Speak Up: The Betham Sisters and Their Journey Home
Posted on December 15th, 2021
Sitting in a booth, staring at the menu of her daughters’ favorite Mexican restaurant, Martina Williams couldn’t help but gaze at her children, two-year-old Everleigh Betham, five-year-old Mariah Betham, and nine-year-old Colette Betham, and thank God for granting her such blessings. However, these twice-a-month visits were no longer enough to satisfy her maternal need to be with her girls, and she dreamed of a day when they could return home. Little did she know, that with the help of Child Advocates, this dream would one day become reality.
For several years, Martina fought an internal battle with sobriety, and in 2016, the Marion County Court decided to place the Betham sisters with their father. While this news was devastating for Martina, she knew the needs of her daughters must come first. Right then, Martina fully committed herself to healing and recovery so the four of them could be reunited once again.
During this time, the Betham sisters spent many weekends at their Nana’s house. Nana, Martina’s adoptive mother, had an open-door policy for the girls. However, despite the love and attention Nana so willingly gave to the girls, she began to notice some concerning behavior.
Everleigh, Mariah, and Colette began to withdraw from others. The Betham sisters talked less, played less, and the absence of smiles on their beautiful faces became undeniable to both Martina and Nana. After talking to the girls, it became evident these red flags were indicators for abuse, and Martina, who had not had custody of her daughters for years now, knew she needed to act.
In September of 2020, Child Protective Services picked up Everleigh, Mariah, and Colette, now six, eight, and 12 years old, and promptly placed them in foster care.
A Child in Need of Services (CHINS) case and custody case were both opened in reference to the Betham sisters. The children were appointed caseworkers, counselors, and a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) from Child Advocates.
Martina knew she had a long battle ahead of her before she could be reunited with her children and feared that their wishes would not be taken into account. After communicating these fears to the children’s caseworkers, a referral for legal representation for Colette was made to Rachel Roman-Lagunas, the Director of the Child Advocates Direct Representation Program.
As an attorney, Rachel offers legal representation to children in the child welfare system ages 12 and up and advocates for their needs. In January of 2021, Rachel officially filed her appearance as Colette’s attorney and vowed to amplify her voice in court.
Over the next several months, Martina and her daughters experienced instability and a lack of communication from some of her caseworkers. They relied on Rachel as a true and consistent point of contact throughout the duration of the CHINS case, and as their only legal advocate in the custody matter.
“She [Rachel] contacted us more than anyone else assigned to our case,” Martina said. “She actually cared to listen to Colette when she talked about what her and her sisters went through and what they want.”
Due to her age as the eldest sister and the circumstances of the case, Colette needed to step into a leadership role, speaking on behalf of herself and her sisters in court. She feared the unknown of the future, the case, and the idea of being alone during this process. She was thankful for the supportive hand that Rachel provided and felt that she not only heard her, but truly listened.
“Rachel really prepared Colette for court,” Martina says. “She felt like someone actually cared about her and didn’t feel like she was alone.”
With the legal advocacy Rachel provided and Martina’s commitment to bettering herself for the sake of her children over the past several years, the court ruled in favor of Martina and awarded her full custody of Everleigh, Mariah, and Colette on June 30, 2021.
“I am so thankful for the help we received during this time,” Martina said. “The girls are so happy to be home now. I just feel like God was there guiding me, helping me get clean so I could be with my girls again.”
Martina and her daughters are now focused on finding their new normal as a family. All three of the Betham sisters currently attend therapy to work through the trauma of their past and accumulated stress from being in the child welfare system.
“Therapy has been hard during COVID, but I think it’s been really helpful for the girls,” Martina said. “They need to be able to talk about what happened.”
It may be a long road ahead, but Martina and her daughters now have a second chance at being a family, in no small part because of Rachel’s advocacy on behalf of Colette and her sisters. The Bethams know that together, they can and WILL move forward.