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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Here We Go Again


I caught a snippet on the news yesterday, and it caused my heart to go spiraling down to my boots. I had hoped that things might have changed some over the past twenty years, but apparently I was mistaken. The segment was about a "vulnerable adult", a nineteen year old youth, who was placed by social services to live with a young family. It turns out he is a convicted sex offender, and he went on to severely abuse the two young children living there. Social services were fully aware of his history, but they did not see fit to disclose this to the family they placed him with.

Reminds me of an earlier time..

Big sis' returned to work part-time when her daughter was three. She managed the "Gateway Club", a charitable social club for disabled children and their families. She also volunteered in her spare time as a "Home Start" friend, lending support and advice to parents struggling to cope raising a family. Many of the people she befriended had been raised in care and were never taught the parenting skills most of us take for granted.

May (my sis') was unable to have any more children, a cause of deep sadness to both her and her hubby. Through her involvement with various social services agencies, she became aware of a scheme offering a half-way house to accommodate young teenagers leaving the care system at age sixteen. Homes are sought within a family unit where they may stay until they are ready to make the transition into fending for themselves out in the adult world. She decided to participate in this, opening her home to a young girl who had been raised most of her life in care. Elaine was a student, and as it turned out she went on to make a great success of her life. She is now thirty-six, married and has a family of her own. This placement has a happy ending, May and she remain very close, in fact she was even the honorary "mother of the bride" at Elaine's wedding, and is now Godmother to Elaine's firstborn.

My sis' is no saint, but she is a good person, she believes in offering a helping hand, in giving encouragement in place of disapproval, and in her quiet way, she has left a positive mark on many people's lives. So it was no surprise to any of us then when she and her hubby decided to apply to adopt a child. It's a rigorous screening system, they had numerous visits and interviews with social workers, as well as being required to attend an intensive twelve month "training" course on various situations they might need to cope with. Very few babies are adopted from birth, most children have travelled a long and hard path before finding a new family. Sis' wasn't blinkered, she knew to expect a fair share of bumps along the road.

A little flame-haired, ten year old called Alice soon came to visit. She was covered in freckles, slim and silent. She had been fostered with several families over her short life, the details were sketchy, but she came with a "life-book" of photos which documented where she had stayed. She appeared to have been moved around a lot. Alice slowly came to know her prospective family. Jen, May's daughter, was four at the time, she trailed around her like a little puppy dog. The visits stepped up to overnight sleepovers, then on to long weekends. A month or two down the line, schools were discussed and the papers readied for court. It seemed to be working, at least on the surface. May knew Alice was a troubled child, it would take time for her to trust, learn to adjust, but May knew her occasional outbursts were symptomatic of Alice trying her out, testing to see if she would turn her back on her. To understand her better, May wanted to know more of this little girls history, but her social worker was openly selective in the information she gave. It was policy at the time not to load Alice's "past" into her new life, in order to give her as much of a blank slate as they could to start her out on.

Now I don't know about you, but it seems to me pretending that something hasn't happened doesn't make it go away. I would have thought counselling and help would be far more beneficial to a child like Alice, than to deny any issues that may need to be addressed.

There were some warning signs all was not right, Alice was often aggressive with other children, she stored food under the bed, and would often sleep walk. It wasn't until almost too late before my sis' learnt the true depth of Alice's problems. They woke to the fire alarms blaring. Alice had made a mound of papers at the bottom of the stairs and set light to them. She had unlocked the door and stepped onto the lawn to watch as the house burned with them inside.

Get this - she had done this THREE times before. No one thought my sister and her family should know this. Heartbreakingly, Alice went back into care. Sis' gave up on any more hopes of adoption, she had grown to love Alice and felt she had failed her.

A few months down the line, May received a phone-call. Would she be prepared to be a short-term foster parent to a six-week old baby, until they could find a more permanent placement for her?

Little Karen's mother had held her by the ankles and swung her head against a brick wall, which is how she came to arrive to my sisters arms with a fractured skull. Only love and time can mend a broken head, sis' was afraid to rock her for fear of causing further damage. When Karen cried - and she cried a lot - May held her, whispered to her, cuddled and stroked her gently. One week fell into two. A month passed, then another. Karen gradually healed, physically anyway. Her mother, herself barely seventeen, was granted limited, weekly supervised visits. Initially, she brought her own mother along with her, and May tried to be supportive. Oh my, she tried.

