My first meeting was with the health and human services worker. She is no-nonsense, the way that they all seem to be after a while. I guess it comes with the job. You just can't hear all the terrible stories and witness all the terrible events and not have to find a coping mechanism in order to continue to do your job. She sits across from me and opens her notebook. Her voice is monotone.
Victim is a 4 years and 1 month old Caucasian male. This worker went to the home to make an unscheduled visit at 8:45 p.m. Door was ajar, so worker walked in, calling for residents. They were sitting and watching the television. They were unprepared for a visit. House was not clean, evidence of drug paraphernalia in ashtrays, ie a roach clip and a small baggie of what looked to be marijuana. Rolling papers. Residents jumped up and Mary Smith, the victim's mother walked quickly to the kitchen. This worker followed her and was witness to her opening a small cupboard door under the sink. The victim crawled out, wearing only underpants and squinting against the kitchen lights. Mary Smith reported that the child was being punished for an infraction. Worker knelt down to talk to victim, but he was unresponsive, looking at the floor at all times. When worker asked Mary Smith what the infraction was, she stated that the child had "peed his pants." The kitchen was in bad squalor, worker witnessed a large rat behind a garbage can. Worker made the decision to remove the child from the premises and to call police to report drug paraphernalia, although all evidence of drugs had been removed when she returned to the living room. Worker informed the residents that the victim would be removed at this time. They did not comment. Worker requested that the victim be dressed and went with Mary Smith to observe dressing of victim. Mary Smith picked up dirty clothes laying on a bedroom floor and dressed the victim. No words were exchanged between Mary Smith and the victim. Worker noted that at previous visit a bed had been in the room but now there was no trace of it. Worker remitted child to her car where they waited for police to arrive. When police arrived to search house, worker and victim waited in police car for a report to be made. No drugs or drug paraphernalia were found at consequent search. Victim was taken to temporary foster care with Ann Jones of 111 Walnut St. The following Monday, worker visited the foster care placement home and was able to speak to Ann Jones who seemed to have established a workable rapport with victim. Ann Jones reported that victim had stated to her that he slept in the small kitchen cupboard at night "as soon as the blinds were shut." Ann Jones reported that on the first night of victim's stay, she had bathed him and put him in a bed but the child was trembling, so she moved him to the sofa where he fell asleep next to her and she remained with him for the rest of the night. The next day was quiet. Victim ate what he was served and sat quietly; did not talk or play with proffered toys. In the evening when Ann Jones went to shut the blinds at her home, the victim began shivering and crying but still would not speak. After several attempts to comfort victim, he finally was able to tell her that "as soon as the blinds shut, it was go in the cupboard time." Victim also reported that when he struggled or refused to cooperate that he was tied to a wooden hanger and hung upside down in a closet until he promised to be quiet and obey. This worker believes that this child may be in need of psychological assistance at this time and requests an initial meeting with foster parent, who has more to report and then a meeting with victim as soon as possible. Foster parent will accompany victim to medical facility for an overall physical evaluation. Possible speech delays as well.
The next meeting was with Ann Jones, the foster parent. I have learned a great deal regarding the foster care system in the course of my employment at my current job. In my opinion, they come in 4 categories:
1) Foster parent is not doing this for payment. This is a person who truly wishes to help children.
2) Foster parent is doing this for payment, but they are kind and loving to the child.
3) Foster parent is doing this for payment. They are not abusive to child, but there is no real bonding. Foster parent attends to the child's physical needs but no emotional connection is there.
4) Foster parent is doing this for payment. They care only about the money and have no concerns whatsoever for the child. This is the foster parent who will swear up and down that the child in their care is showing symptoms of autism. They will have boned up on the symptoms and sometimes out and out lie about how the child tends to avoid eye contact, wave hands uncontrollably, engages in repetitive behavior and does not seem to understand social behavior. They are savvy in knowing that if the child is diagnosed with autism or any other behaviors in the spectrum, that they will receive more money.
Unfortunately, most foster parents that I have seen fall into either category 3 or 4. There are some exceptions. Ann Jones is one of them. She and her husband have been foster parents for years and have adopted three of the children who came to live with them as foster children. She is quiet voiced, honest and every child who comes into her care is very, very lucky. She is warm and loving, kind and generous spirited.
When I met with Ann to discuss "the victim" (and this is just jargon, all health and human service reports refer to the children as victims), I found that she had excellent insight into the child. Let's call him John Doe. She had done something extraordinary: she had gained his trust. He physically brightened at the mere sight of her and when she pulled him into her lap, he didn't flinch, but leaned into her gratefully. I knew that John would thrive under her care. And it made me happy. As always, I hoped that the parents would not regain custody but honestly? Most do. But, for now...he was safe.
Ann told me how John was still not sleeping well at night, tended to tremble violently at dusk each day as if expecting to be put back into the cupboard. This is not something that he will be able to shrug off easily. His fear will manifest itself over and over in his lifetime until he finds a way to overcome this difficult part of his life. IF he can. She said that he was taking small steps towards getting to know her children and his foster father but that he was still very clingy with her, still had fear that she would leave compounded with naughty behavior, seeming to almost push her away when all he sought was to be with her, feel protected.
Sometimes we, as humans, do this. We are so afraid of losing another that we guard against any bonding. It is easier. Safer not to expect much. John has had to learn this lesson at any incredibly young age.
Now, my job begins. His first session with me begins with me telling him my name and asking for his. He doesn't answer, just looks at the floor. I look at his dark brown hair and round blue eyes and privately wonder about the sort of person who could put a child in a dark cupboard swimming with vermin. Who could hang them in a closet like a skirt on a hanger.
I am very, very angry at those who have hurt this child. But, this is not the time nor the place, so I just sit with John and he and I play with the plastic farm set. I put a cow in the barn and ponder out loud what other animals should live in there with the cow. I pick up a chicken. Slowly, John begins to hand me animals. A horse. A goat. A pig. They all go in the barn. Next I pick up the boy figurine. Hmmm, I say out loud, where should he go? The barn or the house? Maybe he would like to sit up in the apple tree? It is quiet there. Safe. John puts him in the tree. I don't touch the mother or the father figures and he doesn't either. But, I hold up the cat and ask barn or house? John says house. The dog goes in the house too. I find another boy figurine and put him the tree with the first boy. John takes him out. Frowns. He says his first real sentence to me.
"The boy in the tree wants to be by hisself," he says.
I nod and soon we stop for the day. John looks around anxiously for Ann and there she is in the waiting room, smiling at him as she puts away her knitting.
They leave after we set up another appointment.
John is one of the luckier children. Not all these stories end with a loving caregiver.
On the way home, I stop to pick up milk and think about Liv, how nice it will be to hug her, to hold her. To know that she is safe.
I think back to my brooding over the last two days and I roll my eyes, disgusted with myself.
Get over yourself I think to myself.
Just get over yourself. You are so, so lucky.
And I am. No more complaining.
There are so many lost children out there. And so many will never be reached. But, we do what we can. We do what we can. And it has to be enough for now.
I turn on some Lady Gaga and listen to her all the way home...the volume up so loud that it causes a pulse in my temple. It feels good. Like being washed hard clean.
Goodnight to all the children of the world. Sleep tight. Sleep safe. And may someone show you a kindness today.