Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A young child's wish

On my way to church last Sunday, I saw two crude signs on scraps of plywood. One said parade floats, with an arrow, pointing left. The other said public parking, pointing right. The church I attend is in a small community part of the Metroplex where I live. I asked about the signs when I got to church.

Oh, that was the parade last night, I was told. If I had been watching the news on TV, I would have known.

A little girl named Raney is dying of brain cancer. She is 5 or 6 years old. She is not likely to be here by Christmas. And her greatest wish was one more Christmas.

Family lives in an HOA. So Dad called and asked if he could put up his Christmas decorations for Christmas in July.

I'm not a fan of HOAs. The regimentation home owners agree to is not my style. But this HOA came through. They not only approved the father's request, they went a lot further.

So last Saturday, his decorations, including the yard decorations, were up. So were the neighbors'. And the annual Christmas parade was held 6 months early.

No publicity beforehand, all word of mouth. It was on TV on Friday night. And Saturday, after the parade. But mostly, persons telling their friends, neighbors,extended family, by phone, email, etc.

Someone hired a snow machine for the day, so the yard was covered in snow, even on a hot Texas day. The parade was large, with many floats, 150 motorcyclists, the local high school band, etc. And Santa Claus. Now there's a sacrificing person in 90-plus degree heat.

I understand there were a thousand or two spectators, many bearing gifts.

I am told she already has lost sight in one eye. But she had a glorious day.
Her family hopes she will actually make it till Christmas, but prognosis is not hopeful.

Such a frivolous thing to do. Other than bringing a dying child temporary happiness, what did it accomplish?

Answer for yourself. I was moved, almost to tears. I wish I had known, had been there. Not just for Raney, but as a witness to community and goodwill.

We keep harping about indifference. And then things like this happen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I'll Run Out Of Good News Sometime


Just talked to a friend of mine. She just finished a book of 400 pages and really enjoyed it.

She's schizophrenic. She was hit with the disease when she was 32, and she hasn't been able to read for 15 years. Some of it is the disease. A lot of it is the medication. She was a librarian. She lost a lot. (understating it)

Schizophrenia is nasty. Persons with it cannot function. They have trouble connecting with others. Often highly intelligent, they can't really think. And they are aware much of the time of what is going on. Other times, what seems real is delusional. It is cruel.

She told me tonight that the medications don't really mask or cure the disease. They deal with the symptoms. Like I take Advil to deal with my rheumatoid arthritis.

But there are new medical protocols for schizophrenia. One involves the lessening of the drugs. She has gone from 16 to 3 meds a day. And now she can read. She still is schizophrenic, but she may be able to work again sometime. If we didn't have SSI for folks like her, we would have a lot more dead or under bridges. Including her--not her opinion, but mine. She's not in Texas. Here, she would be under a bridge.

I've known her for four years. Always, she has tried to give back. She leads a self-help group, she teaches a monthly class for medical personnel about what it's like to be her and other mentally ill people so they can better be served. She says she can tell by their faces who is learning and who is closed. She hopes the learning ones are able to be more knowledgeable and caring for people like she used to be.

Because she has been functioning well. She just couldn't read. Can you imagine that for a librarian? When she told me tonight she read a whole book for pleasure, I almost cried.

I told her about a book I enjoyed. She reserved it at the library on her computer as we talked. She has a kindle. She is miles ahead of me technologically, and she has just been learning the last year.

Many human beings are just as nasty to each other as they have been for thousands of years. Others are ill and untreated. That is truth and life.

But I know her, and what I write is truth. One schizophrenic who couldn't read can read again. She is reaching out to help others. And who knows what else? I used to be a pessimist, some 20 years ago. A current friend tells me somewhat sadly today I am an incurable optimist. I like it. I'll take it.

Hope beats doom every day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

One Tough Little Girl

Last week flustered me. I had been bumping along, writing my blog, with a few readers every day. I am not very good about self promotion and getting myself on other blogs. But I was happy, putting my thoughts out there. And then AD connected, and WHAM!