The trouble was, the family wanted Karen back. Preventing this, (to their mind) was May. After the first couple of visits, Karen's mum began skipping the odd week, sometimes she would show up with a boyfriend in tow, other times she'd just show up unannounced. May began receiving a series of threatening phone-calls, excrement was posted through her letterbox, people she didn't know, friends or distant relatives of the family began to harass her in the street. Nothing was documentable, she rode the storm alone.

It was finally agreed Karen would remain with May until Social Services decided what to do with her, either return her to her birth mother, or to order she be put up for adoption. It was a granted assumption by all parties that should it be the latter, May would be allowed to adopt her for her own. Karen's mother and her family still spasmodically came to visit, and May, for Karen's sake still tried to make them welcome. After over a year, an uneasy truce was made, and the harassment gradually ceased.

Fast forward another year, Karen is almost two. Without prior warning the social worker came to break the news to my sister that precious Karen, she of the now brain injured delayed development, was to be returned home to the birth family who had caused these injuries to her. May had just two weeks grace given before she had to kiss her goodbye forever. Jenny, six at the time, was equally heartbroken. This was her beloved sister. When Karen's cot was eventually dismantled, Jenny screamed and fought to stop her dad from taking it away. My sister never really recovered. It had a long-lasting, terrible knock on effect. Less than a year later Jen's dad also left, he just couldn't cope any more.

Sis's
entire family was virtually ripped apart.

My sister eventually remarried, but she never fostered again. She sadly also even gave up her voluntary work, it brought back too many memories she'd rather forget. Having retrained, she now has a successful holistic clinic specialising in a whole range of alternative treatments. She still helps people, but she has just learned to close the door when she goes home. Guess she had to, eh?

46 comments:

*Goddess* said...

My sister used to foster, too, but after getting attached to babies, only to have them taken away time after time, she stopped doing it. I felt sad for her because she had a lot of love to give, which was also her downfall.

Suldog said...

God, Shrinky, that's such a sad little collection of vignettes. Your sister must be an amazingly strong person to have lived through those times and come out the other end, period. God bless her.

Something is just not right,as you point out, when these things happen. Too much information, not enough information - the brains behind it all aren't the best, are they? Sad.

Marty said...

Life can be tragic at times... I am sorry for your sister's suffering and I am humbled by her strength.

jinksy said...

Common sense seems to have been strangled by red tape, yet again. So sorry your sister had to bear the brunt of it. x

Shrinky said...

Hi Goddess, sounds like your sis' did a lot of good though, I'll wager there are a lot of kids out there who have grown into healthier adults down to the likes of her.

Suldog, funny thing is, it was all so long ago I kind of had forgotten what a special person my big sis' is, you do, don't you? I think I need to call her, eh? And yes hon, that's the trouble, the best brains don't enter the social services field, being so underfunded, the pay is too crap.

Hi Marty, life is often unfair, yes, and my big sis' is cetainly strong. I guess that's the point I am making, the system took someone ideally suited to providing a stable, loving home for someone, and totally ate her up and spat her out again. In the meantime, so many kids are sacrificed.

Shrinky said...

oh jinsky, my replies must have crossed just as you commented! Yes hon, I am beyond any surprise at how often and well the powers that be can stuff it up for all concerned.

Akelamalu said...

From start to finish that post was a sad indictment of the failings of the social services in this country. I'm so sorry for your sister but I applaud her for trying so hard to make a difference. x

CHEWY said...

Fostering animals has less red tape!

That first paragraph shocked me. (yikes) I can't believe "they" let a convicted sex offender into a home with children.

It's nice that your sis found a rewarding way to help in which she is comfortable and not emotionally bonded.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

its all about making a difference and doing whats right... amazing how many just dont get it!

great post!

~Babs said...

And it doesn't seem that it should be so hard, does it? I mean rational, common sense thinking is beyond these agencies it seems. A good friend of mine got her master's degree late in life to work in this field, knowing, and not caring that there was no money to be made, but hoping to make a difference.She tried.Gave it a couple of years, and couldn't stand the heartache. Angels,,,your Sis and my friend.

FrankandMary said...

Yes, she has to close the door. I am a person that doesn't close the door, but I am unmarried with no children, and when I risk something, I risk just for me. That is a risk I am willing to take. I've let a couple of homeless people stay with me in the past. Would I do that if I had children? I doubt that. I might want to, feel a pull to, but I'd have to protect my children......

