Tag Archives: neglect

The Other Side

At my daughter’s age, a counselor told me never to forget three important things I learned in foster care.  What happened to me was not my fault. My experiences made me mentally strong. At 12, I could take care of myself and protect myself. Don’t forget that at 42, she added.

Me, the year I was taken from my abusive mother and entered foster care.
Me, the year I was taken from my abusive mother and entered foster care.

I am not 42, but that marker is not too far off. I forget those facts when adulthood brings me the usual pains of life. Somehow her voice echoes through though, at even my lowest points. Every single child in foster care and every former foster child can muster up this power. It is a gift bestowed upon us by early brain changing, life altering events that endow us with the kind of strength others still seek.

Despite this superhero energy I dig into time and again, voids exist. Voids I try to fill, but in searching for my own identity, still lurk in the background. For more than the half a million children who were removed from abusive, negligent or drug addicted parents, and placed in care, their adulthood leaves these impenetrable gaps.

Often, my colleagues discuss what missing link displaced, abandoned, and neglected children crave most as they develop into adults. Their diligent research is aimed at stopping the negative cycles we all see in the child welfare system, generation after generation.

But, in order to stop the vicious cycle of abuse, depression, graduation failures, addiction, and mental illness that so many former foster children face, advocates must start understanding the importance of maleness.

Foster children need a balance of nurture and protection. Generally this comes from a mother and father figure ( of any gender). Without a true identity, or with a broken one, foster children clamour around their lives seeking to fill emotional buckets. They recreate themselves from nothing.

I never fell into that pile of advocates (many whom I respect and love dearly) who desperately searched for answers, for biological family, especially a father, to heal early wounds. Instead, I plowed on. Some called it denial, I called it survival. Survival sounds better.

Continue reading The Other Side

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The Ebb and Flow of Letting Go

My nerves and heart were both tested this week. The realization that the world can intrude on the safe, secure space I have built for my mini me, came crashing. Former foster children who become loving parents are rocked hard deep in the soul even by minor intrusions on the children we have sometimes smothered for their own protection! 🙂

Me and my girl.
Me and my girl prepare for Santa’s visit!

Often our minds are flooded with the physical and emotional trials of our own past; innocence and trust ripped from us before we knew what either meant. The moments that flash like slide show images when insecurity, fear, doubt, and frustrations sit at our door as adults. It is startling. This is why many former foster children try not to love or attach to anything. For those like me, who ventured into loving motherhood, the slope is especially tricky. We are vulnerable, so is the object of our unconditional affection; it is a tough reality to face.

I have prided myself on being a good parent. Mini me trusts me, relies on me, she feels loved and wanted. Check. But what about what the rest of the world can do to this gentle creature I helped create? There are things I can protect her from and do; people I keep her far from, events and situations we avoid..but what about what is outside my grasp? This is something I had not considered.

Continue reading The Ebb and Flow of Letting Go

It’s My Party-Celebrations and Foster Children

2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!
2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!

Today is my Mini Me’s 12th birthday. Her big blue eyes have been rolling all week, because I dragged out baby pictures left and right all week. Mini me sighs heavily, simply because a  recollection of our connection, is already very real to her. For children in foster care, this day of birth comes with a painful clause in small writing. It is a reminder that their personal past has been erased or deleted. It is a reminder of  a history often long gone or wrought with pain.

Birthdays are a celebration of life, it is a mark of importance of the child to his or her family.  Foster children have been abused, neglected, or lived with a parent with addictions who is gone, and so this validation of importance is not fed.  The violent, or tragic separation or abandonment, of children by their parent or both parents rings loudly on this day. A connection to the happy event of their birth is often not ever born or shared with them. Generally, the day is wrought with mystery, confusion, or even memories of physical pain.

Continue reading It’s My Party-Celebrations and Foster Children

Getting Back on the Horse

 

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My proud girl and her new friend.

Sometimes I stumble. Actually, I stumble often.  Sometimes the past whispers in my ear, tells me I am not good enough, tells me my attainable goals are out of reach. It whispers I am not beautiful enough, smart enough, rich enough, strong enough, or worthy enough. My inner voice is polluted at times.