Funny. Years ago, I was a newspaper reporter for a large metropolitan newspaper. I remember being excited the first time I had a banner on the front page, but it happened fairly often thereafter so I got used to it. But it has been a few decades. and I was flummoxed.

What do I write now? I thought. I don't usually write about my work as a caseworker for Child Protective Services. And I won't write often again. But last weekend, I told my son and a friend one of my stories I hadn't told before, and they liked it. So I will try to recount. This is bitter-sweet.It has some satisfaction for those of us who take satisfaction in consequences. And some hope.

Long after the investigation, long after the official stuff had been done, I was assigned a sibling group that had been brutally raped while well under five years old.This story deals with the oldest girl, whom I will call Jody, because that is to me a strong name. And she was strong. She had been completely penetrated when less than 3 years old. She had been isolated from her siblings, as they were from her, by the threat they would be killed if they told. They all went to family who were unusually well equipped to deal with the trauma, being foster parents for a private agency in far South Texas. Bureaucracy being fiscally conservative, I went down every three months to spend a day with these kids and talk to the aunt and uncle.

When Jody was six, she began to misbehave and become increasingly disruptive and violent. The foster parents asked me to move her; they could no longer manage.
So, knowing the abusive past and the extent of her trauma, I was able to pick her up and move her to a therapeutic treatment center for young kids. As I say, she was six. I left her hiding under her bed.

Later on, her sibs joined her at the same treatment center. They weren't housed together. They couldn't be. They were too damaged. They were in separte group settings. They could go to school and perform well. All were bright. But Jody, well, she shone. She touched people both with her personality and her intelligence.

I continued to spend a day every three months. You wouldn't think it would matter, would you? But I was continuity as the years went by. I showed up when I said I would. I gave them my day, and we talked. We walked down the street to a wonderful toy store called "Toy Joy"-doubt if it is still there. It had cheap to expensive educational toys that were wonderful. I sent cards and called between visits, but still. They weren't used to much continuity. They relished my visits.

This was early to mid-90's. The kids had been in foster care for years by then. State legislation came up to define "unconstructed abandonment", when parents don't visit, do services, OR relinquish their rights. The state legislature decided such children should not languish in foster care because their parents would do nothing. In this case, it was mom's boyfriend that abused. She said she didn't know about it. Divorced father was passive. The kids were spending year after year in foster care. The state said we could terminate rights and offer the kids for adoption. (As it turned out, both relinquished voluntarily.) Later, I tried to talk to the kids about possible adoption

Jody, ever the pragmatist, asked,"How much do they have to pay for us?"

I thought about the voluntary expenditure adoptive parents paid then, about $5,000 in legal fees which they took on and the state didn't pay, and I told her, "Nothing." Because, in my mind, children aren't bought. I thought the money spent to adopt was noble.

Her face went white and her freckles stood out.

"You mean we're worthless?" she asked.

I spent a very busy hour then. I don't know if I made much sense to them. I just knew I had taken a hit on seeing life from her world.

When she was 9, Jody was at last asked to testify against her abuser.

All those years. all those years.

Well, some kids block out the memories. Jody hadn't.

She not only was able to remember what had happened when she was little more than a toddler, she was able to draw a floor plan of the house, of who slept where and whether on the floor or in a bed. Her memory was phenomenal.

She was determined to testify, although terrified. She was positive she would be killed. And she was determined to go through it anyway. Her abuser had promised he would kill her if she told She had been under 4 when he told her that. She still believed it, and she was determined to testify.

The day before, the assistant DA and I gave her a tour of the courtroom, told her what would happen, showed her the witness booth. We gave her a teddy bear to hold. We introduced her to the bailiff, with his holstered weapon. The judge had decreed she had to testify in the same room with her abuser. We told her over and over we would take care of her, that she would not be harmed. She was determined to try. And she remained convinced that he would kill her. She was only 9 years old, and she was going to risk her life to testify.

Remembering that hurts.

