My name, at this point, is not important. What is important is the story that I have to tell. At the end of my story I hope you find the importance of investing in a child. Recently I watched a movie, titled “Southpaw”. It is about a boxer who was brought up through the system of child welfare. He becomes a prize fighter and is on top of the world. When he should have been taking a break and reevaluating his life as he knows it, he loses his wife and subsequently his world crumbles around him. He is forced to start again from the bottom, regaining the trust of everyone he knows and work his way back to the top. Something that I have had to do a number of times over the past few years, not understanding why the cycle wouldn’t end.
I didn’t spend my childhood in the system, but I did spend the ages of 10-12 in foster care. You see, my dad died of lymphoma six days after my second birthday. From then until around the age of ten I was raised by my mom, who meant the world to me.
This is where it gets tough. At one time I believed that being removed from a traumatic experience was enough. Then I thought revealing that I was in foster care is what people needed to know about me. Most recently, thinking that saying I was abused is what needed to be said. Finally I have realized that it is my entire story that needs to be told. Not for me, but for other children to not grow up struggling again and again through life situations knowing they are not doing them right, but not having any control over a change, no matter what they do.
When I was around the age of ten I was removed from my home and my mom by the dept. of children and family services. My mom had gotten involved with a man who was convicted of and put into prison for child molestation. When I was almost nine we moved from where I had lived since birth to be closer to him, in prison. Over the next year or so there was evidence discovered by some very good people, that I would also be in harms way, after his release. The original plan was for me to live with my grandparents, but because there was a disagreement between sets of grandparents, the state decided to put me into foster care. I remember this whole process vividly. The moving around, yelling, being pulled back and forth. Not being asked what I wanted and even feeling as if I could never choose, because it would upset someone. Over the course of 3 years I was in 4 different foster homes. All families being good people, fortunately. Half way through my sixth grade year I was “release” from foster care and turned over to my moms parents, my grandparents, where I would spend the rest of my adolescent years. So, counting the moves that I made with my mom, between the ages of 9 and 12, I moved 9 times!
As if the moving around from family to family of people that I thought were protecting me wasn’t enough, there’s more. After being placed in foster care my mom was granted supervised visits once a week. Eventually those visits included her husband and took place in their home with a social worker present. A change that took place in me while in foster care was going from being a skinny kid to being overweight. I also remember having to weigh myself on those visits because, apparently the weight gain was unacceptable by my fat “stepdad”. At some point my mom had unsupervised visits every other Saturday. On some of those visits I would be dropped off at their house, alone with her husband. I was exposed to magazines full of child pornography and abused sexually, sometimes including other boys my age or a little older.
As all of that festers in your head, think about how it festers in the head of a 10, 11, 12 year old boy, with no choice in the matter. Remembering that these are the years that most kids are beginning to build their identity. This is where I am asking for your help. There is a gap in the system between foster care and permanent placement of a child at any age. The system has changed some, but from what I can remember, the only counseling that I received was of the evaluation kind while in foster care. When permanent placement is made and a case is closed, the state steps aside and the welfare of the child is left to, in my case, my grandparents. They were not equipped to recognize and deal with the emotions and confusion of not really being home for the past 3 years. Nor did they have any idea of the abuse I had suffered, again, not something they were trained to recognize signs of. At this point, even if they had been able to identify a need, the only option that they would have had was private counseling and that can get expensive.
My goal is to set up and provide a program that closes this gap with both funding and education. A program that helps permanent guardians recognize a need for counseling and a way to lessen the cost of private, specific needs counseling. I am now 41 years old and have only recently been able to find freedom from the trauma I experienced as a child. My hope is that a program such as this can help children to understand the way others actions shaped their minds, self images and emotions. Providing them with the tools to untangle the mess left behind. Allowing them, as teens and as adults, to handle good and bad life experiences in a normal, healthy manner! Giving them the opportunity to become the men and women that they were intended to be!
Thank you for taking the time to read my story and for considering to help fund the shaping of a program such as this. Let's start the change in Rockford Illinois and see how far we can take it! This is only the beginning!
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