I heard somewhere, that as mothers, our words and actions to our children become their inner voice as adults. Nothing about parenting is more true. Being a former foster child, who was taken from  an abusive mother, my own inner voice sometimes has a deep, harrowing echo–it sneaks up on me at vulnerable times. It is especially loud during intimate moments and in small daily perceived failures.

Children who were foster children, or who suffered abuse by a  trusted parent often have a life-long emotional barricade. Physical wounds heal and people do move on. We look whole on the outside, we can grow and succeed, but that inner voice taunts. It pushes us to fail, to stop while we are on the path to emotional freedom.

It makes us hold our breath, it keeps us expecting hurt. Sometimes it invites hurt. Failures, personal or professional, seem par for the course. In fact, there is a comfort in being cast aside, or losing a professional goal. That nagging whisper tells us our negative inner voice is correct. It is  the lifelong impact of early abuse.

But, being a mother now always gives my soul another chance to drown that inner voice. This week, I watched my beautiful girl get up on a big horse and proudly trot around an incredible horse farm. Her bravery and confidence astounds me. Her inner voice is strong. When she is scared, she hears me telling her she is the most beautiful girl in the world. She hears her family telling her she can do it, telling her to try one more time.  She is whole and not fractured. She later climbed a fort, pulling herself up on ropes, and laughing at my fears. She is strong, where I am not.

My proud rider.
My proud rider.

She stumbles (not often), and she gets herself back up. I asked her how she is so brave. After all, she is now an aspiring artist. She is my little chef who studies french baking. She still climbs trees and likes to rock climb higher than I ever would! She nurtures every living creature, even the scary ones. Most importantly she always wants to help someone else. Only yesterday she asked me if she could do more to help foster kids. She is so proud of herself when she gets involved. She is selfless beyond any child I have met.

I felt so emotional watching her climb that horse. My daughter is everything I was not as a child. She is fearless.

On the way home, I told her I am so proud of her willingness to try so many things. Her response was: “I am so proud to have you as my mom, in all the universe there is not a better mom. That is why I get back up when I fall off!”

Me-- Just entering foster care after I was taken from my mother.
Me– Just entering foster care after I was taken from my mother.

This is what foster children, discarded children, and abused children need. They need what secure and loved children like my girl have; one consistent voice and presence urging them to be their best selves. Advocates can bring this to all children. Former foster children can create a new generation of givers in our own children. We can create strong women and men. Our own inner voices can be quieted for yet another day.

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This work by menaanne.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

 

 

Power in Permanency: Foster Children Need Family

Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.
Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.

Courts in New York State made a decision this week which has spurred some debate over foster children and the idea of family. A foster child, loved by two people who lived in two different homes was made adoptable by them both.Critics of this recent case argue that one parent in two homes was not an “ideal” FAMILY.

Foster children have no real concept of an ideal family, they simply need stability and safety. They create a family through a network of friends and temporary siblings who come and go. To them there is no Uncle or crazy cousins, loving grandparents, memories of watching siblings grow. They have lost that idea by being abused or neglected and placed with strangers, temporarily. They do not need what some people argue is ideal. They need to sleep under a warm roof, with no threat in the middle of night or their safety, they want to trust that they will not be abandoned, they need protection from the “family” who abused them, and they need to stay in one safe home as long as possible. One parent, a gay parent, a parent of a different race, is the best alternative to the street, or to pedophiles and abusers.

The negative feedback this case has received in certain circles astounds me. It came to me, at about 3 am this morning, that maybe the people fighting against “alternative” permanent placement, have no understanding of American foster children and their circumstances.
Continue reading Power in Permanency: Foster Children Need Family

“Other” People’s Children

There is no doubt the foster care system in America is overwhelmed. Hundreds of thousands of abused, neglected and homeless children swarm in and out of its complexity. However, America still has a moral obligation to help innocent immigrant children escaping religious, personal,  and sexual persecution who bleed through our borders daily.

Me, a year after being taken from my abusive mother and entering foster care, 1981.
Me, a year after being taken from my abusive mother and entering foster care, 1981.

I know this is not a “popular” school of thought. However, as an advocate for healthier, stronger and safer children, how can I not be proud that my country has the ability to shelter and protect children who are not American, but who come here seeking refuge? Children who come from blood stained streets, homes with no electricity, war-torn towns; children whose last hope rests in this country.

