One little boy lost between the cracks … and then miraculously “found.”
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who wanted, more than anything else in the world, to have a real family. A normal family.
He was nine or 10 years old, as I recall now, slight for his age, and lived with a woman who adopted him. There were other foster children in the home, but he had actually been adopted by her — and so the home visits from Social Services (as it was called at the time) made on his behalf were stopped. He now legally “belonged” to her.
The woman who adopted this boy was “crazy” in layman’s terms, “deeply disturbed” in court language, but was called “Mother” in his strange new world following the adoption. He had been abandoned by his real mother — this adoptive woman spoke the truth when she said she would never do that. She barely let him out of her sight. In fact, she kept him locked in his room (naked) for days on end after beatings, when she would not let him go to school for fear of discovery. Instead, she put a small school desk in the living room and brought him downstairs for “lessons.” Many times, the lessons were to write several hundred times, “I will stop being a worthless boy” or “I love you, Mother, and I will do better to make you happy.”
When the “family” — the group that consisted of this woman and the boy and the other children in her custody — went to the store, she took this boy’s shoes and socks from him, sometimes stripping him down to underwear while she went inside, figuring he would be too embarrassed to escape. Sometimes he escaped anyway, but he had no place to go, and she always found him. When she occasionally left the house without him, she sometimes locked him in the house so that he could finish writing out those “lessons.”
In her defense, she was convinced that he was a Devil Child and so sometimes she beat him black and blue to try to drive the devil out of him. That’s what he said. She told me that he had lessons to learn and he needed discipline.
I met the boy one day after he escaped from her van. He didn’t have on appropriate clothing to be locked in a car, nor shoes. He was badly bruised. I actually was called in by the suburban police department in my role as a police crisis interventionist, and asked to talk to the boy — to calm him down and to figure out what was going on (not only with him, but inside his family). Subsequently, I interviewed him and the woman, the other children in the home, and neighbors.
As a result of those conversations, I notified the county child abuse and neglect unit; they launched a more thorough investigation. Subsequently he was removed from the home and put in protective custody. Unfortunately, the only place for him to go was into an adolescent treatment facility, as there were no emergency foster home placements available for a boy of his age.
There, he was put into the equivalent of a cell and locked down at night, where he couldn’t sleep, listening to the other boys’ threats or wails. He tried not to cry out loud, because that wasn’t cool, and he was old enough to know that not being cool was an invitation to bullying. I bought him a radio with headsets so that he could listen to that at night so he possibly could fall asleep, and he hid it in his room — it was the only thing he owned besides the clothes on his back.
I stayed in touch with the boy, visiting about every other day, and we celebrated his birthday together; I brought my children to the facility and we played on the playground with him. When he had been there long enough to be able to be “signed out” for day privileges, I picked him up for outings at area parks or to go to special events or just out for ice cream. I felt responsible for his placement, and there was not one person involved in the situation who considered it to be ideal for a frail boy.
I tried to get approval to be his foster parent but I didn’t have enough bedrooms to qualify. My basement bedrooms didn’t count because there was only one exit from the basement, not two. Imagine being told your home was inferior to a cell at the overcrowded treatment facility…. This is where common sense and process again failed the boy. However, it was a moot issue; he would not be moved to any private home until the adoptive mother’s legal rights to him were rescinded.
While that definitely would be a step in the right direction, his caseworker informed me that he was ultimately likely to be assigned to a group home with young offenders: teenagers who were remanded into custody due to their affiliations with gangs (and gang behavior) or their criminal acts against people or property.
The boy cried and begged me not to let them send him to “one of those places.” My children, who also had bonded with this boy now, also pleaded with me to find him a family. But how can you create a family out of thin air?
I really didn’t know what to do, so I prayed. Then I turned to the Salvation Army in a nearby community and asked the commander of the center to put out a plea to his congregation to find a family (with an appropriately built house) who might be willing to eventually adopt such a boy.
The very next day, the adoptive woman’s rights (I hesitate to call her an adoptive “mother”) were rescinded in court, and immediately after, another woman stepped up to the judge with the child’s legal advocate (me) and said she wanted to bring him into her home. Her husband was a deputy, and they had a boy the same age as this child — and they had room for another child in their home.
The court cut through the typical red tape to have her approved by Social Services, and she visited him that day and began the process of getting to know and love him.
This woman, who worked part-time at the Salvation Army, had responded to the call for help.
Subsequently the family fostered him, and he lived in the suburbs with a brother and a dog and a real mother and father. He went to school and was more like, than different from, the other children in his class. For the first time in his life, there were no horrifying secrets to keep about his homelife.
It wasn’t all smooth. He wanted to live with me — the first person he trusted — so I backed out of his life more and more so he might bond with the new adults in his world (and he resented that somewhat). There was food-hording, bonding issues, trust tests, etc. But the family’s true heart overcame those obstacles and they eventually adopted him.
This boy was brought to mind recently when I was speaking to someone about my long-term relationship with the Salvation Army, and I was trying to explain all the way the organization touches lives. In this case, I think it likely saved a young man’s future and help him cope with his past.
This story has nothing to do with day-to-day corporate business (nor do many of my blogs). But it has everything to do with the business of area nonprofits that are in the business of transforming lives. And aren’t we all in a better space because of them?
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