Friday, November 30, 2012

Daquan's story (age 10)

My mom had a hard time taking care of me all my life, but starting about three years ago it got real bad, so she took me to my Grandma’s one day because my Grandma took care of my other siblings and cousins. My older relatives living with Grandma were in frequent trouble with the law, and soon I got involved with some of their illegal activities as well. Then one day I had to go to court because I got caught shoplifting with my older cousins. I knew I was in trouble that day, but I had no idea that it might be the last time I ever stayed with my Grandma again. The judge ordered me (and all of my siblings and cousins) into foster care that very afternoon, and after several hours of confusion I was placed in a family in a different county and different school district. I didn’t know where they took my siblings and cousins.

In the first foster home I stayed, they were nice but very strict—in many way, their home was the very opposite of what I was used to. I was kicked out of there after 7 days, for taking food and then for taking a $10 bill. They said I’d “never change.” I then went to another home with white foster parents, who seemed to accept me. I would steal and hoard and they’d deal with it and move on. I thought they would keep me a long time. Then I went on my first unsupervised home visit to my Grandma’s house and things changed.

My home visit was supposed to be for just 2 hours, but it ended up being 8 by the time my new “foster dad” got me—not that I minded the extra time with my family. I asked him why it took so long for him to arrive, and he just said that he had a doctor appointment and had told the social worker it would be longer than two hours before he could get me; however, no one had told me that. I loved being back at my Grandma’s house, and so when it was time to leave I refused to go. But Grandma forced me to go, angrily telling me we’d both be in trouble if I didn’t. I felt like maybe she didn’t want me there because she didn’t fight hard enough for me to stay.

I didn’t say a word on the way back to the foster home, not a single one. The foster dad tried to get me to talk, but I was too sad and mad—sad about leaving, and mad that I had to. When we got to the foster home, he told me (not asked me) to take a shower. I refused. His wife then came in and said I had to. I said I don’t have to do anything. Soon their adult daughter came to the house from down the street and started yelling at me too, telling me to listen to her parents. They threated to keep me from my next visit with my grandma and siblings if I didn’t do what they said. I lost it. I told them I had rights and told them I’d cut them if they kept me from my own family. They yelled louder, and I yelled louder, and they called the police. They said I didn’t appreciate anything they’d done for me, that they gave me a roof and food and clothing and that I lived in a better place than my own family could ever provide, and this was how I repaid them?

By the time the police arrived that night at the foster home, the foster parents already had all of my things packed. I heard the foster mom yelling into the phone to her supervisor when the police arrived: “HE CAN’T STAY HERE TONIGHT. HE’S GOT TO GET OUT NOW!!” They pressed charges on me for "communicating threats." It was 11:00 at night on a school night when I was taken away. They took me that night to stay in another foster home, the one I’d been kicked out of a few weeks earlier. Then for the next few nights, I stayed in a foster home about an hour away with some new people until they found another foster home for me, which was even further away from my Grandma and siblings and cousins than the previous two.

I’m now in a new foster home. I haven’t unpacked anything since I got here. I’m going to turn 11 in two weeks. I hope I’ll get some presents on my birthday, but I really don’t know where I’ll be on that day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mindy's story

Since I was a young child, I resided in the home of my great- grandparents. My mother and father were not active participants in my life. My mother was a substance abuser in and out of trouble and my father did not have anything to do with me. My younger sister and I both lived with our great-grandparents.

At age 13, DSS became involved with my family. A referral was made by law enforcement due to the lack of supervision and my defiant behaviors within the neighborhood. I can remember the incident that had occurred resulting in the referral. One day after looking for our missing cat, we found it dead. It had been poisoned. Since our neighbors had poisoned other animals of ours, we all assumed that they had also poisoned our cat. When my great-grandparents left me and my little sister alone (which was often), I decided to confront the neighbor. When spotting her outside, I began to scream curse words at her. She contacted the Sheriff's Department. The Sheriff's Department then called DSS to come to the home due to the lack of supervision.

