Chapter one: A Place to Call Home
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – On Thursday’s we typically share stories of Arkansas children up for adoption.
It’s part of our partnership with the Arkansas Department of Human Services to find these children homes and forever families.
Chapter two: Judge Clark's Decision
"I get scared every time I've got to terminate parental rights because at that point and time we've got a kid with no family," said Faulkner County Judge David Clark.
He first met Jessica Pope in March of 2015 in his courtroom. She was a struggling 26-year-old mom to five children, who'd just been taken away by DHS because of her drug use and environmental neglect.
"It broke me," Jessica Pope shared. "They were screaming for momma, and they were saying ‘please don't let us go, come back and get me.’ The pain inside, just knowing how hurt they were."
Jessica spoke openly about the pain of that loss and of the time her children were taken to a nearby couple, who'd fostered more than a hundred kids over a six-year period. They were Ruth and Steve Haile.
Chapter three: Ruth & Steve Haile
"There are so many kids in foster care, the system is overloaded," Ruth Haile said.
While the Haile’s fostered her children, Judge Clark ordered Jessica to get off the drugs and improve her home life. But it was proving to be difficult for her.
"I wanted my kids but maybe the drugs were clouding my judgement,” Jessica said. "I was using the drug to hide my pain, and as long as I could get high then I wouldn't hurt, I wouldn't feel the pain knowing that my kids are feeling more pain than anything."
Two years passed with Jessica’s children in foster care at the Haile’s home.
"As a mother, not being able to protect your children that's your number one job and I was not able to do that and it's heartbreaking," Jessica added.
"She would hear her kids call me mom, and she would cry,” Ruth Haile shared. “I'm sure it hurt her heart." And during that time five children turned to six because Jessica got pregnant, again.
Chapter four: Another baby taken away
“When I went into labor I went all the way to Russellville thinking nobody would know if I had him,” she shared. “And I could get back home with him, but they flagged me and they took him. It was bad just knowing that you just gave birth to a baby and yet another one is taken from you."
Jessica ended up back on the streets, back on drugs.
"And I prayed to God every night that something would happen, something would change to get me off of the drugs, to get me back to my children,” Jessica said. “And that's what it took, was me losing them."
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Chapter five: Turning point
It was that and 30 days in jail. It was during that time that something changed for Jessica. She missed visitations with her children and missed her daughter's birthday. She learned the Haile’s were making plans to adopt her children. That’s when she finally quit using drugs. Once out, she made a choice.
"I found a job, I found housing, I found a vehicle, and that's where I'm at now," Jessica said.
The Haile’s took noticed and started helping her, and Judge Clark gave her extra time.
"She was staying drug-free, and she was putting forth some effort and I thought it was important to just keep working on that, despite that some people wanted to do something different at that point and time," Judge Clark said.
"I don't know what made him give me that extra time, but I thank God for it because I might not have my kids right now,” Jessica added. “I did need that extra time."
Chapter six: Success from foster care
In August of 2017, her kids returned home, including a 7th baby, Carson. And that's where they are today. The Arkansas Department of Human Services monitored for several months and closed her case in December.
"They're where they need to be,” Ruth said. “They're with their mom, they're thriving, and they're happy. She has really gone above what she needed to do, and you see so many parents who just don't do it."
The community has supported her too, and the Haile’s gifted and surprised her with a 12-passenger van to make transporting the children a little easier.
"If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Jessica said. “I was at my lowest, and I'm not better than no one else, in no way, and them kids mean the world."
"We've grown to love her as a daughter,” Ruth shared. “Her children, we love like they're ours."
"I’m just so proud of her," Judge Clark added. "I think she looked inside herself. She finally took a stance. Looked at this hand, and said I could have my kids in this hand, or I can have this messed up life in this hand. And she had to make a decision, and she chose her children! And that's the motivation, and I think it's amazing when parents are able to do that."
"I'm very proud of myself, I'm happy to wake up,” Jessica said. “I'm happy to have all my kids here. It's crazy, it's overwhelming sometimes, but I thank God for it every day."
"She proved us all wrong,” Judge Clark explained. “Made us all eat crow, and it was the greatest meal we've ever had, I think."