Margaret's Ramblings said...

What a sad commentary on our lives these days. I sometimes think that the powers that be couldn't make a bigger cock up of the way they deal with those who need help so desparately if they tried. Your sister and her family deserved better than this as did the little one whose life has been sacrificed, Margaret

Shrinky said...

Akelamalu, as you may be aware, now having a child myself who lives with autism, I have had numerous dealings on his behalf to try to enlist the help of social services. I wish I could recount one positive outcome. It's been one long fifteen year exercise of banging my head off a brick wall.

Chewy, the sex offender was convicted TWICE before arriving there, just as Alice had set fire to THREE other separate homes before almost burning my sister and her family to a crisp. It is criminal negligence to withhold such vital information from the families they so carelessly place at risk.

FFF, I know people who enter the social services field do so because they really do want to make a difference. Massive underfunding overfills their caseload, and the resources they can access are far to oversubscribed to be allocated where needed. The turnover rate is massive, as the morale is non-existant. These few folk who do want to make a difference often leave disillusioned and disgusted.

Yes bab's, it's so sad these Angels are eaten up and spat out by the system they so want to help aid and support. Madness indeed.

Mary, when you let these homeless people stay with you, commendable as it was, you waived any back round checks and made the decision to take a calculated risk. My sister was not aware she was placing her family at any risk whatsoever. She had no idea she had taken a proven arsonist into her home, nor of the danger social services had knowingly placed them in.

Margaret, the tragic fact was, little Karen was effectively ripped from all she knew to be effectively placed with what to her were by then virtual strangers. All in the name of her best interests? I think not. Sigh.

The Future Was Yesterday said...

There are no words that will ever make right the suffering and abuse a well intended soul like your Sister endured. Mankind has the capacity for both the best, and the worst. Your Sister saw only the worst.

"she has just learned to close the door when she goes home. Guess she had to, eh?"

If she wanted to survive, yes, as cruel as it sounds. Taking care of a defenseless other often takes all you have, literally. When there is no time set aside to address your needs, burnout occurs.

Shrinky said...

Ah Dan my friend, you have summed it up so well. Burnout. Yes. Sigh.

david mcmahon said...

You have touched my heart, Carol.

No, you've touched all our hearts.

CHEWY said...

This story has a connection to your "Five Stories High in SW7" post. What you see is not always who a person really is.

Casdok said...

As you say political madness.
I have been fortunate and always had a positive experinces with social services. But when they get it wrong they get it wrong big time.
My heart goes out to your sister. (I too do Gateway and Homestart!) Lovely to hear she is now married and runs a successful worthwhile business and is able to close the door.

Shrinky said...

Hi David, ah it was all such a long time ago, what saddened me most was hearing of history still repeating, and of yet another family betrayed by information withheld.

Jay said...

So terribly sad. :(

There is an awful lot wrong with the fostering and adoption service in this country. I assume it's the same on Craggy Island.

I simply cannot understand the philosophy that withholds such vital information. Simply cannot. I can see that the notion of giving the child a clean slate might be attractive, but not at this cost.

TheWritersPorch said...

This is a world full of pain and sometimes it seems those who try to do good things end up being put through more pain than those who do not care.
Carol

Hilary said...

Your sister has such a big heart. So sad that it was broken this way. True that the powers that be don't always make the best decisions but that true of many things. Thank heavens for people like your sis.

Robin said...

i wanted to say so much but still couldn't get all the words together so..

damn it all to hell.

just damn it all to hell.

your poor sis and her family and those poor kids. stupid social services. in your country and mine, they just keeping mucking things up.

Merisi said...

Unbelievable that social services would keep a family of young children in the dark about the history of this man.

My admiration to your sister,
for being such a strong woman.

SJ said...

No good ever goes unpunished it's said and I guess greater the deed greater the punishment.

I admire your sister for what she did and wanted to do and the strength she showed while at it.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

What a story, a sad ending in many ways but I guess your sister has eventually found happiness with a new husband. It beggars belief what goes through the minds of some of these social workers. I don't know any personally but we hear so many terribly stories about the way they conduct their departments, some more horrific than others.

My love and best wishes to your sister. Thoroughly enjoyed your post. Good on David, for nominating you.

CJ xx

imbeingheldhostage said...