DSS kept an eye on our family for the next year. Home visits were made and comments were stated implying that my great grandparents were too old to take care of me and my sister. I had no supervision. I began to increase my defiant behaviors. I would run around with my friends, frequent a local pool hall that was not so "child friendly", and was delinquent. I would not say that my friends and I completed criminal acts but we were doing whatever we wanted to do. My grades were bad in school and I was a foul mouthed little brat.

In 8th grade, I found myself being a target of bullying. Two girls at school and their 35 year old mother would often bully and threaten me. I reported the threats and bullying behaviors to my teachers. Nothing was done about it. I felt targeted and scared. With having no help from the school, I felt I needed to take actions into my own hands. I went to the mother's workplace. When arriving, I was "jumped" by the 35 year old mother and her two daughters. I remember the incident occurred over a ten minute span until the police were called. I left the scene before the police arrived. After the incident I was informed the police were "looking for me". I went on my own to the police department to give a statement. I was informed that I was being charged with simple assault against a 22 year old pregnant woman who worked with the 35 year old. I was confused because the 22 year old woman had not been outside when the fight had occurred and I did not assault her. I was placed on juvenile probation on 02/14/2006.  I was ordered to complete community service hours.

In April 2006, I returned to court for a juvenile probation hearing. My probation was extended because I had not completed my community service hours. Ironically, my mother was also placed on probation this same day due to drug charges. She was informed by the judge that she would need to reside in a drug-free environment, which ended up being in the home with my great-grandparents.  When the judge was informed that my mother would be moving into the home with my great-grandparents and her 2 children, the judge immediately stated that the family had until 2pm to find me another place to reside since I was also on probation. Nobody wanted me. Nobody else in my family would take me because I was a brat. I was placed into DSS custody that day.

On the day of placement, I did not know this would be the beginning of my life being shuffled around like a bag of potatoes.

My first placement was a group home. I remained in the placement from April 2006 to June 2006. I disrupted the placement after returning to my cottage one evening after a dental appointment. When I had returned, I was informed that the whole cottage had been placed on restrictions due to the behaviors of one of the other kids in the home. I did not understand why we all had to be punished. I refused to go to my bedroom and became argumentative with staff. I threw a glass down on the floor. The staff person claimed that I had thrown it at her. My response was, "Bitch if i wanted to have hit you, I would have. I played softball for years!" This response on top of my defiant behaviors caused me to be discharged from the group home.

Since the placement disruption had been sudden, an immediate placement had to be found. I was placed in a home temporarily with a single female, her daughter, and other foster kids. During this placement, I witnessed police being called out to the home on numerous occasions and the foster mother allowing her daughter to do drugs. I could not understand why DSS had taken me out of my safe home to be placed in an unsafe environment.

I was then moved to a runaway shelter for a week. I threatened to run away and they kicked me out. Again, my social worker had to locate an immediate placement.

I was placed then in another group home setting. From June 21, 2006 to November 2006, I remained in this placement. I began to work on my goals and follow rules. I had 2 supportive house parents that assisted me with the goals and provided positive guidance for me.

Since I had begun to show improvements with my behavior, I was placed back into my great-grandparent's home on a trial placement in November 2006. I was excited to be placed back in the home and had chosen to really turn my life around. I followed all rules of DSS, my great-grandparents, and school. Then, in March 2007, my great-grandmother passed away. After this occurred, DSS felt that my great-grandfather was too elderly to supervise me and my sister alone. My mother had gone to prison and he was alone in the home. I was again removed from my home on April 19, 2007. I was placed in yet another group home setting.

