctor’s appointment. When she was still in foster care, Brumadge was allowed to go along to the appointments, but for a while he was not to come inside the examining room so that Ianadene would not associate Brumadge with negative doctor’s visits. Sometimes he would have to go in, though, to help calm her down when she would have a fit.
“I would go in there and talk to her and pat her on the back, telling her it’s going to be okay, so she eventually started getting comfortable with people,” Brumadge said.
After working with her more to control her tantrums, the doctor couldn’t even believe she was the same little girl when he took her back for another appointment, he said.
When Ianadene would act up and have tantrums, rather than punishing her, yelling at her or trying to medicate her, Brumadge stayed calm and made her do her walking therapy instead. He’d get her up and get her to practice walking – and walk and walk and walk. After a while, she would get so tired that she would quietly go down for a nap, all the while getting stronger. Within a few months, he had her walking.
One of Brumadge’s other goals was to get her eating regular table food instead of baby food and bottles.
“She was drinking PediaSure – that was all she was drinking,” Brumadge said. “I said, ‘Mom, I can’t have her only drinking PediaSure. She’s 3.’ And who’s going to walk around with a bottle? So we are going to try foods.”
For a while, any time they tried to offer her some other food to eat, she would just smell it then turn her head away. But then, one day was different.
“One time we were eating Chinese food and I was just like ‘Mmm, so good, so good,’ and she just kept getting closer and closer, and I kept moving my plate over (away from her) and she kept getting closer,” Brumadge said. “I moved it over again then said, ‘Do you want some?’ and she just looked at me. So I just put a little piece on her lips and she just licked her lips and when she started smacking, I said, ‘Oh yes, mom, she’s ready,’”
He gave her a plate of his shrimp fried rice and she ate it all up. For the next few days, he kept feeding her more shrimp fried rice because he knows that you have to introduce new foods slowly and not change it up so he could watch for any potential allergic reactions. He used a similar tactic to get her to drink substances other than PediaSure, which was the only liquid she wanted to drink for a long time. He filled a cup with different liquids and played up how yummy he thought they were, acting a little possessive with them – that they were too yummy to want to share. Eventually that got her attention and he found a liquid that she enjoyed – tea. Now she can feed herself and eats and drinks all kinds of regular food. He also taught her that if she is hungry, she should walk to the refrigerator and put her hand on it to communicate her needs.
Just as patiently, Brumadge got his daughter potty trained. She is smarter than many people think, he said. But she will only do as much as she is made to do. If she can get away with doing less, then she is going to take advantage of it. She now knows that she is safe with her dad and that he loves her, but he is going to stick to it until she does what she is supposed to, so she behaves around him. He also learned that routines are important. Once he got her into a strict routine, she knew what was coming so she calmed down, behaved and fell into the routine, whether it was going potty or getting dressed and undressed.
This whole case has been an inspiration for Hixon.
“He came into his staffing and he was excited. He inspired us,” Hixon said. “He came in and talked about what he’s learned through his drug classes, how he was going to continue on the path that he was on and being able to provide for the child. … When I’d go to the house to visit, he’d say, ‘Look at her. She’s walking now.’ ‘Look at her, she’s talking now. She’s on table food.’”
When Hixon came over for home visits, she used to go over and pick up Ianadene because she loved her too, she said, but then Brumadge said, no, she had to wait until Ianadene asked if it was okay to be picked up.
“So I had to sit and wait for her to come up – who couldn’t even speak before he had her – and she could repeat words that she could say. And she’d say, ‘Please in your lap.’ I mean, for me, this case is inspirational,” Hixon said. “He literally has her walking, he has her talking, she can sing, she can play with toys, she’s working on potty training, she can walk all over the house by herself, she’s doing chores. I was at the house last week and she changed her clothes from school and put them in the laundry basket. This is a kid who was sitting in a high chair and couldn’t do anything physical seven, eight months ago. And he keeps telling me, ‘I look at her, and that’s my child and she motivates me every day to be a better person. Every day,’ he says. ‘That’s my motivation.’ And he has stuck to it ever since he first saw her.”
Brumadge completed his case plan and officially was reunited with Ianadene in December. Eckerd procedure is that the caseworker continues to make home visits for the next six months – once a week for the first four months and then every other week for the final two months – to make sure they stay on track and that the reunification will be successful. Those visits end and his case officially closes this month.
Reunifications are not easy and require a lot of work, Hixon said. But she wants parents to know that it is possible and there is hope. They need to work their case plan and communicate with their caseworker. They want the children to be able to go home, but they also want to make sure that they will be going home to a safe, loving, better environment. And reunifications are not just limited to the mother, she said.
“I’ve reunified quite a few fathers, and they do just as good of a job as the moms do,” Hixon said. “They get up in the morning and put braids in their daughters’ hair and put them in a cute little dress. It can happen.”
If the kid is in foster care, it is fair game for either the mother or the father to get custody of the child in the end.
“If the child is in foster care, oh absolutely, yeah, (the dad can get the child back,)” Hixon said. “They can work their case plan and get full custody of the child. Pretty much how it works is if mom is given a case plan and dad is given a case plan, as soon as that parent gets their case plan done, shows that they have learned from their experience and learned from working their program and we’ve observed visits with the parent and child, that person is going to be the one to get custody of the child and get the child out of foster care. Because we don’t want kids sitting in foster care. We don’t side with mom because she’s a mom. We side with the parent who works their program and continues to work it.”
Brumadge encourages all fathers out there to step up and care for their kids and do whatever they need to do. His life has been so much more rewarding since he’s become more active in his children’s lives. Before he always made sure he provided for them, but now he has realized that it doesn’t matter if he spends a bunch of money on them every time he sees them. Sometimes, it’s just the little things and quality time together that are the most special moments.
Hixon continues to be amazed by Brumadge.
“I think the biggest thing with Shawn is that he is really an incredible guy,” Hixon said. “He’s done an incredible job with his child. He is an inspiration and should be an inspiration to all fathers. All men. Not only did he get his daughter back, but she’s severely disabled, and he’s done an incredible job. He’s definitely someone I admire. It’s amazing.”