The next morning, a half hour before court, the defendent caved, pled and threw himself on the mercy of the court. No jury. Jody didn't have to testify. The judge sent down one of her staff to interview her on what she wanted. I wasn't allowed to be in the room. But I heard her scream, " Kill him! kill him! kill him!"

I sent her home with many hugs.

Two weeks later, a friend in law enforcement told me with a chuckle, " Well, you know the judge has a bit of a Southern drawl (she did). And when he was being booked, that is when he found out she hadn't said 4 to 5 years."

I called Jody, and told her that a new Texas law meant her abuser couldn't get out of a 45-year sentence for at least 15 years. All excited, she said,
"Charlotte! We'll be in our careers by then!"

Soon after, I transferred counties and Jody got a new caseworker.

Years later, CPS made it against regulations to check in and follow an old case, but before that happened, I found Jody was adopted. I hope it worked well. She had so much going for her. Pain or not, I pray for a good life. I pray, and I will never know. But I hope.

Monday, July 6, 2009

What One Man Can Do

I first talked to M. when I was answering phones for the receptionist. He was concerned about his kids with their mother. They were divorced. He informed me he was four days sober. I congratulated him wholeheartedly.

Just a couple weeks before, I had a two-day training on drug addiction. We had a professor who could give us the chemical and physical traits of addictive drugs and a CPS supervisor from San Antonio. We were given 4 scenarios in the course of the two days, and divided into teams to figure out what we could do. We came up with this and that, but none of us believed in any positive solution. Addicts don't change, we believed. I had been working for a number of years and had had a lot of training in this. I was quite cynical.

And then the CPS supervisor told us these were all off her caseload as a worker, and they all had positive results. And she spelled them out. Wow. It DID take an extraordinary amount of work, but I was galvanized. There was hope. Not always, but sometimes. But, she said, the difference was we had to believe.

So when I talked to M. I was positive and encouraging. He was concerned about their kids, who were still with their drug-using mother.

Coincidentally, a CPS investigation was underway (not instigated by him) and it was decided the kids should no longer be with their mother, but with their grandmother, who was her mother.

Grandmother was in a stable situation. She cooked and cleaned. Most kids of druggies don't have clean sheets or any sheets on their beds. They live in filth, which is weird, considering the amount of energy methamphetamine produces.

I asked for the case and got it. I had a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer working with me.

I had to set up weekly hour visits for each parent separately. The first time M. came in, 6'3" tall, muscular, skin lying flat on the muscle with no trace of fat, with a ponytail and hard eyes, my case aid (she and I were the only staff in the building) said, "Are you sure about this?" I said I was. By then, M. and I had talked several more times.

I knew he would be difficult. In recovery, he was sometimes volatile. He would get angry on the phone, slam it down and call me back five minutes later with a sheepish, "I'm sorry." This happened a lot. But he stayed sober.

M. was unusual. He was staying in a motel one weekend, taking drugs, and had plenty of drugs, which he used up. He tried and tried to get a taxicab to take him to a nearby city for more drugs, but noone would take him. He was high, and big, and scary. He flopped on the bed, coming down, and picked up the Gideon Bible in the drawer of the nightstand. And started reading.

He had a religious conversion. He quit using, and I believe his assertion that he never used again. He was so determined. Four days later, we talked for the first time. By then, he was actively attending AA every day. He had a job--he always worked even while addicted. He didn't have transporation, though and his mother had to pay his motel (she certainly didn't want him living with her), and he had to walk 11/2 miles a day each way to and from his construction job.

His daughters were 3 and 4. Both were already showing early signs of personality disorders. I got them into counseling with a talented play therapist. It took years. Texas has victim funds available for kids. They benefitted from these long after the case closed.

M. taught me a lot, in his recovery. He had little or no money, but he knew what his kids liked. He HAD to work a full shift, so our visits were at 6 p.m. He would go home, cook a Totino's pepperoni pizza and bring it to the visit. He always would read to the girls after, and play with them. He would bring two balloons he blew up, sneaking a dollar bill inside each for the girls to catch and break. 3 and 4? A dollar? They were rich! they knew it was magic. and they went home happy and calm, because their daddy had been a daddy and played with them and fed them and gave them each a dollar.

