Tag Archives: abuse

Finding Hannah

Guest blog post by Ms. Taylor*, a Florida teacher.

Hannah* was my little helper at school. Only a first grader, she was smart and always wanted to hand out papers, get supplies, anything she could do to help. Her hand always shot up to answer questions. She told me she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.

But then she changed. She didn’t want to help me anymore and stopped raising her hand. When I tried to engage her and called on her, she said she didn’t know the answer. One day she was in the bathroom for a long time before lunch so I went to check on her. When she came out her eyes were red and she was embarrassed – she had been crying. I noticed during class that she would snap a rubber band on her wrist – hard enough to leave little red marks.

I just felt something wasn’t right. I asked her if everything was ok but she said she was fine. I asked her how her mom was doing, what she did over the weekend, things to try to get her talking about her home life, but she gave me one-word answers, always telling me she was fine.

It hurt me to see her this way. Where had my helpful Hannah gone? I figured the Florida Abuse Hotline would think I was crazy if I called. What if her dog died or her parent lost their job and they had to sell some of her belongings. I had no idea why she had changed so drastically. But my heart ached for this child – something just wasn’t right. So I filled out the online abuse reporting form (www.FloridaAbuseHotline.com).

Our school had a DCF Abuse Hotline community trainer come out to the school about eight months ago, so I knew that even if my report didn’t start an investigation that maybe it would supplement a previous report. Or maybe someone else would tell them something in a month or so and then it would start an investigation. I knew that even if it ended up being something like her dog dying, that I did this out of love and concern for the child. I suspected something was wrong at home and it could be abuse or neglect.

I’ve seen glimmers of my old Hannah back, but she isn’t like she used to be … yet. But she seems to be getting better every day. Yesterday she raised her hand during circle time! I hope that my report helped her, but I know for a fact that it didn’t hurt.

If your school or organization would like a DCF Abuse Hotline community trainer to provide a training, please email Ashley_robinson@dcf.state.fl.us. 

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons. 

My take on foster care

Blog post by Kristen Bolander, a foster, adoptive and biological mom in North Florida.

Baby Adorable and I blogging away

Baby Adorable and I blogging away

I had the pleasure of babysitting a tiny little bit the other night. The baby, who I will name Adorable, is adorable and in foster care. As I snuggled Adorable to death I was reminded of all of the emotions that come over you as a foster parent. This is Adorable’s foster parent’s first foster kid. Not only that, but they have a 7-month-old bio son themselves. They took in an addicted baby when they have their own child to raise.

We have all seen those blog posts about how hard it is to be a foster parent, and how it’s worth it, and all. This is my take on it…

 

 

As a foster and adoptive parent I get comments everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

“God bless you for doing that.”

“I’ve always thought about doing that.”

“I could never give a kid up.”

“When the time is right I am going to foster.”

“I wish I could do that.”

“You’re such a great person for taking in abused kids.”

“There is a special place in heaven for you.”

“You must have a heart of gold.”

We heard all of the above comments at the beach in one hour.  All in front of my kids which gets old for all of us.

We heard all of the above comments at the beach in one hour. All in front of my kids which gets old for all of us.

While I always appreciate any encouragement I can get, I hear these same phrases so often that they have become blanket statements for people to say, when they want to express their admiration for someone but don’t know how. I smile, make a joke about how I just drink a lot of coffee and have a bunch of bad ideas and walk away before anyone can bother to ask more questions like, “Are any of them related?” (Please, do not ever ask an adoptive parent this question in front of their children – use your head people.) 

My feelings about foster care aren’t about how hard it is to give a kid up, though it can be very difficult. For me, what has been hard is looking the kids in their beautiful eyes and thinking about what has been, and what could be. Those incredibly long nights, when you are awake with your addicted baby who is screaming from withdrawal are hard, really hard. That time when you look in your child’s eyes and you see the resemblance to their bio mom and a moment of fear flashes through your mind of, “What if they turn out like that?” and you can do nothing but pray and hope. Those moments when your child is screaming to go back to the person who hurt them.