OMgosh Shrinky, this is heart wrenching. I've always admired people who foster, because it takes Herculean strength and courage to survive it. Bless your sister and her family.

Congrats on a well-deserved POD award.

rosiescribble said...

Hi! Over from David's. Congatulations on your POTD. What a powerful post, well deserved. It is horrific that SS did not pass the information on about that man. Our past affects who we are to day, so whether it's good or bad it needs to be acknowledged. The consequences are devastating if it's not, as your post highlights.

Shrinky said...

Hi Casdok, yes, she has moved on, twenty years heals a lot of wounds. I am encouraged you have found SS supportive, I know there are a lot of good folk in there, far more than bad.

I am with you Jay, I am at a complete loss over that too.

It was a tough time, Carol, yes. Hard to stand by and see the way events played out. But sis' is a survivor, she came through it in the end. Smile.

Hilary, the heartwarming truth is, May is far from exceptional. Most of us do care about the welfare of our neighbour. (Thank God.)

Awww Robin (hugs), yup, political correctness has swung wild, hasn't it? Whatever happened to plain old common sense, eh?

Hi merisi, yes, I confess I froze when I caught this on the news - I couldn't believe they STILL do this. Horrific.

Such a sad truism, sj, yes. Shrug.

CJ, hi there hon, how lovely to see you in here! I know they probably mess up far less than they get it right, but it that's small consolation to the lives that are wrecked.

Thanks imbeingheldhostage, the irony is, sis NEVER considered fostering, she knew she wouldn't have the strength for that, this was thrust upon her. Not fair.

Hello rosiescribble, welcome to my humble abode! Never a truer word there, we are the sum total of our experiences, good or bad, it molds us into the person we are.

Maggie May said...

Oh my Goodness! I am appalled! How awful for your sister. I am so sorry.
Something is very wrong with the system, letting people do that.
It was appalling not to be told about the 10 yr old pyromaniac and also totally wrong to wrench a lovely child that had been cared for so well and put her back into a virtually estranged birth mother's home where she had been physically abused causing brain damage.
It was terrible what it did to your sister and the whole family.
Something has to be wrong somewhere with a system like that.

Came over via David's. Congratulations on winning POTD

J said...

Sadly,having had many friends who have passed through the UK 'care' system your sister's story does not surprise me. The only people it doesn't seem to fail are bad and abusive foster parents. Decent fosterers and the kids seem to be treated like rubbish. Perhaps because of the bureaucratic mentality that only seems to care about targets and cost effeciencies.

Sandi McBride said...

Had I been your sister I would have passed pleasantries with the Social worker, then when she was safely around the corner, packed madly and diappeared from view...with them it is out of sight out of mind, right? The system is cruel, as we well know. I hurt for your sister, but I hurt for Karen and her "sister" more...too sad a statement...
hugs to all
Sandi

Debbie said...

Over from David's.
I cannot believe this story. What a terrible disservice they are doing everyone involved by not being honest and forthcoming. Your poor, poor sister. I wish her much happiness.

Indrani said...

Reading the story brought a lump to my throat. Sometimes I feel we live in a strange world, how can some people be so indifferent? Hope sis recovers from all these bitter memories fast.

Indrani said...

After reading the post, I was lost in my thoughts, forgot to mention came via David's! Touching post indeed!

Mojo said...

It's not any better anywhere else in the world. The social services machines in every country and state that have such are riddled with broken parts. Sadly, I'd guess that a majority of the people who work in these agencies have the best of intent, but find themselves handcuffed by policy and regulation at every turn.

Underlying most of these effed up policies is the absurd notion that if it's at all possible to do it, a child is better kept with his/her birth family. And sadder still is that these families truly believe they're the best option too. Sorry, but if you've gone and damaged a child for life already, you never see that child again. One strike and you're out. It's too important.

Tell your big sis I love 'er. And she deserved better than she got.

And congrats on your POTD. It was well earned.

San said...

Shrinky, your sister has such a big heart, and for it to be broken like this, repeatedly, because of the ineptness of bureaucracy, makes me very angry.

Thank you for an eye-opening post.

Shrinky said...

Hi Maggie May, it's so nice to see you in here, welcome aboard! You know, I didn't tell my sis I had written this post, I feared it might open some old wounds for her, but after receiving all these supportive comments, I think she should see and read them herself. I am sure she would find them very validating. Thank you (smile).

