Thursday, December 13, 2012

No "exemption" for child abuse

The following article, about unlicensed youth homes/camps that are somewhat exempt from Child Protective Services due to their religious affiliation, is highly disturbing. This is not an issue about church vs. state or public vs. private agencies and which is better equipped to work with troubled youth. It is simply about abuse, and how no one should be exempt from the law when they are physically and mentally abusing children in our, or any, society.

I realize that there are some people who will say, “Why were the children put into these homes or camps in the first place?” The quick answer to this is “it doesn’t matter.” Quite simply, children from this article were, at times, tortured and beaten for such “crimes” as not doing enough push-ups, throwing up due to exhaustion, and complaining of injuries. And in typical oppressed fashion, they became terrified to speak. Child abuse simply cannot be tolerated for any reason.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Becca's story

Since I was little, I knew I would never amount to anything. My mother had always told me that I wasn’t worth much and I could never hold a candle my little sister.  She was always perfect. And my mom always made sure to remind me of this with daily comparisons to her.

We lived in a single wide trailer on the outskirts of town. My mother worked a full-time second shift job and my sister and I remained in the home at night with my step-dad, who was usually drunk.

The sexual abuse started early, immediately after I hit puberty around age 12. I guess when I reached puberty and my body started to change, I caught his eye. I often wore loose clothing to cover up my growing curves, which was necessary because of how fast my body was maturing. I still played with dolls and stuff but my step-dad got me interested in watching wrestling on TV with him. I guess when I sat beside him, his lingering eye began to see what my body had turned into.  He never showed an interest in my little sister. Maybe because she was his blood. I wasn't. I have never met my real dad.

After the first incident of sexual abuse occurred, I hesitantly told my mom. She wasn't very sympathetic, which was what I feared. She told me to shut my damn mouth and stop stirring up shit in her family; that she had a "good man,” as she’d always called him. With my pleas falling on deaf ears and my mom doing nothing to stop it, I continued to endure the sexual abuse weekly. I have mostly blocked out many of my step dad's drunken nights when he sent my sister to watch television in his bedroom and requested that I go to my room. Each time, I knew how the story would end. I would go in my room and was expected to be naked on my bed. My step dad would them come in and shut the door. I remember the strong smell of beer and motor oil (he was a mechanic by trade). I still get physically ill when I smell beer and motor oil together.

"You are mine baby," he would pant out. When he would finish, he would often say, "If you tell anyone, nobody will believe you. Everyone knows you are a fucking crazy."

I knew the last part of his sentence was true. I was "a crazy.” This was verified by my mom and the doctor. My moods would change drastically and I couldn’t control my emotions. They called it “Bipolar” as I reached my teenage years, but I really didn’t understand what that meant. I didn’t know it at the time, but now I’m pretty sure that my erratic behaviors were not necessarily because of Bipolar, but because I was living in such a toxic home.

They prescribed me Lithium, and I hated how it made me feel. I often pretended to take it, then went outside and threw it in the woods.

As the abuse continued, I felt hopeless. At school and in the neighborhood, I started to gravitate towards the "trouble makers” (I mean, who else was I going to hang with? The head cheerlead?). At age 13, I began sneaking out with my friends as I wanted to do anything to get out of the house. I often met up with the boys in the neighborhood to drink wine coolers, smoke pot, and even to have sex. I must have felt that being promiscuous was my calling. I couldn't get enough of it. I guess it numbed me due to the sexual abuse I’d experienced. Or maybe it empowered me. I don’t really know.

I landed in jail (“juvey”) the first time when I was 15. A few of my friends and I “stole” a car from an elderly lady in the neighborhood (we were planning on returning it). All the law enforcement people, and even my mom and step-dad, felt that being in jail would "teach me a lesson.” What they didn’t realize is that this wasn’t so bad—in fact, it gave me a nice break from being my step dad's little sex toy. When I returned home the abuse continued. My depression got worse and I began cutting myself on my inner thigh and upper parts of my arms, hoping my step-dad would find me less attractive and would leave me alone. I didn't know that each little cut would be so relieving. I remember watching myself bleed as I dug deeper and deeper into my skin and feeling a release of my pain and emotions. This was something I had control of and enjoyed inflicting such pain/pleasure. I was using drugs more than ever, feeling it helped my mood better than the Lithium or other medications did. 

I ended up getting pregnant for the first time when I was close to 16. I dropped out of school and stayed at home with my growing belly. I didn't take care of myself, gained an enormous amount of weight in hopes I would again be less attractive to my step dad, who I was hoping was not the father. This only worked for a few months. I ended up miscarrying. 

Again, I went back to my old ways but found a new group of friends, ones that were much older and experienced in harder drugs. My friends were the only people I trusted—they had a crappy life just like me, and could understand me better than others. I ended up leaving my home one Saturday and moving in with my boyfriend. This lasted for a while. I liked the partying, having sex on my terms, and making my own money through selling my boyfriend's drugs.

When I was 20, I probably should have been dead and gone due to my lifestyle. I continued to take drugs and dabbled in criminal activity. I had a new man in my life and we were getting married.