Those foster care classes where they give you the reality of foster care but then try and let you know how rewarding it can be, they cannot prepare you for it all. Sometimes it’s not rewarding. Sometimes a child will come into your home and you cannot help them. Your skills and love do not match their needs, and you have to find that child another home. Sometimes, or a lot of times, you lock yourself in a bathroom and cry because you are so overwhelmed by the kid’s behavior, or the thought of what happened to them, the thought of losing them or everything. Being a foster parent is overwhelming, and emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s not hard for me to love another person’s child; if you’re a kid in my home, you’re my child and I love you, though many times I may not like you. It’s hard to deal with bad behaviors and it’s hard to accept that people abuse children, but that’s what foster parents do, day in and day out. All while caseworkers, attorneys, and Guardian Ad Litem’s, come in and out of the home, make phone calls about you, and scrutinize if you have taken out your bathroom trash that week or not.

I don’t watch TV because it’s a great way for me to avoid the news and reality of the world around me. I don’t get newspapers, I don’t follow politics, and I don’t really care about much going on around me. But abuse, I’m not in the business of ignoring reality.  I copied this from www.adoptuskids.org.

“More than 250,000 children in the U.S. enter the foster care system every year. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system. Most of these children are living with foster families, but some also live in group facilities. Each year more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care without being adopted. Today there are 104,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted ranging in age from less than a year old to 21.”

250,000 kids come into foster care each year, and you know where they end up? In the homes of tired people, emotionally exhausted people who just want to sleep through the night, people who have raised more kids than ‘The Duggars’. Those foster parents, when approached by strangers giving blanket statements, “I don’t know how you do it, I could never do that,” smile and give some generic answer, just like I do, smile again and move on. But in truth most of those people who say those seemingly nice statements have no clue how much we foster parents give, and love. They have no idea how much time and energy we invest into helping mold the most vulnerable members of society, who will one day grow up and have a choice to make about how they want to treat their children. We work, day and night, to ensure that our kids aren’t treated differently, that they get the special services they need, that they feel loved. We have to think about child abuse all day, not just when it pops up on the news for three minutes. It is our kids’ constant reality, and now ours. If you get upset when you hear something terrible on the news, truly stop, and think about how foster parents have to take that reality on 24/7 until the child, or children can adjust.

Today, go thank a foster parent. Don’t give out any more blanket, “Oh you’re such a great person” statement. Go DO something for them. Foster parents are helping to change the entire world of the children in their homes. That’s a big freaking deal. Take them a meal, send them a gift card, or write them a thank you note. What we do behind closed doors is epic, even if you can’t see it. But to us, it’s all worth it, knowing that even if that kid was with us for just a few days, we helped make their life a little better.

I love being a foster parent. I know foster parenting is not for everyone, but if you have honestly been considering it, here is a video that my husband Willy and I are in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwIA8y-YjY8

To Err is Human

Guest post by Judge James Seals.

SealsThe death of a child at the hands of a caregiver, someone a child trusts, is indeed one of our community’s most tragic events. It’s even more tragic when the child is under the watch of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), but it will continue to happen as long as humans have the capacity to make mistakes – which is always.

Child protection system professionals, like physicians, airline pilots, builders, and police officers, to name some, make mistakes which can directly or indirectly cause the loss of human life. Their duties require them to gather information, process it, exercise judgment, reach conclusions and make decisions – all human functions – usually under some measure of situational stresses and the pressures of time. With risky endeavors, having insufficient information, or lack of time to consider all the information, or drawing an erroneous conclusion can lead to bad decisions which in turn can cause a death or other tragedy. Expecting zero deaths in professions where human judgment and high risk intersect every day is a fool’s wish.

