One evening in November, the mother of Relisha Rudd sat down and penned a letter to her missing daughter.

Inside a spiral notebook, Shamika Young wrote: “Relisha this is your mommy writing to you because I’m lost for words right now….I’m lost without you here….”

“I wanted to tell her I love her,” explained Young, who has spent the last 10 months clinging to hope her daughter will be found alive, while also trying to regain custody of her sons–now, 8, 6 and 4, who were placed in foster care.

In August, Young, 28, and her fiance, Antonio Wheeler, 28, moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Southeast Washington. They decorated a room for Relisha and the three boys with Spider Man stickers and curtains.

In May, a D.C. family court judge mandated that Young and Wheeler complete parenting classes, drug testing, trauma therapy and support groups before the court considers returning the boys to their care.

After completing a parenting course in August, Young posted on Facebook: “Thank you for all my haters doubting me. But whole time you haters motivated me to the fullest now step one has been completed and here is the proof.”

Each week, Young visits her three sons at the District’s Child and Family Services Agency in Southeast Washington. She tries to arrive early and takes them snacks. “I love my kids,” says Young.

Young and Wheeler say they miss their children deeply.

“I’ve been away from my family, I know how exactly how my kids feel. I’ve been in the system,” Wheeler said. “I know what they think: ‘What’s going to happen to us? Are we going back home to mommy and daddy? Are they coming to get us?’”

Wheeler tells them, ” ‘Of course, mommy and daddy coming to get you. Of course, we fighting for you to come back home. But mommy and daddy [have] got to do what these people believe what we can’t do, which is [to] prove that we [are] good parents.”

Recently, Young took a car trip back to Virginia, where she remembered first staying in a shelter with her mother, three sisters and a brother. She compared the shelter to D.C. General, which city officials are planning to shut down after an investigation discovered inadequate heat and unsanitary conditions.

“If I had the chance to go back in time and start all over, my homelessness,” said Young, standing outside a shelter in Alexandria. She pointed at secure doors and windows and a playground behind a locked wooden fence, “I would come right here with my children because it is a better and safer environment.”

During a recent visit back to the home of her first foster mother, Violet Nichols, Young sat on the floor of her old bedroom and talked to Nichols about her children who are gone.

“I’m certainly hoping the best for you,” Nichols told Young. “I hope that she is somewhere out there still safe and that she is returned back home.”

“I hope so too,” Young said softly, “because I’m just tired.”

Young folded her hands as her former foster mother tried to comfort her.

“I’m actually ready for my other kids to come home. This is the longest I’ve been away from them.”

“I’m not fully happy, as happy as I can be,” said Young, recently as she stared out the window of the apartment her children have never seen. “The only thing that would make me happy is to have all my kids home.”