In my new placement, I was forced to attend medication management. My SW had informed the doctor that I was depressed and could not sleep well. I remember stating to the doctor and my SW, "Hell yes I am depressed. You have just ripped me out of my home and I am surrounded by people who do not know me that are making decisions about me. My great-grandmother has just died. And, no I can't sleep because I am in a strange environment! I do not need you to medicate me!" Well, they placed me on medication anyways. One medication was Lexapro and another was for sleep. I remained in this placement until January 2008.

In January 2008, I was able to return back to my family home on trial placement. I continued to state to people working with me that it was not fair that my great-grandfather was 87 years old and he had nobody to look after him. He had looked after me since I was a baby and now at the age of 16 (almost 17), I needed to return the favor! I was allowed to go back home when I was 17, still with DSS involvement until I turned 18. Even though I was not in another home, I continued to have DSS supervision.

While I was in DSS custody, I did not feel that my assigned SW, her supervisor, and my case manager were honest with me. It was like they did not want to tell me the truth because they were afraid that I would "flip out". Nobody understood what I needed except another SW working in the LINKS program and a Social Work Assistant. They helped me the most and would encourage me to do well. They had faith in me and provided me support.

 My SW did try to help my family...mostly my mother.  What my SW did not understand though is that my mother needed rehab and prison to change her lifestyle, and by putting most of her time and energy on my mom, she often neglected the needs of my sister and me. But the good news is that my mom is now drug-free.

People do not understand that being in foster care (for some) is like being in prison. Even though people would tell you to be comfortable, you never could be. It is a whole new world! You are told what you can wear, how you can speak, when you need to go to bed, when to wake up, told to do chores, etc.—and it’s a different feeling when it comes from strangers and not your own family. You don’t know if you can trust them, and what usually seems to be so important to them isn’t usually very important to you.

 Even though I did have bad experiences here and there, I would not change anything about my life. I believe that I have become a better person as a result of it all. I don't regret being placed in foster care or for the bad choices I have made in life, because that is a part of who I am now.

 I am now in community college working towards transferring to a four-year school. I have been enrolled in Criminal Justice but had to quit the program due to work and other hurdles in my life. I would like to work in the criminal justice field as an investigator. If this does not happen, I would like to focus on working with children in the system. 

Margie's Story

My sister knocked on my door at 3:00 a.m. She seemed strung out on something, and she was bleeding and bruised. She had no place to stay. Jimmy kicked her out, beat her, told her he would kill her. I told her to go to the shelter, that I couldn’t let her stay with me because my apartment was partially subsidized with a Section 8 voucher, but she said she hated the shelter. She said it would just be for the night. My kids were asleep and it was a school night. I didn’t want to hear the drama from my sister and I didn’t want her to wake my kids. I was letting her sleep on the couch, but I was afraid her bleeding would stain the couch or the blanket, so I told her we needed to get her washed up. We went to the bathroom and I started to clean her up. It was hard because I’d taken Niquil because of a bad cold and I was really drowsy. She screamed in pain as I cleaned her cuts, and I yelled at her out of frustration.

The kids (ages 6 and 7) heard it all, and they dragged themselves into the bathroom. If one woke up, the other always did too, and it’s been like that ever since my youngest was a baby. My sister suddenly got excited to see them, as if it was Christmas Eve and not 3:00 in the morning on a school night. “Hey Sweeties! Give your aunt Casey a hug!” She held out her arms, forcing me to stop cleaning up her wounds for a minute.

“Casey, let them go back to bed. It’s a school night.”

“I know, but I miss them.” Then she starts thinking of her own kids, who are now in foster care, and starts crying. “And I miss my own babies too.”

“Yeah, I know Casey.”

The kids have trouble falling back asleep. I finally get Casey down on the couch at 3:30. I reset my alarm to give myself an extra 15 minutes of sleep before getting the kids up for school.

In the morning, I hit the snooze button one too many times and we rush like crazy to get the kids onto the school bus by 6:15. Casey is still awake on the couch, likely because of the meth—it can keep you awake even when you’re tired. She’s watching an infomercial but offers no help.