Rather than pass judgment and sentence on DCF on the few bits of anecdotal evidence gleaned from the media – which covers less than 1% of all cases handled – the better response is to ask whether the child protection system is learning from mistakes made, and how. As a veteran of 15 years in the child protection system, my answer is yes, but I must quickly add that learning from mistakes will not guarantee that child mortality by abuse will always decrease over a given period of time. Every day the child protection system encounters new, different and increasingly bizarre ways that parents and caregivers manage to endanger their children. If child abuse and neglect were stationary targets, then systemic improvements would consistently reduce child abuse and neglect. Child endangerment, however, is and always will be a moving target pursued by humans who, no matter how competent, will always fall short of perfection. The best we can hope for is a steady downward trend over the long term.

The child protection system, which includes our legislature (policy), the courts (oversight and final decision-making), and the child welfare agencies (investigations and case management), is constantly searching for new and better evidence-based best policies and practices to prevent child maltreatment, to ensure child safety and to improve families’ capacities to safely and competently parent their children.For example, investigations now go far beyond just focusing on the alleged maltreatment to information gathering on surrounding circumstances, child functioning, adult functioning, general parenting practices and general discipline practices within the family under investigation. This enables system professionals and courts to make better safety-related decisions right from the start of the case; it improves the system’s capability to assess and control the dangers to vulnerable children through safety planning; and it helps caregivers through targeted case planning to improve family functioning by removing or reducing the threats to child safety.

Costly mistakes are most likely made out in the field where system workers come face to face with offending parents and victim children. Throughout Florida there are many well qualified, well trained, passionately motivated workers out in the field. However, the turnover rate of these key players in child safety and welfare is very high. The good ones get promoted out of the field or move on to better paying, or less stressful jobs in other careers. The ill-suited are either terminated or resign. High turnover in field personnel is the incubator of error. Even the best child protection system available, staffed at the higher echelons with the best leaders and experts, will always underperform without a stable, qualified, motivated cohort of investigators and case workers at their command.

Constant and diligent efforts at controlling risks and dangers will never eliminate the human capacity to err. Regrettably, airplanes will continue to crash, bridges will collapse, brakes will fail, parents will abuse children, and people will die. That’s life, pure and simple. I’m not suggesting we look upon child abuse with resignation or acceptance, nor am I suggesting we throw away accountability. I’m advocating for responsible, well-informed, constructive accountability which asks the right questions instead of making the same old ill-informed, ill-advised, illogical demands.

 We can begin by acknowledging that Florida’s child protection system is blessed with many great generals and colonels, but it is also plagued by high turnover and low morale among the troops. Not taking adequate care of the troops may well be the worst mistake of all. Why this is happening is one of those right questions to ask.

Restart

Guest post by Summer, daughter of foster parents Denise and Pierre. Summer will be entering her junior year of high school at the Academy of Arts & Minds in Coconut Grove, FL.  She majors in creative writing but also loves to draw.  She has chosen to stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood.

Summer's beautiful smile!

Summer

Often times I find myself in a situation that seems all too familiar, yet somehow foreign. I find myself caught, so to say, between one world and the next. I don’t know which road to take or whether I’m doing something the right way or the wrong way. All I can do is follow my gut feeling and wing it (which is normally not the best thing to do).

I get told a lot that I don’t need to make all of these decisions on my own.  Or that it’s okay to screw up here and now. But what people fail to realize is that I often feel as if my previous track record is too much for yet another ‘’failure.’’ I feel like I can’t mess up, like it’s me against the world.

A therapist would say that those ‘’mistakes’’ weren’t your fault – actually most people would. And most of the time, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just brush off what people say. They can’t possibly know what they’re talking about right? Right.

Not a single person in this world will ever come close to facing the hardships you have faced as an individual. No one has lived the same life as you. No one has faced the same constant chastisement or neglect. So the next time someone tells you that ‘’it’s alright,” go ahead and tell them they’re wrong. But remember they are only wrong for falsely sympathizing.

