Our licensing worker, Frances’, plan was two-fold. I would text the case-manager at the shelter where Marcus had been placed (I still had her contact information in my phone) and she would e-mail Victoria, the DCS congregate care liaison to inquire as to whether any children in a shelter or group home were ready to move to a traditional foster home. Frances also suggested I call some organizations to volunteer with foster children over the holidays. First, I texted Kathy, the case-manager at Marcus’ former shelter. I told her that we didn’t have a placement and offered any assistance that she might need over the holidays (i.e. presents for children; two extensively background checked adult volunteers, etc.). Then, I called a volunteer coordinator for the larger organization that ran the shelter. The “volunteer coordinator” was not amused at my inquiry and I received a very pointed lecture on how, while it was “nice” that I was a foster parent, her volunteers needed “extensive training” and that they don’t accept “short term volunteers” so that I should call back when I “was ready to make a bigger commitment to children.” (Yes, those were her actual words. Yes, I refrained from reminding her that my commitment to children extended to actually parenting them and simply thanked her for her time).
But the next day, Kathy called. I was in a meeting and couldn’t answer. Moments later, I saw congregate care liaison Victoria’s number pop up on my caller ID. When my meeting ended, I didn’t even wait until I was back in my office – I quickly grabbed my phone and held it up to my ear. Victoria’s voicemail played first. She had spoken with Kathy. There are a couple of children in the shelter that might be a good fit for us. Kathy’s message came next. She said that there were a few children at the shelter that were ready to go to a home. But she wanted us to consider one in particular.
“He really is an angel.” She said, “He’s 7 years old. Call me.”
I raced to my office and called her back.
“We all adore him,” she said. “No behavioral issues. He likes pirates. I mean this kid loves Pirates.” I laughed and furiously scribbled down every word she said.
“It’s a weird situation,” she said. “He was kidnapped and a missing person for about the first six months of his DCS case.”
That was certainly one I hadn’t heard before. Apparently, he had come on DCS radar after a number of visits to local hospitals – he had asthma, malnourished, was very ill, and was showing signs of severe neglect.
She explained that this little guy has three older half-siblings. They had been in care for a couple of years and were about to be adopted by their paternal aunt and uncle.
“They didn’t know he existed so neither did DCS,” she continued, “best we can tell, he doesn’t know they exist either. And he doesn’t seem to know his mother or father.”
He had been living with his maternal grandmother and was pretty isolated. She had no legal rights to him. Although he was seven years old, he had never been in school. He couldn’t count. Did not know the ABC’s. He barely spoke and when he did, he didn’t make full sentences. He frequently communicated with pointing, etc. His favorite word was, “no.”
“DCS investigated and opened a case, but she ran with him,” she told me. “They think they were motel hopping; staying with friends; completely transient. They didn’t find him until he had such a bad asthma attack that he almost died. She finally called 911. It was pretty bad. He spent 10 days in pediatric ICU. Was released 5 weeks ago and they sent him to us but he’s still on a pretty heavy regimen of breathing treatments. He can’t move around too much yet.”
She trailed off for a moment.
“Developmentally, he’s about 3 or 4,” she explained, “but no sensory issues.”
I furiously scribbled down notes. “Sensory issues” meant autism to me. I don’t know what they mean to other people with actual training in child development. I had read every book, blog post, and article I could on the key words to listen for when getting a call about a potential placement and how to interpret them. Of course, my amateur diagnostic abilities were probably useless.
I told her that I would, of course, have to confirm with my husband, but I wanted to go ahead and schedule a visit with this little guy. We agreed we would come the shelter on Saturday afternoon to meet him.
My husband was still nervous after what happened with Marcus, but agreed to meet this kiddo. “We’ll check it out,” he said.
Victoria called back the next night around 10 p.m. Girlfriend works LATE. I had already been asleep but I jumped up and raced out of bedroom for a pad of paper.
“It’s a pretty extreme case of neglect – even for us,” she said. I could hear her flipping through papers on the other end of the phone. “When we finally got him, his teeth were rotting out of his mouth. He needed to have 8 of them pulled. The rest needed root canals. He’s underweight. Terrible shape physically and that’s even before they were on the run.”
I listened intently as she read from his file. “I did the intake,” she said, “He was in crisis. And we’re not sure where is is cognitively. We had hoped his sibling’s father’s family might take him. But they took the other three and those kids were in pretty bad shape as well. They have two kids of their own – so that’s seven people in a small apartment.” She trailed off before picking up again, “it was too much. They didn’t even want to meet him.” She went on to describe the shelter where was staying, “they can handle pretty extreme medical situations, even with kiddos with special needs so we placed him there. We hoped his siblings’ family would change their mind. They didn’t.” She paused again, “It’s a lot.”
“We really don’t know much about him. We have way more information on the half siblings.”
She went on to describe his mental capacity. “With this type of neglect, he could come a long way with the right services.”
We both knew the part she didn’t say: with that type neglect in his early development, certain parts of him may never recover.
I hung up and went back to bed but couldn’t sleep. So I pulled out my kindle and clicked to Dr. Bruce Perry’s The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog. I read the chapter on that boy as inspiration before falling asleep.