“The work of our department is challenging. We are the safety net for Florida’s most vulnerable children and families. But with the challenges of our work come great rewards. Our vision is this – to deliver world-class and continuously improving service at the level and quality that we would demand and expect for our own families.” — Secretary Mike Carroll
Last month, two DCF child protective investigators initiated an investigation at a home where a 4-year-old was allegedly living in unhealthy conditions. The father answered the door and initially would not allow them into the home, but with persistent encouragement he relented and let them in. The home was filthy, with human waste and trash strewn around the home. The father appeared to be going through severe withdrawals, and the mother was lying on the couch completely covered under a blanket. The mother was incoherent and visibly unwell, with severe bruising on her face, arms and legs.
The CPIs called 911 and at the hospital the mother was diagnosed as suffering from seizures. Doctors said her health was so poor that without intervention she faced death.
The child was placed with her grandmother, and a couple of days later, the child asked one of the CPIs to attend her 5th birthday party. The CPI attended the party and then accompanied the child and her grandmother to visit the mother in the hospital. The mother has since been discharged from the hospital. The grandmother cleaned the house, and a relative is staying with the parents in the home to provide support and assistance. The child is thriving in her grandmother’s care.
It takes a lot of heart to do this job well.
Guest post by Terran Vandiver, who grew up in kinship/relative care in Southeast Florida.
My history isn’t a pretty one—my childhood was full of tragic and traumatizing experiences. You know what they say, “it takes a village to raise a child,” well, I didn’t have that. I was living on the edge of the poverty line.
I had an alcoholic mom and an abusive stepdad. I was the oldest brother in my family, which made me the man of the house and I had to take on a lot of responsibility of being a man before I was able to.
Imagine trying to defend your mom and sisters from molestation when you don’t really have the strength to fight back against your stepdad. Imagine losing every fight. I wanted so badly to show my little brothers that there is a good man somewhere in this world.
One day, something in me just told me to open the front door and run down the street and call 9-1-1 and see if they could help me. And a few minutes later, police cars came and basically took away the devil in my life.
After that, I got referred to a program called HANDY by one of my caseworkers. HANDY felt like home because I was simply able to relate there. They helped me understand that what I went through is a worldwide issue. I didn’t like going to school. I didn’t feel like I could connect or that people understood me.
But people understood me at HANDY. They understood that I was just as lost as them. And we all had a hope that we could overcome the dilemmas in our households.
We talked about managing money, time, and relationships, and transitioning into adulthood. Now, I’ve graduated from not just high school, but also Florida Atlantic University. I was the only person from my block and from my family to go to college. I broke the limitations of my stereotype.
My successes are based on the hearts that I’m able to positively influence. My salary is defined by the empowerment that I’m able to help youth experience. And my asset is the revitalization of my community, so that we can all comprehend the necessity and benefits of the universal connection, which impacts us all. #ITCANBEDONE
One of our CPIs visited a school recently and saw a 10-year old girl rocking back and forth and rubbing her temples hard. The CPI contacted the school nurse, who said she had been unable to reach the father. The CPI then tried calling the father herself and reached him.
She found out that the frustrated father had already taken his daughter many times to the doctor but received no diagnosis and had no more time to take off from work. The CPI offered to take the child to the hospital herself, which inspired the father to call his mother who took the girl to the hospital where she received an MRI. Because of the CPI’s adamant concern, the child was determined to be on the verge of a major stroke after having had multiple mini strokes. The child was later transported to a larger hospital for further treatment.
The CPI says it was simply her “mother instincts” that saved this girl’s life, but it is just this kind of instinct, motivation and big heartedness that makes such a big difference in the lives of those we are called to serve.
Guest post by Jesse Wilson, child formerly in Florida’s foster care system, advocate, TV host, nationally recognized author and emerging politician. This post is reprinted with permission from www.jessewilson.org.
Strange. Strange but … beautiful. A life extraordinary is what I have been mandated, 25 years now. I was dealt a tough hand early on and have been trying to bluff my way through since. I want to tell you about the wild card that was dealt my way this morning but realize many of you do not know my back story. So I’ll start somewhere near the beginning.
I come from a broken, messy, disastrous family that is cursed. Perhaps due to all the horrible things they have done to themselves and others over the years. The family includes members of the KKK, sexual predators, felons and so much more.
