Tales from the Frontlines: Damien & Carlos
“Seriously?” I said, sitting back in my chair. “You really want them moved?”
They really did. And like, immediately.
The boys were named *Damien and *Carlos, and they had lived with their foster parents for the last ten years. They were a family, parents to them in every sense of the way, except for legally. Or so I thought.
I had just visited the family last week, and as I sat in their perfectly decorated, almost pristine living room, I nodded and smiled as the foster parents proudly bragged about the good grades the boys were getting, and showed me all their school pictures prominently displayed on the wall. Damien and Carlos, both tall, pudgy faced, and painfully silent teens, sat there quietly, as was their way. Afterwards I thought about it and figured, who liked social workers prying into your life, anyway?
Especially teenagers, I reasoned.
But now, apparently, the people they called “Mom” and “Dad” for the past ten years wanted them gone.
What did they do? I wanted to know, clutching the phone to my ear, incredulous. What changed since last week?
As a not-so-long ago teen myself (24–an age that now seems both light years away and like yesterday at the same time), her reasons for wanting their removal seemed silly, trite. They were breaking curfew regularly. She caught them smoking once outside, in the garage. She found out they were asking questions about their birth family, and wanted a visit.
Nothing dangerous, nothing serious. I had done much worse when I was in high school.
And nothing I could say could sway them. The foster parents were done, and wanted the boys moved. I drove over there, and six trash bags were already waiting for me, on the street. At first I thought it was garbage day, and then I realized it was the boys’ stuff accumulated over the past decade. As I walked up the driveway, Damien and Carlos came out the front door, their heads hung low. I spoke to the foster mom, and she was curt, resolute.
She didn’t even hug them goodbye.
I don’t remember where I ended up placing them, but I do remember hearing that they eventually ran away from that home. Later, I found, they had returned to their birth mother’s home, a very well known gang member who had many of her older children incarcerated.
I thought about their thick files. All the court dates, social workers passing through their lives over the years. What was it all worth, to only have them return to where we removed them from?
I thought about all those pictures on the walls of their foster parent’s home. Of Damien in his marching band costume, of Carlos in his football uniform. Both of the boys at the prom with their dates. Their soft, almost babyish faces, with dark peach fuzz donning the tops of their lips in place of mustaches. I wondered if those faces hardened over the years, back at home in the heart of gang country.
I thought about how people can just throw other people away, like yesterday’s garbage.
I know a lot has changed since I started working in the mid 90’s. For one, the laws have changed. You don’t see kids languishing in long term foster care anymore. Once parental rights are terminated, the law affords foster kids a permanent plan, ideally adoption.
And you don’t see as many trashbags carrying a foster child’s possessions. There are wonderful organizations out there who strive to make sure that every foster child has actual suitcases, in order to give them a sense of personhood as they get moved from place to place. Wonderful foster agencies (like the one where I work), wonderful social workers, and foster parents. And there are wonderful adoptive parents. Adoptive parents whom, I have seen, have really been there for these kids, have sat with them and held them in their brokenness, have born witness to the trauma that they have seen in their young lives.
In this blog I hope to write about the light in this field of child welfare services, as well as the darkness.
I don’t write any of this to judge that foster family who made the decision to let go of Damien and Carlos. After all, we are all human, and full of fault. I was not in their shoes, at the time. But that doesn’t change the consequences of our actions. And we need to remember that.
Teenagers are not garbage.
Children in foster care are not garbage.
Human beings are not garbage.
I believe that only when we as a society finally, truly realize this, will change finally occur.
*Names changed and circumstances altered to protect privacy.