Tales from the Frontlines: Jason & Rico
Over the years, I have worked with countless children and their families. And to me, each child, each family I encountered (and encounter still, to this day), has a profound story to tell.
Each and every one.
Sometimes, when I learn of a child’s history, the traumas, the amazing obstacles she has had to overcome, her absolute bravery, I think to myself, there is a story there.
A story worth telling.
In 1997 I was a young social worker, and newly pregnant with my first born child. I had recently transferred to adoptions and was assigned the task of matching kids legally available for adoption with potential adoptive families. For the most part, this was a really happy job, far more positive than when I worked in Family Reunification, because it was kind of like the end of the line for the children in the system–their final stop, their finding of their forever families.
But some of the kids’ stories broke my heart in half.
I will call him Jason, for the purpose of this story.
He was about eight years old when I met him: kind, polite, and handsome. And nothing short of brave. He lived in a scummy old trailer with his mom and infant brother (I’ll call him Rico).
As in hours. Days.
So what happens when a little tiny baby doesn’t have any food? Well, he cries. And cries. And cries.
Jason was just a kid, and had been warned not to leave the trailer, under any circumstances. What could a little kid, barely in second grade, possibly do? But see, he knew his brother was suffering, so he did what any brave, selfless big brother would do.
He stole for him.
Jason loved little baby Rico so much that at night, he would sneak to the mini-mart and steal anything he could to sustain him and his brother. Chips. Crackers. And formula.
They existed like this for quite some time, until finally, someone noticed the raggedy little boy lurking around the store, and realized that something wasn’t quite right. Not long afterwards, Jason and Rico were put into foster care.
I’d like to tell you that everything turned out wonderful, and that they were adopted together, to wonderful parents. I really would, because that would be a very happy ending to an otherwise sad story. But unfortunately, that is not how Jason and Rico’s story ended.
Yes, they were put into foster care. Yes, their foster parents wanted to adopt them, together. But ultimately, Jason started doing what any little boy who had experienced severe neglect and trauma would do. He started acting out. A lot. And eventually, the foster parents decided they couldn’t handle him anymore, and he had to removed from their home.
I was the one who transported him to his next foster home. And though it was over eighteen years ago, I still remember that ride, remember his stoic little face, his pinched cheeks, his jaw lifted, resolute with his fate and I remember thinking this: all you wanted was to protect your brother. And now, we have torn the two of you apart.
I have failed you.
We have failed you.
The system, society has failed you.
You did nothing wrong, but be brave,
and we failed you.
I left CPS, shortly therafter.
I was pregnant, and had only been married two years, and wanted to experience motherhood without having to work. Besides that, I was tired, and a little traumatized myself. CPS had taken its toll on me. I would not return to social work for over ten years.
Jason was only one of many, countless, sad stories. In the years to come, as I raised my children, I would lie awake in my bed, my babies close by and my husband next to me, and I would think about the kids I worked with, and what they were doing now. Did I make the very best possible decisions for them?
Did I ruin their lives?
Rico ended up getting adopted by that first foster family. Jason, I later heard from former co-workers, ended up bouncing around to many different foster homes, his ultimate fate unknown to me.
But I never forgot him, and his story. His bravery. And I wanted to honor that. Jason’s story is really why I ended up writing a story about a boy who ultimately just wanted to protect his sister, and tried to find her. I might not be able to write a better ending for the Jasons out there, but I can at least honor their struggle.
I see you. I remember.
Happy Friday, everyone.