We race out the door to the bus, likely forgetting something. The bus is just closing its doors as we get out the front door of our apartment, but the driver sees us and waits. I say good-bye and go back into the house to realize what I’d forgotten—to give both kids their ADHD medication. Crap! The school’s going to be up my ass again, I think.

I try and talk with Casey, who’s still awake, about going to the shelter and getting help for her drug problem. I know how tough it is to get off drugs from personal experience. Casey and I used to do drugs together. My kids were in foster care for a while once as well, but I got them back. I got off drugs. But I know how hard it is to do so. I’m losing patience with Casey. I love her—we were each other’s only support growing up, when our step-dad was having his way with both of us while our mom worked 2nd shift. But she’s bringing me down now.

I can’t get anywhere with her. She’s too strung out. I just want to go back to bed. I can’t handle her drama, and I’m tired and not feeling well. I take some more Niquil to help me sleep through it all.
Just before noon, I wake up to a commotion. I hear Casey cussing someone out. I figure Jimmy’s come for her, and I run out to help. But when I get there, it’s the landlord. He tells me he’s giving me 30 days notice to get out, that I know I can’t have a druggie in the home due to my Section 8 voucher. I beg him to reconsider, but he’s made up his mind. My sister keeps yelling and I tell her to shut the fuck up.

I call my old social worker at Social Services to ask for help. While talking to her, I realize that she was the one who called the landlord, that someone must have called her for one reason or another to complain about me.

I hung up on the social worker and just started to cry. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

About this blog

 “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Or: “To be is to be perceived.” – Bishop George Berkeley (1685 – 1753)

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? This question has been debated by philosophers and scientists for nearly 300 years. For those of us in the human services field, an equally compelling question may be: “If a person’s voice is ignored, or shunned, or silenced, or mocked, does her voice make a sound?”

I am neither a scientist nor a philosopher, but from a scientific perspective, many have suggested that the sound of the tree that falls on deaf ears does not exist. This is because sound is vibration, transmitted through the mechanism of a listening device (ear, tape recorder, etc), and the falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce vibration of the air that can be heard or recorded. If there be no ears to perceive this sound, it is essentially devoid of said sound.

From a philosophical standpoint, the following question is sometimes posed: If a sound is not perceived by others, does it really exist? Along these same lines: Does a “soundless voice”—i.e., one that falls on deaf ears, is ignored, or is misconstrued—really exist? Just as author Ralph Ellison described himself as an “invisible man” in society during Jim Crow times, there continues to be less overt, but persistent, invisibility and voicelessness experienced by those who suffer in silence in society today: The child who is being abused behind closed doors; the woman who is being controlled and physically accosted by her spouse; the person with a disability who is denied a chance at gainful employment; the person on food stamps who gets judged at the store when no one truly knows her individual story, nor wants to know.

If a person’s voice goes unheard, does it exist? If a person is in need of help, living on the fringe of society, who is marginalized, stereotyped, and judged by others who do not know, nor want to know, her story—does this person’s voice exist any more (or any less) than an unknown sound caused by the falling of an unknown tree in an unknown forest?

This blog is designed to try and provide a voice, or perspective, for those people whose voice has rarely been heard. Contributors will include social workers, authors, therapists, teachers, and foster care providers, as well as articles from the “voiceless” themselves—children growing up in abusive homes and in the foster care system; people with mental health issues and physical disabilities trying to maneuver through a challenging system; the poor, the oppressed, and others. Although legislative issues may arise, this blog will not endorse a political party nor a political candidate directly. On occasion, this blog will be critical of some systems, as well as of some individuals—individuals such as social workers, foster parents, and teachers—who do not appear to be showing respect to individuals in need of help. This is not, in any way, to disregard the vast majority of people who work tirelessly for little or no pay to help do their part in supporting children and otherwise voiceless people.  And this blog is open to comments from any person, but please keep all comments cordial and respectful.