Thurston County Reunification Day: ‘We had to earn the right to be parents again’

About two years ago, Lance and Kami Denison lost their children.

The Olympia couple had hit rock bottom because of addiction. Lance Denison’s nine-year meth addiction had spiraled out of control and caused his life to fall apart. Child Protective Services put their children in foster care — a moment he described as embarrassing and humiliating.

“There was a lot of dysfunction,” he said. “I was so detached and non-engaged with society.”

The road to recovery was steep and full of hurdles. However, two years later, the couple is clean and sober. Social service programs have helped the couple with housing and basic necessities. Now they have a home and own a vehicle. Lance Denison works full time as a millwright, while Kami Denison plans to attend school.

Since March, the couple and their three boys — Skyler, 15, Malachai, 2, and Kiernan, 14 months — have been living under one roof. The key to recovery, they said, is staying the course and having faith in the system.

“We had to earn the right to be parents again,” Kami Denison said. “It’s out there if you guys work for it.”

The Denisons were among nearly 80 families who attended the annual Thurston County Reunification Day held Tuesday at Tumwater Falls Park. The celebration honors local families who have reunited with their children, often after enduring a long and arduous recovery.

About 160 local families were reunited in 2014, said Shelly Willis, executive director of Family Education and Support Services. Substance abuse and related neglect is the leading cause for removing children from a home, said Willis, estimating that about 80 percent of cases involve some type of drug addiction.

But the state Department of Social and Health Services reports that about 70 percent of children who are removed from their homes and placed into foster care will return home.

Tumwater Police Officer Jay Mason said he encounters families in crisis nearly every day. He most often sees families during their worst moments, so he said Tuesday’s celebration is a chance to recognize parents who worked hard to make positive changes for the sake of their children.

“Families are the building blocks of our community,” Mason said. “It’s OK to ask the community for help because that’s what a community is all about.”

In May 2012, Child Protective Services removed Michelle Bowman’s three children from her home. The Lacey mother was then incarcerated for about a year before the real fight for her children began.

Following a rigid program of chemical dependency treatment, parenting classes and counseling, Bowman’s children were finally able to come home last Christmas Eve.

In addition, Wednesday marks the two-year anniversary of Bowman’s sobriety, and her case closes permanently on Friday. She shared her story at this week’s celebration while accompanied by children Chase, 15, Hayley, 10, and Gavin, 10.

“I put my most prized possessions through unbelievable heartache and pain,” she said about her children. She noted that a successful recovery requires people to work hard and “always be true to yourself.”