Their mother was more sporadic. We don't transport parents in CPS. If you care, you arrange it. Seems very fair to me. (I remember a court trial when the defense attorney asked me if I didn't agree two miles walking to the office was too much to ask. The mother was in her 20's. I replied, "It would require effort, but it isn't impossible." The attorney was asking a yes or no question and filed for a non-responsive answer, which the judge agreed to, but I think his lips twitched.) To her credit, B. was pretty good about calling beforehand when she wasn't coming. Many kids taken from a home because the situation is so bad aren't that fortunate.

M. was doing good. He was able to buy an old car. He was finally able to get an apartment.

Meanwhile, grandma wasn't supervising very well, though she was keeping the kids clean and well-fed. A couple of years earlier, she had the kids help her comb the seeds out of weed she was readying for sale, but she wasn't a big time dealer. She told an investigator once that her daughter and three men came home one night to have sex in the living room. All were high. Her then 2 an 3 year old granddaughters were sleeping on the couches in the same room. According to her report, she did not go get her grandchildren. She smoked dope to forget what was going on, and went to sleep. She told because she was angry at her daughter and thought this reflected on B. It never crossed her mind this reflected on her as well.

Sometime later, she told me in genuine puzzlement, "I don't understand why you think I am a bad person."

I responded, "I know you don't."

And I said it pleasantly, because she really had no idea. I just sighed.

I submitter my court report outlining services and describing the situation. The CASA worker submitted her report and recommended removal.
The judge went with her recommendation. I was not displeased.

There was a commotion when we got to the house. Police were called. The girls went to an experienced home where the parents were very loving and very skilled. The girls had moved around so much, been left with so many people, they settled in immediately.

I tried to work with B. who was actively using, although she was sober at visits. She was such a neat person when she was sober. I asked her, "Why would you become this horrible person on drugs when you are such a great person when when you are sober?"

She said,"When I'm high, I'm not there."

She said I almost convinced her to try. But she never did.

Meantime, M. continued to get better. Finally we allowed weekend visits with his girls. Transfer happened in the CPS parking lot. The foster parents delivered the kids, and I was there when M. got out of the car. This big, muscular guy walked up to the foster parents who were both under 5'6". They weren't quite sure how to react when M. walked up to them with tears on his cheeks amd said. "You are angels, I just want to thank you for taking care of my girls."

He threw his arms around them as they blinked in astonishment. It was kinda funny and a lot sweet.

Texas now has a law that says parents come through in a year or we terminate. That's hard on a recovering addict. M. got an additional six months. At first, I scolded M. for his presents, his trip to the zoo, etc. He finally said, "Charlotte, don't you understand? these are all the things I promised them and didn't carry through on."

I shut up. He set up a budget, put money aside, and was ready when the girls came home for good.

But B. had been the custodial parent, and we went to trial to terminate her rights. When it was over, she was impassive. M. cried.

At that time, I had 30 or 40 cases.Not counting paperwork, which is massive, I spent at least four hours a week actively working this case. M. and I agree that it wasn't my expertise,or the system that made him succeed. He says having the same worker throughout and my time and positive support with him did make a difference. We had the same goal. We became friends.

He was at my retirement party. I was at his wedding.

M. is still clean. It's been more than a decade now. He has a good job. The girls are doing well. He still attends AA and has sponsored many a person trying to get sober. You can't bullshit him, they find. He tries to help in the community, in his church. He is happy. He told me this repentance thing means you have to put the bad stuff behind you, not just sit in a puddle of remorse, or he would end up back where he started. He tries to be the best person he can be.

And he made a difference for me. Because of him, I had the hope and energy to work with so many others. Other caseworkers in the office felt the same way. We could believe because we had seen a man recover and straighten out his life and family. So we tried a little harder.

Because of M.