Hello J, oh sweetie, yes I know, few kids survive unscathed once they are fed through "the system". So sad.

Hey Sandi, I know I shouldn't laugh, but weren't you in law enforcement (giggle)?? Aw, hugs to you, you are priceless (x)!

Hi Debbi, thanks for dropping by. I shall tell sis - no better, I shall have her read your well wishes, I think it will wrap a smile around her heart!

Hello Indrani, welcome to my humble abode, good to see you here. I am so glad to say May doesn't have a bitter bone in her body, she did learn to move on, she had to. Smile.

Ah mojo, there speaks the voice of sanity, I am with you all the way there!

San, May's heart is now filled with a beautiful grandson whom she adores and spoils every chance she is given. Life sometimes has a way of compensating, eh?

Janie said...

How terribly sad for your sister.

CQA said...

What pain, all around. I can only wonder at the damage causes to the little soul by being torn from your sister's safe and loving arms. Attachment happens both ways. Thanks for taking the time to share this experience.

Pouty Lips said...

I can speak to the social worker side to the story having been a social worker in what seems to be a life time ago. I have a laundry list of bad things that happened to me; 1) I was held hostage by a mentally impaired emotionally disturbed woman while she held a knife to my coworkers's throat. 2) I was in the middle of a home visit when a drug dealer busted in the door with his gun pointed while my client screamed, "this is my social worker" and tried to push him out the door. 3) I drove a seriously mentally ill (I hate that terminology but I don't know what else to use) patient to a psychiatric evaluation; she didn't like the outcome and would have beat my face in had I not driven away in my car leaving her behind. I was written up for leaving her behind!!! I am on their "no rehire" list.

My kids begged me to leave the field although I spent six years in college to 'help' people.

I'm an auditor now and I make three times the money - combing through receipts, invoices, and paper all day long!

There is something wrong in Gloccamora.

Shrinky said...

Ah Pouty, something very wrong, indeed. I am amazed you don't have post traumatic stress, good God girl, that is appalling. The ones on the front line, those who really do want to make a difference appear to be carelessly tossed to the lions. In such a high risk occupation, noone should be sent out alone. Course, that would mean extra funding, eh? Or should I say adequate funding? I am acutely aware the majority of social workers leave their chosen profession (every time I finally find a special needs worker for my son, I am usually told they have left after a few months). A huge caseload, few resources, and little back-up makes for a thankless, stressful occupation. It's not those who fail us, it is the lofty policies and pie-in-the-sky guidelines they are forced to follow that combine to make their well intentioned efforts sometimes little more than farcical.

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

Reelly bad that she wassent warnd abowt the fire gerl, an how horribol to tayke the the 2 yeer old away, it must hav upset her as well. Terribol. It mite be law but it issent rite.

Sumtimes yu can help uthers TOOOO mutch until it's like tryin to giv peepol a drink ov warter from an empty bukket. It can leev yor own inner beads worn owt. Like wiv yor sister.

Very sad. But I hope she is ok now. At leest ahe haz a nice sister.

(I hope she haz a Bear too.)

Shrinky said...

Oh Bob, what a wise, wise little bear you are. Yes, sometimes your own little inner beads can get worn out, and when that happens to you, you just have to call it quits, don't you? (And yes, she has a little bunny, not quite a bear, but nearly as good - smile).

the world of gaye said...

I was getting angrier and angrier as I read this. In Australia we also have the same stupid laws governing foster children. As a result we have had a rise in children dying terrible deaths (a 5 year old was thrown from a very high bridge onto cement in front of her little brothers last week) and neglect of these precious kids on the rise like never before. My brother and his wife cannot have children yet would make far and away better parents than some of the cretins and drug addicts I see every day. I am afraid I have run out os sympathy for these dregs that are called "parents". As far as I can see all the help and support is going to the wrong people, it should all be about the child and no-one else. Any body can fall pregnant, it doesn't make you a mother. When is the legal system and the people that make these stupid decisions going to get it right? And I wonder how they sleep at night because of thier heartbreaking decisions?

Mmm said...

i can tell you so many stories like this. it is heartbreaking, isn't it? Glad your sister at least has done what she has. there is o easy answer but thank god for those whoa re brave enough to try. its jsut so sad when one's won family is destroyed by it when reaching out in best efforts. thanks for sharing here.