As a former foster child myself, a child that was abused and thrown away,  I know first hand that the system here falters. But I also know that children can come from the darkest place, the dungiest corners of the world, can encounter the most violent atrocities, and be healed. If given the opportunity at a young age, a child can be saved!

Me and my beautiful daughter, 2014.
Me and my beautiful daughter, 2014.

It is reprehensible that my fellow advocates across many media platforms are condemning the education and support of innocent immigrant (unaccompanied)  children. I question the intention of any advocate who thinks discarding “other people’s children” is the right thing to do, and I wonder if they sleep at night and what they are really advocating.

Let me be clear, I am not a proponent of unrestrained illegal immigration. I am a vehement supporter of national security, and a passionate supporter of national defense.  The children I am referring to are not in any way associated with those that CLEARLY want to bring more drugs or guns into this country. They are not associated with the deplorable terrorist murderers who want to instill fear and mayhem in our streets. Moreover, amongst the drudgery that comes in to this country, are the innocent.

Continue reading “Other” People’s Children

Motherless Mothers

As children, we define the term mother or father with femaleness and manhood. We gather up this definition from our role models, good or bad. Some lose that image through death and hold on to that ideal or negative image as something to work toward or run away from for the rest of their adult life.

20131004-081342.jpgFor children who have no model, or a conglomeration of role models from strangers, this identification is daunting. My daughter is 10 years old. At her age my real mother had vanished after years of confusing court visits. I had an adoptive mother step in for a few years until she died before I entered 8th grade. After that, I observed the relationships, identities, tragedies, and triumphs of my foster sisters who I lived with until I left high school. I sometimes watched the movements of friends’ mothers, or strangers on the street, gathering up my idea of what a mother really might be.

I decided when I became a mother that motherhood must be the ideal image I saw in television shows; baking cupcakes, sitting at games, supportive, emotionally present, consistent. This is what I modeled my parenting style after and every minute of it has been the joy of my life. I have had years of birthday parties, years of scraped knees and hospital visits, crying , laughter, games, homework, dinners, baking, crafts, school projects, diaper changing, up all nights, cuddling all day, picnics in the park; all the things I missed out on as a child. Being a mother saved my heart.
Continue reading Motherless Mothers

Handle with Care: Time to Step Up

In 2013, the state of Texas was startled to see the number of children’s deaths in foster care rise. The state passed legislation this month demanding regulations and oversight of foster homes. It includes stipulations that frequent home visitors be assessed, community relationships be monitored , that work, finances and mental health issues be looked at before children are placed in temporary homes. Some of these basic ideas are truly monumental. My hope is that other states jump on the bandwagon.

Me, a year after entering foster care.
Me, a year after entering foster care.

Several states have lost control of public and private sector social service systems that literally leave kids out in the cold. Florida felt the heat after two foster children who were unknowingly missing for several years, turned up dead. They suffered years of abuse from parents who continued to take stipends for their care after their deaths. New York, Texas, California, Florida, Alabama have all had very public tragedies unfold. In some states, “lower” level sex offenders have been found taking in foster children.

Very few states have made it officially unlawful to even place children in the care of parents whose spouse/boyfriend/son/daughter are sex offenders. What does this reabuse already do to weakened foster children?
The truth is the system is overwhelmed. With nearly 400,000 children officially in foster care in America, solid families are few and far between . The New York Times reported on a homeless foster child this winter living in and out of shelters in NYC. Her story is nothing new, but it was a startling piece on a loss of childhood. Displaced foster children are the face of homelessness in America. It is a distressing trend. They live on cots next to offenders, violent criminals, the mentally ill in some cases. And they are CHILDREN.

Children are put in foster care due to physical/sexual abuse, neglect, or because of a parent’s drug addiction. The intent is for the child to be temporarily placed until they can be reunited with a biological relative or rehabilitated parent. Oftentimes, that reunion doesn’t happen and children are shuffled from home to home.

I was put in foster care at age 5 after I was found locked and hidden in my mothers-basement abused, not fed, unable to walk or speak. I was found with other siblings who were also abused and left like dogs to rot in the dark. While my experiences were painful, they helped me grow into a better person. And more able to appreciate the chance to be a mother and have a relative/family of my own. They make me love stronger: I know the value of my life because I was nearly robbed of it.

I saw the shuffling of kids in and out of the system. Some are probably still on the street. Some are dead, some are in jail, but others are very successful. Some found their rock in foster care, had a school mentor, were successfully adopted or somehow left their ghosts behind.

Abused children are sometimes at risk for reabuse. Without the protection of a solid foundation they are often left flailing in the wind. While foster care is intended to be a refuge from instability; neglect, violence, sexual abuse, starvation, torture and even murder happen in foster care here in the United States. Sadly abuse happens even more so in biological homes.
Continue reading Handle with Care: Time to Step Up

Should Pandora’s Box Be Opened?

My favorite writer, Rainer Maria Rilke says that we should leave certain questions unanswered in our hearts. Instead, he reiterates we should love the questions themselves, taking from them a curiosity and peace in their mystery. This is not an easy feat. When I was taken from my mother, I was found broken, burnt, nonverbal and locked in a basement, with a boy just a few years older than me. For years as a young child, the identity of this young boy plagued my dreams and instilled a child-like fantasy of lost brother and sister running down the street into each others arms.

ME!-1981 - Just entering foster care.
ME!-1981 – Just entering foster care.

I would watch tearful television reunions of mothers whose separation from their child (voluntary or not) somehow impacted their life. Forgiveness and tears always followed and everyone reunited years later, running off into the sunset, full of new colors. As a young, confused child, these Hollywood images were indeed saddening in many ways. Foster children, aside from dealing with abuse or neglect challenges, do also have a whirl of mystery surrounding their life. Identity is equally as challenging as safety and trust. Some, if not all foster children, use this fantasy as a self defense mechanism; it gives an abandoned or abused child the hope that they were loved in some way even by perpetrators of abuse.
Even into adulthood, some foster children remain hopeful that the orphan Annie musical is somehow written for them. Surely, every parent loves their child? Surely every parent regrets abusing/neglecting/ abandoning a child? Sadly, those statements are sometimes wrong. There are indeed many foster children and adopted children who go on a hunt for “real” family many years later and are successful. Wounds are healed, transgressions forgiven, and sometimes well-intentioned parents live up to the fantasy of loving protectors. They loved their child, they lost them due to some mistake made, and they have good souls.

Sadly, not all parents are benevolent. Not all biological families had good intentions. Abusers NEVER have good intentions. For foster children whose past involved physical, sexual or emotional abuse, I would say this “fantasy” does more harm than good.

Continue reading Should Pandora’s Box Be Opened?

Protecting the Unprotected

A friend and advocate shared this post this morning about the manipulative tactics of child predators. It is something that anyone who works with children in the system needs to read. The traits listed are a personal reminder of the insidious methods of those who truly prey upon children in care.

http://swtimes.com/news/special-reports/sexually-abused-children-usually-know-their-abusers

Children in foster care are especially vulnerable to abuses once they enter the system. The nature of their circumstance;  no solid parental figure, transient homes,  and lack of trustworthy/consistent adults puts them at high risk. Some foster children only know abuse before they enter a new home and so when the cycle reappears, it is hard to recognize.

It is the job of foster parents, mentors, teachers, social workers and advocates to educate children and anyone who works with children about the malignant tactics of child predators. They are generally not strangers hiding in the bushes. Usually it is an adult or child that is trusted. By gaining trust, the abuser has easy access to the child.

The predator uses an intentional manipulation of caregivers and the child to gain access. Gift giving, over-attention, being in a position of high esteem, or simply being the only person who notices this child, are just a few ways that predators find a weak link. Being trusted by the family or community gives the abuser an open door. Even more so, when predators are trusted family members or foster family members, it is an enmeshment that is hard for the child to escape.

Pedophiles “groom” caregivers and children to believe they are a valuable asset to the child’s life. Then, in private, the abuser shows his or her true colors. Soon, the child is caught in the highs and lows of the depravity of a well-calculated manipulation.

Teachers, social workers, mentors, health care workers and parents need to be trained to understand the psychology behind the grooming tactics of predators.  Education is the key to keeping  vulnerable children safe enough to have a childhood.

 

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This work by menaanne.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.