A teen mom and her toddler are thriving together, two years after she reported herself to Arizona child welfare workers.
Cassie Scott and her newborn son were sleeping on her mom's couch. She was 17. She says she knew it "wasn't the safest environment" for either of them.
She made a gut-wrenching choice to report herself to Arizona's Department of Child Safety.
"I want what's best for my son even if it's not being with me," Scott remembers thinking before she made the call.
When caseworkers responded, they didn't take baby Richie away. Instead, they took Scott into state protective custody. She became a foster child, and she could take her baby to her new home.
"I had a foster mom," said Scott. "I had a caseworker. They got me therapy. They got me a transition facilitator. They all took it as a group support system, and it seemed like, together, they were my parents."
The number of teen parents in foster care is growing nationwide, according to Children's Action Alliance. Those teens face additional challenges, on top of what regular foster kids face, as they age out of the system.
"From being underemployed, being involved in criminal activity, not being able to access affordable, safe housing," said Meghan Arrigo, the agency's associate director of welfare policy, "we see a lot more youth couch surfing or living on the street. That's not good for us, and that's not good for our community."
Cassie's current case manager, Lisa Minard, works for the DCS’s Young Adult Program. It's voluntary for former foster kids, ages 18-21. YAP offers free college, a monthly living allowance, life skills classes and health insurance.
"[We] just want to see them stable and happy," Minard said.
Of the roughly 800 Arizona foster kids who "age out" of traditional care every year, only half choose to enroll in the program, according to Children's Action Alliance. Many others drop out before they finish the first year.
Cassie Scott a success story. In the two years since leaving her mom's home, she earned a GED and became a certified nursing assistant. She has a job and an apartment of her own.
"She worked very hard to get where she is," Minard said. "She has participated in everything we asked her to do."
Most importantly, she continues to raise Richie, who's now an energetic toddler.
Scott says her call for help to DCS "was the best decision I have ever made, not only for myself, but for my son."
Scott wants to finish college to become either a pediatric nurse or a teacher.
"Not only do I have more opportunities in the future, my son has the world to look forward to," Scott added.
If you have a story of the successes or failures of families in the DCS system, email ABC15 reporter Melissa Blasius at firstname.lastname@example.org.