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?