Friday, May 2, 2014

Teen Trauma Holes

I really should be cleaning something, making dinner, or working on my freelancing right now. But My Genius Sister tasked me with a blog post she thinks I ought to write. And since the house is relatively quiet, I'm going to give it a try.

My Genius Sister used to be a social worker. She listens to all I have to say about Ricky's case and filters it through her experiences in the field. She says I need to write a post about the inadequacies of The System and how trauma takes a huge toll even on the "good" teens.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I struggle with how much I should say about parenting Ricky. He knows I blog. He could read it if he wanted to. Never do I want to say anything that could embarrass him. That's why I don't talk much about parenting Ricky and I talk mainly about how The System affects his case.

This post is going to have to cover a little of both though.

Ricky suffered 14.5 years of trauma. I've read in several places that it takes one year of stability for every year of trauma suffered to heal...and foster care does not count as stability. If that is the case, Ricky has a long, long way to go until he can recover from all of his early childhood experiences. I know healing started for Ricky when we went to live with Rebecca. He got off drugs. He got out of his dangerous lifestyle. He started going to school regularly. But it still wasn't stable enough to say that he was in permanency. The threat of removal was always there if CPS got involved. And that's exactly what happened.

So now Ricky is up to his eyeballs in "foster care" and the "aging out" process. He's still suffering the trauma of not having permanency. And don't let the fact that he's 17 years old lessen that trauma any. He deserves permanency just like Dude and Dolly did!!! He needs it in order to be able to move on in his life.

I feel like I'm hopping all over the place here. Bear with me. It should all come together in the end.

When The System got ahold of Ricky, "they" told me what a good kid he was. "They" told me he was an A/B student, he was in extra curricular activities, that he never got into trouble. "They" left off a LOT of details.

The System often does not want to factor in how deeply trauma affects ALL kids. It pains me how so many significant details get glossed over.

I was told Ricky had the goal of becoming a lawyer after high school and college. At first I believed The System when they acted like it was an attainable goal. I mean, he gets all A's and B's in high school.

But then I met Ricky and I got to see all the trauma holes that have affected his development.

And this is where I struggle with what to write. I want to go into detail and explain everything. I like to word vomit. But I really want to protect Ricky's right to anonymity and privacy. So you're just going to have to trust me. Without being disrespectful to Ricky, it is safe to say he has a LOT of what I call "trauma holes" that affect his day to day life. To me a trauma hole is a way to describe something that a "normal" kid would understand or be able to do but a kid from the hurt places doesn't understand or can't do it. It doesn't mean they aren't capable of learning things. It's just an area where they are behind right now. These trauma holes are often invisible to people that don't really know the child that suffered the trauma. And The System certainly doesn't know Ricky.

The System doesn't "know" very many of the clients they serve. Maybe the case worker is overworked with too many cases to manage. Maybe the case worker is burnt out. Maybe the supervisor wants The Department to look good so they do something that looks like family reunification on paper but is detrimental to the children. A lot of decisions are made by The System because they look good on paper. Even the best of case workers are limited in what they are allowed to do by rules made by people that do not know the children.

For example, CPS (the head of The Department down here...not Mr. CW...not Mr. CW's supervisor...but the head of The Department) changed the concurrent goals in Daisy's case from Relative Conservatorship / Non-Relative Adoption to Relative Conservatorship / Family Reunification simply because they wanted it to look like The Department was willing to work with the family. They were afraid this case would be high profile and possibly get attention from the media and they wanted The Department to look good. And yes, I was told this outright. And yes, it may now bite the caseworker (Mr. CW) in the ass because he's now forced to work with that Family Reunification goal despite the fact it's not really in Daisy's best interests.

Anyway...back to Ricky and The System...

I realize not every case worker is bad! Not every supervisor is bad! Not every goal for every kid is out of line. In Ricky's case, aging out probably is the best goal. But do you know what that actually looks like?

