Five years ago our world was forever changed. We had a fun June evening of swimming and grilling out with good friends. The night was topped off with angel food cake, strawberries, and whipped cream for desert. We said goodbyes to our friends and we’re working on getting the girls inside for their shower & bedtime routines. We had scheduled for Chelsea to meet with a social worker the next day as she had been sharing some details of physical abuse by another little girl. Chelsea asked nicely to swim for a few more minutes so I stayed behind with her while Jeff took Savanna in.
A few minutes later Chelsea swam out to me and grabbed ahold tightly. I told her that she was going to get to meet with a social worker tomorrow. And with that, the levies broke. With an unstoppable force, she began disclosing to me. Although I had heard many disclosures during my time in Child Welfare, none compared to what I was about to hear. I listened for a minute or two and then had Chelsea get out of the pool. In many ways I was hoping that changing the environment and giving us another task to focus on would redirect Chelsea. This was her time, though, and there was no stopping it.
Once inside I called Jeff down. He stood, leaning up against the counter as Chelsea and I sat at the kitchen table and she continued sharing details of her abuse. I did the best thing I knew and took notes as I used reflective listening.
Once Chelsea’s disclosures settled down, I reached out to our social worker after hours and also consulted with a friend. We all agreed it would be best to wait until the morning to call the report in. We somehow managed to get through the evening. First thing in the morning, I called Child Welfare to make the report and arrange to be seen. I knew every hour mattered during this critical time after the first disclosures. By 9:30am all of us were seen and interviewed by the Child Welfare Investigator and Family Crimes Detective.
Following our interviews, I met with the investigator and detective. Chelsea’s disclosures were traumatic and left them in complete shock. They were looking at me in disbelief. The girls’ story probably tops the list as one of the most horrific cases the agency had worked on to date.
With Chelsea’s consistent and strong disclosures, everyone was sure the criminal case would be a slam dunk. So I left meeting with the investigator and detective being told to expect to hear something about visits with the biological family being suspended ASAP. The detective also directed me to record any future disclosures with my blackberry phone.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as everyone imagined they would. No slam dunk! Despite strong SANE exaxms with physical findings, the first disclosures that were made at our home and the statements made to the detective and investigator, none of these would hold up with the prosecutors in court.
With that, we began the journey of being tossed around and let down by the system that was designed to protect the girls safety and well-being. It didn’t take long for the public defenders representing the biological parents to come up with a detailed story of how we had coached the girls to create “false memories.” They claimed that these false memories lead to their disclosures. The theory was that we did this in an effort to adopt the girls and live happily ever after.
Unlike most families, we became foster parents with the goal of being just that – foster parents. We envisioned many children coming through our home as they and their biological families worked on becoming well. We dreamed of all of the children and families we would get to know and the role we would play in their healing and reunifications. Adoption was never our primary goal.
Even if adoption had been in our plans, I found myself sick over the public defenders insinuating that we just wanted to adopt these girls. There is no happily ever after when you’ve been through what our girls went through. Every facet of their critical early years of development was shaped by abuse and neglect.
Over the next several months of the summer of 2010 (and for the next 4 years) we did our best to comply with what others wanted us to do. We were under the Judges orders and direction of Child Welfare. We did have some support as people involved in the case saw the reality and did whatever they could to offer us support and encouragement. Then there was a sense of betrayal as we learned people we thought were advocating for the girls, were really working against them and us.
For example, one of the in-home therapists who was assigned to Savanna came for her afternoon appointment. I explained that Savanna was not in a stable place and it was taking both Jeff and I constantly re-directing to maintain some sort of baseline. This woman went and did her session and came back telling me she didn’t know what we were talking about because Savanna was very stable. This as Savannna was banging at our front porch window, yelling “Mommy! Mama! I just want Mama to come help me! Mommy!” I respectfully told this in-home worker that I disagreed with her assessment and thanked her for her service. Service which we later learned included taking pictures of our house for the public defenders. (Yes, we were accused of hiring professional photographers to take these pictures and put on our Family Wall because these were going to be our adoptive children.)
We knew exactly what the girls needed. Fighting for these services got us no where. And probably only made “our case” worse. But when children are ready to share their abuse history, I believe you do whatever possible to make sure that that it happens in the most safe and secure ways while being mindful of meeting any legal, criminal, or other practice standards.
Looking back, without the best and most appropriate services at such a critical time post disclosures, it was only a matter of time before our girls would unwravel…and need a higher level of care…. I am thankful for the glimpses of normalcy captured in these pictures from the summer of 2010. We have hung on to them many times over the years, always believing things could and would get better. Looking at these pictures today gives me so much hope for our family as we continue our healing process.