One day, he didn't come home. My friends had told me that he was sleeping with some older lady. I decided to see for myself and went to her home. It was dark and I watched them having sex through a window. My anger took control of me and I grabbed an empty Corona bottle and busted through the sliding glass door. I ran to my boyfriend and pushed him on the ground. His bitch screamed out loud that she was calling the law. I bypassed her and grabbed him by his neck. He was a small guy so with my weight and anger, I overpowered him. I drug him from the collar of his shirt through the broken sliding glass door and began slashing him with the broken glass and started kicking him. His old lady kept screaming in the background.  Before I knew it, the cops came and pulled me off of him.

I felt pleasure seeing him lay there bleeding. No man was ever going to hurt me again even if I did go to prison.

When the case was heard in court, my court appointed attorney talked to me for less than 5 minutes before the hearing. Court was very confusing—it seemed that I couldn’t defend myself and only the people in suits or a robe could speak, but not the actual person whose life was on the line. I ended up in a prison for 18 months. I admitted to all if my actions: the assault, writing worthless checks, and drug activities.

When I ended up in prison, I found it to be a whole new world. Women had been locked up for crimes that were a lot harsher than mine, and it was rough. It seemed I was always either getting the shit beaten out of me, or beating the shit out of someone else. A cell mate of mine began teaching me the ropes. She said that it would be in my best interest to join "a family.” She explained that the families included grandmothers, mothers, and their children. The grandmothers were declared the highest rank because the length of time that they had been incarcerated and their crimes. The grandmothers were usually the murderers. Each group had their own "pushers.” These were usually the younger inmates who could get you any kind of contraband you wanted. By being part of the groups, you would be protected by them but would sometimes have to pleasure the older ones through sexual acts. I participated in all of it in an effort to survive.

I did my fair share of fighting and picking on the newer and more helpless inmates. One lady I used to pick on was an elderly woman named Dorothy. She had long stringy gray hair and walked around with a blank stare on her face. She wouldn't talk to anybody. I would throw food at her and would often flick my cigarettes on her. I was told to do so and for once in my life I followed the rules.

For months, I never asked why all the inmates hated her. One day I asked one of the grandmothers and she told me Dorothy was crazy and had done something beneath contempt: she had killed her own baby and chopped him up because she was mad at her husband, who was abusive to her. This was the story that was being told about Dorothy, and I have no clue if this story was true but regardless something inside of me woke up. I didn't belong in this place and I needed to get my shit together. I wasn't going to grow old in prison. I needed to make something of myself.

The doctors straightened my meds out and I became somewhat more stabilized for a while. When my time was up, I was released. I was told I had been released on "good behavior" and I could begin to work on becoming a productive member of society. I couldn't go back home though. My mom and step dad were still living there and I had no friends of merit. My case worker ended up finding a shelter that took in homeless people. I went there and stayed for a few weeks but was kicked out due to fighting, although I was just protecting myself.  For once in my life, my mom offered to help me a little. She still didn't believe me about the sexual abuse that I experienced, and because of this my relationship with her will always be difficult. She always believed her husband over her own daughter, and she never did anything to stop the repeated sexual abuse that has so drastically changed my entire life. It makes me mad. But I have no one else.

When I left the shelter, I started working on college courses. I had finished my GED when I was in prison. I was able to scrape a living somewhat from cleaning some houses, getting paid under the table. I moved in with an elderly relative who I wish would have let me live with her when I was being abused repeatedly by my step-dad. It might have changed my whole life if just one person would have protected me. Maybe I wouldn’t have become such a mess. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone to prison, which prevents me from getting hired from any respectable business or agency. Hell, I can’t even get on at McDonald’s with my criminal record, and I’m only in my young 20’s. Will it always be like this?

My step-dad died several months after I left the shelter. I had mixed feelings about his death. I did cry. While I was crying, my mom put her arm around me, thinking she was comforting me. “See?” she said. “You must have loved him. You’re crying because he died.”

I pulled away from her.

No, mom, I thought. That’s not why I’m crying.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Foster Children and Psychotropic Drugs

This ABC report on 20/20 (link below) demonstrates many of the challenges for children in foster care, focusing primarily on the use (or overuse) of psychotropic medications for children in foster care.

This certainly does not mean that all psychotropic medications are bad. Sometimes psychotropic medications help tremendously. Sometimes they are the only intervention that stabilizes a child enough to be taught in school, or to gain invaluable insight in therapy. But this report does a good job of exposing the potential dangers of prescribing numerous psychotropic medications to children in an effort, as one foster child once told me, “to turn me into a robot for their benefit.”

This video is 30 minutes long, and if you watch to the end you will also see the positive side of foster care: those parents who provide permanent, unconditional acceptance even as the child’s behaviors present tremendous challenges. Unfortunately, only about 1 in 10 children who are put up for adoption end up receiving this permanent, unconditional acceptance that they so desperately need. And deserve.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Use of Restraints

For anyone who has worked with children with severe behavioral issues, you know firsthand that it can be quite a challenge to find techniques that keep everyone safe while simultaneously providing the child with important skills and tools to better manage his behavior in the future. But such strategies and techniques do exist; furthermore, there are exceptional trainings available.

Below is a link to an ABC News report that demonstrates the prospective complications with using restraints and other potentially dangerous techniques on children, some of which have resulted in major injury and even death. There are better ways. I have had the privilege of being trained by Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry on alternatives to restraint. Dr. Perry has an informative website about working with children with emotional and behavioral issues ( in a very humane way.

Here is the ABC News link: