A Human Canvas-in the darkness of childhood abuse and neglect-Volume 8-"A Different Kind of "High"er Education
A Social Worker's Journal
I remember seeing her for the first time. She was sitting in the middle section of a white, 15 seat, passenger van that brought her to my office from the local department of social services. She had a beautiful face. Clear complexion. White, straight set of manicured teeth, that no doubt had been donned with braces in the recent past, and blue-tipped, blond hair that matched her deep, blue eyes. She also had a pierced nose and upper lip, and I noticed a small heart tattoo on her hand, near her right thumb. She was staring off at a group of nearby teens, standing in the mall area, and she was friendly when I approached the van. She smiled, but she looked tired and a little sad.
I asked her what her name was and she answered in a whisper, "Jillian, I'm sixteen". I told her who I was and that I had found a great foster home for her for the night. I also told her that we would meet in the morning to talk about what had happened in her birth home, and why she had been placed in care. It was as if she hadn't heard me, because she immediately asked when she would be going home the next morning. I explained again that we would talk more about everything in the morning, and then I gave her my business card and told her to call if she really needed to speak with me before we met. She agreed, and went willingly with the foster family who had picked her up at the agency office. It all had seemed pretty routine to me. We get the call that a placement is needed, the department brings the child, we choose a foster home that suits the child's particular needs, and then we wait.
We wait to see if the placement works. We wait for a court date to see if the child will be returned to the biological parent or another family member. We wait to see how, and if, we can meet the child and the family's needs. We just wait.
While we wait, we go about daily living. We work. We have our own families and our own lives to attend to. We work with other clients. We go on, but, the kids that we have placed into care-wait. They wait to see if and when they can go back home to their families. They wait, wondering if they'll get to go back to their schools and friends. They wait for answers that we can't give them right away. They've lost everything, and they are at the mercy of strangers. Can you imagine that? Knowing that the new home you're in smells different. That the new family doesn't eat the foods you and your family eat. That your favorite pillow was left behind, so you have no idea how you'll get to sleep at night. All this and more. Worries and waiting.
Then when the morning comes, and you learn that your new client did well in the foster placement, you start to feel like you've done something right. Then, you meet with the client.
I met with Jillian as we had planned, and things went about as well as expected. Perhaps she thought that if she told me the truth about everything, that she'd get to go home. I tried to explain to her that it didn't work that way, but I guess when you're 16, you believe that adults can just make things happen. I wish that were the case.
She disclosed the reason she came into care. Of course I already had this information from (CPS) Child Protective Services, but it became clearer and more detailed when told from Jillian's point of view. You see, after an evening of doing drugs with her biological father and brother, an argument began and when fists flew, the neighbor had called the police. From what Jillian could remember, her father had asked her brother if he had looked for a job yet, and her brother had answered that he hadn't. It all fell apart when her brother continued stating that he had all the money he needed so he didn't see the hurry. Jillian's father was an esteemed professor at a local, state college, and since he had been given custody of his two children when his wife left him, he had always provided his family with all the extras that life had to offer, and then some. Cars, expensive clothes, beautiful home, spending money, and plenty of recreational drugs. Over the past two years, he had deemed it acceptable to not only partake in drug use in front of his children, but went so far as to invite them to party with him. It had become an almost daily occurrence, according to Jillian. She found herself admitting to me that she had been scared about getting caught, and that she was worried about her father, because he had been doing it more and more, since his career became more demanding. She told me that she went along with it, because she loved her father and brother, and felt that spending time with them was a good thing.
At sixteen, when your actions are being validated by your own parent, who also happens to be your supplier, well, I think we can all understand just how appealing it all seemed to her at the time. Other than the obvious drug charges, Jillian was at risk of losing the only parent that had been there for her after her mother had left her.
Jillian had always been an "A" student in school, and with her father's career being one in higher education, she looked forward to attending college in the not too distant future, and now, was able to see that everything she held dear was at risk.
Things got worse for her. Although she did well in her foster home and new school, her father was refusing to come to scheduled, supervised visits because he was angry at her for "telling" her side of what had been happening. He had denied everything, and had hired a highly rated attorney to fight his drug charges. He wasn't about to lose his esteemed position, so he sacrificed his only daughter, as the trade off.
Jillian started acting out in school, and began to retreat in the foster home, excusing herself from family dinners, and building a protective bubble around herself. In time, she was diagnosed with severe depression, given medication, and saw a therapist weekly. She waited, then, waited some more. Finally, after several weeks in care, her father decided to see her.
This visit, along with most of the ones that followed throughout her year in care, had been bleak. Her father continued his life, his lie, and his job, at the expense of his children. It had become a bitter reality for Jillian to face. She told the truth, but he was believed. She was the victim, he, her abuser. She his daughter, he her greatest loss.
Jillian went on to graduate from high school at the age of seventeen, with honors. She eventually left foster care having learned a whole new education. She learned how drugs destroy lives. She learned that some people (foster parents) really do care about children, even if they are not their own. She learned how strong she was and how forgiving her heart had been. She learned to count on herself, and to always be honest, because no matter what, you have to live with yourself when all is said and done. Yes, Jillian learned a lot. She learned that her goal of a higher education was attainable, regardless of the lesson her father had taught her on his version of "high"er education. She still contacts me on occasion, and always thanks me for my part in helping her learn life's lessons.
What I learned from her situation, was that domestic/child abuse, crosses over into all walks of life. It happens in all socio-economic classes. As much as we don't want to necessarily believe it...it does. Being an educated parent doesn't always mean that you are an emotionally intelligent one. Being book smart, does not make you parent smart. Teaching your child the golden rule of "doing unto others as you would have them do unto you", is a lesson that should not only be preached, but practiced. It's a lesson we can all learn at any age, from all walks of life. You just have to make sure, you do it.
Her dad's a Prof, a real smart guy.
Unfortunately, he also lies.
She learned life's lesson with hardcore pay.
Her father taught her the druggie way.
Take this pipe and fill it high.
Then light it up, and start to fly.
They all got stoned day after day.
'Til all the pain just went away.
No more daddy, no more books,
no more job, career's been hooked.
Reeled in like the daily catch.
He's not so smart, law was his match.
So lessons learned, the jail time earned.
Prof's grown-up daughter, whose evidence turned.
Life of regret, bad choices made.
Prof's sentence served, will make the grade.
Kim Diaz 2012