NO ONE is making sure Ricky's truly ready for independent living. The System still thinks Ricky could be a lawyer if he wanted to. The System doesn't know that he hasn't passed a standardized test the first time he takes The System doesn't know that he struggles to understand interactions that are common in middle-class families. The System doesn't see his trauma holes, therefore, The System assumes everything is hunky-dory. They think he really is capable of becoming a lawyer and they aren't doing anything to help guide him in any other direction. The System basically checks off the boxes on their paperwork and moves on. 

Here's an example: Emilia was told by her supervisor to find out if anyone has talked to Ricky about sex. Emilia looked at me one time during a home visit and said, "Have about sex with Ricky?" When I answered, "yes," she moved on. She didn't double check anything. She didn't try to find out what I said or how he handled it. She simply moved on ignoring any trauma holes that he might have on the subject. She simply marked the check box on her home visit paperwork and that was that.

Maybe I had told Ricky that all sex is wrong. Maybe I gave Ricky a 3 hour shame session on homosexuality, sex outside of marriage or some other bullshit. The System doesn't know. They don't care.

And it's like that with everything.

Ricky has a bank account.
Ricky is in gymnastics.
Great - he's involved. Check.
Ricky goes to school every day.

But does Ricky understand money management?
Does Ricky understand the contract I signed when he started gymnastics?
Could Ricky get himself to school or a job everyday without his own transportation?

So we've got a lifetime of trauma that isn't addressed by anyone really. I mean...I'm personally addressing as much as I can. But he's still in a situation without permanency and it's not all sticking. And the PAL training is good and all in theory. But having a kid put a condom on a wooden penis does not cover all there is with sex education. I'm sure every kid in the room checked out when they went over those details.

And this is happening to thousands of teens all over the country. The System doesn't understand how much even the best behaved of teens struggle. I guess they're up to their eyeballs in the ones that are making illegal decisions that the ones that behave fall straight through the cracks.

Another example: Emilia filled out the paperwork for Ricky to go to weekly counseling. Emilia is responsible for telling the counselor what they are supposed to talk about in said counseling sessions. It's literally not up to the counselor. They have to work within the guidelines that CPS sets forth. Emilia was told by The Department to make the goal for Ricky's counseling "find out if Ricky and Rebecca are having sex". I know this because Ricky's counselor told me this outright.  So here we have this fantastic teen that suffered 14.5 years of abuse and neglect. He's going to counseling. But the counselor isn't even supposed to address his real trauma. She's supposed to find out the answer to a question everyone has already answered for CPS. "No, they aren't having sex."

There's no good ending to this post. And maybe I didn't bring it all together in the end like I had wanted to. I just want more for Ricky. I hurt because intervention should have happened years and years ago in his family and it didn't. I hurt because I know his younger brother, Michael, is going to grow up IN foster care and I know what that means.

I hurt because foster care sucks.


Mrs. Hall said...

i don't want to minimize your distress here but I feel for you. you obviously care about this young man and are helping him in ways that are magical. I grew up with two fully intact parents who did everything for me and it wasn't until i was 25 that I learned to do my taxes and pay my own car insurance. i thank the Lord I was sent people who helped me (AND continue to help me) as i trudge through this world. hopefully this young man can turn to you when he's in over his head.

Annie said...

I was reading this while on the phone with DHS, hoping to figure out WHY Maxim was dumped from Medicaid though he's a full-time student, and why when I try to re-apply, about 75% of the way through there is an "error" that prevents going on.

Of course I waited for an HOUR on the line before discovering that OF COURSE they won't talk to me - they have to talk to HIM. Now, I know that he won't understand ANYTHING about this - not even enough to articulate the questions properly;it is SO frustrating.

La Mama Loca said...

I have to say this is one of the best posts I've read regarding foster care in awhile.

There are so many holes and 'the system' chooses to ignore most of them, if they even see them.

They put a tiny bandaid on gushing wounds and expect it all to get better.

Those same holes are ones that bio parents face. Yes they show up to a visit...but their interaction with their child was less than appropriate. Yet the only thing noted is that 'check' parent showed!

That list goes on and on!

I don't know how to break that cycle of not addressing the real holes, but it definitely needs to be done!