I burst forward into this glorious family and the world on September 22, 1988. My mother was 15 and my father was 28. They would proceed to give me three younger brothers over the next four years. A situation that undoubtedly should have been cancelled from the start was given permission by my grandparents on my mother’s side.
I have sitting on the table beside me two discs compiled from a box of records. Records that detail the first few years of my life. They include all the abuse reports, medical records, and baker act documentation for my family. Around 5,000 pages of information to be shared at another time. I have blacked out much over the years and am slowly allowing it to trickle back. It all basically says how horrible my parents were. My father was the purveyor of pain and mother was the enabler who sat idly by in fear.
My three younger brothers were eventually removed from my parents and placed into foster care and I went on to live with my grandmother, grandfather and aunt. Things here were not too bad. My aunt and I developed a strong relationship. I remember going to school together, looking up to her, coming home and eating sliced cheese together. She became my very best friend.
My grandmother would attempt to be sophisticated, but she would always fail. She was helpless; she had the same abhorrent blood of the family coursing through her body. Moments of unprovoked or irrationally provoked rage were ordinary.
Eventually it led to me too being brought into foster care.
When the police and child protective investigator came to remove me from my grandmother, I was locked in a closet. Sock in mouth and vowed to silence, I sat lifeless, afraid to move. Footsteps all around. Voices of thunder.
I spent the rest of my childhood in foster care and was eventually adopted into a wonderful family. I was given a new life, though not perfect, calmer.
The first times my biological family began to come back into my life was shortly before my 18th birthday when I was contacted by my biological mother. Being a child of wonder, I wanted to know so many things and spent hours on the telephone with her and had a few meetings. I quickly realized she was not the type of person I wanted a relationship with. I have a mom and dad who adopted me and raised me, yet she insisted on calling me son and me calling her mother. The “I love yous” rang furiously and rattled bitterly in my head. The relationship became one sided. She was the only pursuer.
My father came back into my life a couple years later. I was curious and searched his name online. His picture came across the Florida Sexual Offenders database. The charge read “Lewd assault/sexual battery on a victim under the age of 16.”
What do I do with that? Like my mother, I had many questions for him but now had a daughter in my life and couldn’t imagine spending any time with a man/coward/waste like this.
I gave in and rode out to meet him at his trailer. A large confederate flag donned the window, and trucks were parked in the yard. The house was filled with pictures of family, some in KKK outfits, and art that he had drawn. The art was really good. He was talented and wasted it. The meeting was therapeutic and strange. He provided dozens of photographs from my early childhood. I had never seen one of my baby pictures until this moment. He showed me photographs of us at visitation, though I was always told he never showed. I saw myself in him physically. The way he would talk and the way he would laugh. It was electrifying.
Shortly after I met my father, one of my brothers was murdered. August 20, 2011. Six months out of a three-year prison sentence, he was on the way to restoring his life. He was still young though and spent a lot of time having fun. A long story short, he was stabbed 26 times at a party by two guys with strange stories of their own. The trial for the second one finally concluded in May. This was perhaps the toughest point of my life. I planned and signed off on a funeral for my 21-year-old brother. I kept strong for my family, both sides, and tried to keep tensions between my biological and adopted family non-existent.
Last June, my aunt was involved in a freak, still not fully explained, accident. The story is blurred, but reads something like, she was headed home with her boyfriend and their car broke down in the mountains of North Carolina. They were drunk and something happened where she ended up in the middle of the road and was hit and dismantled by a semi. When I received a call that she was gone, I wasn’t sure what to feel, or do. She was family but I hadn’t seen her much apart from the occasional Facebook post. At the same time, she was a major part of my story.
My grandmother died in July and again I find myself not knowing how to feel. Forgiveness is something I believed I had given but I could never bring myself to have a relationship with her, or any member of my biological family apart from my brothers. She would often reach out to me, comment on pictures, shares messages on my Facebook timeline. I was always quick to delete and erase any trace of her. I now sit confused. She was no longer my family but at the same time … she is. Where is the line between compassion and forgiveness drawn?
My extraordinary life is because of them.
I share this not for pity but to possibly encourage someone else. Look where I was and look where I’m at.