Under most circumstances a youth should never be blamed for the outcome of his/her life. It’s not fair. You weren’t asked to be created and you sure as hell didn’t ask to be put through whatever it is you did go through. You didn’t ask to be beaten or molested. You didn’t ask to go to school every day in long sleeved shirts so that you could cover up the bruises from last night. You didn’t ask to be alone, or to be teased on every day for being the quiet, disassociated freak in the corner. You asked for none of it.

You didn’t ask to be abused or neglected no matter how little or how much it was. You didn’t ask not to be loved. You didn’t ask to be born to a pot-head and a prostitute. You didn’t ask. You asked for none of it, so why the hell does everyone around you keep dishing out such a big plate of hate? No one really knows why. You could search a thousand years and still never find the answer to that. And that’s because there is no answer to it.

The only possible solution is to keep on living; to overcome. To put your best foot forward and forget everyone who set aside their lives to make your own miserable: to restart. Trust me there is a restart button in life, but you’re only going to find it if you really want it.

For a good portion of my life I wallowed around in self-pity, always afraid of what would happen if I stepped outside of my box. I wanted change but I wasn’t willing to take the steps necessary to do so. I couldn’t take them because I was locked in a perpetual chaos. I was stuck floating in some sort of survival mode, and I was afraid.

Christmas photo with my new family.

Christmas photo with my foster family.

That part of me changed shortly after arriving in foster care. I felt safe, and most importantly, I knew I was safe. I knew there were new people in my life that were more than willing to do whatever it took to make sure I would never go through what I did before.

It’s been more than two years since my placement in foster care. I no longer need to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to live, rather I find myself thinking about how I will live.

A wise man once said, ‘’The circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.’’ Often times I find myself reflecting upon those words in moments of weakness, because I know that they are true.

One of my baby sisters in my new family.

One of my baby sisters in my foster family.

Who am I? The identity challenge for sex trafficking victims

Guest post by Jesse Maley, founder of Out of the Life Inc., a Central Florida organization that helps women find freedom from the sex industry. OOTL provides counseling, therapy, career help, emergency services, housing, family reconciliation and justice system assistance.

One of the ways sex traffickers hold their victims captive is by taking away identification documents. Without their state ID’s, drivers licenses, social security cards and birth certificates, the victim does not have access food, clothing, housing or any other basic human need. Without identification they can’t register for school, get any kind of job, open a bank account or get an apartment.

The documents also allow the trafficker to get the victim’s food stamps, social security or disability payment and PIN numbers – things the trafficker will not give up.

As time in captivity continues, the victims are assigned “working names.”  These names are changed often and many victims claim that sometimes they had so many names they couldn’t keep them straight.  Their identities are as lost to them as their pride, confidence and self-respect.

All of this is happening right here in Florida.

In 2012, Out Of The Life Inc. helped many local victims reclaim their lives by:

  • Helping 20 survivors open new bank accounts
  • Providing job placement and career counseling for 22 women.
  • Enrolling three survivors of sex trafficking in local vocational schools
  • Helping 13 women pass their GED.
  • Providing housing for 13 young women who had nowhere else to go.
  • Assisting with re-entry services for more than 60 women who were in jail or prison
  • Providing too many bus passes to count so that these survivors have transportation to work and school.

Out of the Life helped this sex trafficking victim obtain housing, an ID, a bank account and a job. She is now working to become self-sufficient.

The most transformational experiences we have had were in the faces of the 130 women that we assisted in accessing one or more of their Identification Documents.  One young woman said it best when she opened not only her own birth certificate, but that of her 6-year-old daughter: “It’s like now I really exist!”

There a dozens of hurdles that service providers to victims of sex trafficking face when responding to a new case regardless of age or gender, but one of the most rewarding case management tools we can offer is the restoration of their identity documents.

Spread the word about human trafficking – let people know it is happening here in Florida and needs to be stopped. If you know of someone who may be a victim, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at (800) 962-2873.