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Foster child found handcuffed to porch with dead chicken around neck

Foster child found handcuffed to porch with dead chicken around neck photo
By Catherine Bilkey

UNION COUNTY, N.C. —

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A Child Protective Services supervisor is being investigated after deputies found an 11-year-old boy handcuffed to a porch with a dead chicken around his neck, according to a press release from the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

Wanda Larson is now behind bars and so is her husband, Dorian Harper.

The deputy was answering an animal service complaint at 4116 Austin Road when he came across the shivering child handcuffed by the ankle to the railing.

Moments later, a man appeared on the porch along with another child that released several dogs onto the officer.

The deputy retreated back to his patrol car and the man then removed the handcuffed child from the porch and put the dead chicken on a barrel.

When backup authorities arrived, the officers entered the dwelling and found five children between the ages of 8-14 and removed them from the home.

The couple adopted four of the children and were the foster parents of the 11-year-old child.

Harper and Larson were charged with intentional child abuse, inflicting serious injury, false imprisonment and cruelty to animals.

Larson was also charged with willful failure to discharge her duty as a public officer. Larson is currently employed as a supervisor with Union County Department of Social Services.

They are in jail. Harper is being held under a $500,000 secured bond.

Larson’s bond is set at $525,000.

Both will be in court Monday.

*Special thanks to a Foster Care Survivors Facebook friend for sharing this with us.

SIDS, PTSD, Abuse, and My Concrete Angel

My SIDS Angel

My SIDS Angel

This week has been a difficult one for me, and I find I am struggling even with the smallest of tasks. Yesterday, November 15, 2013, was my tiny angel’s 20th birthday. Instead of blowing out his candles, gorging himself on cake, and eagerly opening presents with his Mom, he celebrated with his heavenly Father. My son passed away almost 20 years ago, he was 9 weeks and 6 days old, from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (S.I.D.S.). I continue to feel the pain just as I did the day he died. A while after my sweet baby passed away, I was at a mall, and through a store window I saw a beautiful concrete angel. It was a figure of an angel holding a baby angel in it’s arms. The look on both of their faces appeared so peaceful that it brought me to tears. I decided right then I wanted to gift this same peace to my baby. The angel was encased in a clear resin container, and the container then attached to my sons headstone to watch over him. One day over 15 years ago the angel became dislodged, someone took it to repair it, and it has never returned to my son’s headstone or my hands again.

I am having so much difficulty with sadness and my PTSD during this time of my son’s birthday and the holidays. My level of anxiety is staggering, intrusive thoughts are many, and my self-doubt seems to be through the roof. Sleep seems to evade me, without nightmares that is. Maybe it’s because of his birthday, the impending holidays, a controlling boss, or maybe it’s just me. I often have days or weeks like this, but as always, this too shall pass. I find that some of the long-term effects of being abused as both a child and an adult can lay dormant for periods of time, only to resurface at varying times without warning. I figured I would take this opportunity, close to Thanksgiving, to thank all whom have given me these unpredictable recurrent gifts that will no-doubt last a lifetime. However, I am putting you all on notice that I will forever be working on trying to exchange them for peace as it will fit me better. Patience is a virtue, and persistence pays.

RN Writer 2013

USC study intersects teen births with foster care in LA County

Expecting

A first-of-its-kind study released on Nov. 12 links birth and child protective services records in Los Angeles County, revealing new insights regarding births to teens involved with the child welfare system. The new data documented that one in four teens in foster care gives birth before age 20 and as many as 40 percent of these young mothers have a second child during their teen years.

In the county overall, four in 10 teen mothers have been reported as alleged victims of abuse or neglect before pregnancy, and 20 percent have a history of substantiated maltreatment. Rates of abuse and neglect among children born to teens with a history of maltreatment victimization are two to more than three times the rates of children whose teen mothers had no involvement of child protective services. Read More

By Cynthia Monticue
Funded by the Hilton Foundation, the study was also led by Julie Cederbaum of USC and Barbara Needell and Bryn King of UC Berkeley.
USC

Out of Foster Care, Into College

 Out of Foster Care, Into College

BY definition, foster children have been delinquent, abandoned, neglected, physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused, and that does not take into account non-statutory abuses like heartache. About two-thirds never go to college and very few graduate, so it’s a safe bet that those who do have an uncommon resilience. Read More…

Gardendale family that fostered 34 kids raises awareness for foster care with 5K walk | AL.com

Hackers.jpg

Tracy and Greg Hacker have parented 34 kids and counting. Six and half years ago the couple chose to open their home to foster children, and since that time, they have changed the lives of several kids as well as their own lives. This month, the Hackers are trying to raise awareness about foster care and adoption with “Walk Me Home…to the place I belong,” a 5K walk set for Nov. 23 in Gardendale.

“For us, to be real honest it has been a God story from day one,” Tracy Hacker said. “We were going to adopt and weren’t really sure how that was going to happen or how that was going to work. God just really opened the door for foster care, an idea that we never really thought about. We knew that was where we needed to be. And the rest has been blessing on top of blessing.”

In addition to the 34 foster kids they have cared for, the Hackers have two biological daughters. They learned about foster care through a teacher at Snow Rodgers Elementary School when the girls were attending. By the time they brought their first foster child into their home their daughters were 11 and 13 years old. Their oldest daughter is now off at college, with the other one not too far behind. But now, the family also includes two adopted sons, Kenny and Evan. The boys were 3 and 4 years old when they are adopted, and they are now 5 and 6 years old.

Adopting Kenny and Evan is just one of the many blessings of being a foster parent, Hacker said.

“It’s a hard process,” she said at a recent Gardendale City Council meeting when promoting the 5K walk. “It’s a hard thing for your heart when they go home, but it’s an incredible blessing for your family and to a community that will open their homes and hearts to do that. We’re honored to be a part of it.”

Right now the family has six children in the home, including one of their daughters, their two adopted sons, and three foster girls. They have had as many as eight kids in the home at one time. Hacker said she will continue to welcome foster kids until, “God says that’s enough.”

“There are a lot of kids in the world that really need families,” she said.

At the council meeting, Hacker said she was surprised to learn a lot of those kids live right in her community. “Of the 34 kids that we’ve had in our home, all 34 have lived within 30 minutes of my house here in Gardendale,” Hacker said. “That has hit me over the years. This is something that people need to be aware of. They need somebody to open their heart and their home and just to love them.”

Buddy Hooper with Alabama Foster and Adoptive Parent Association also spoke at the council meeting and said the “Walk Me Home…to the place I belong” 5K walk serves two purposes. “One is to bring awareness for the need for foster parents to help the children in the area, and the other is to raise funds for a scholarship fund that our association has been doing since 1999,” he said. “This is our way of giving back to foster children. Our goal this year is $20,000 for our walk. I think that’s going to be easily accomplished for all the support we’re getting statewide. I want this to be an event that Gardendale is proud of.”

The walk will be held Saturday, Nov. 23, which is National Adoption Day, starting at Buffalo Wild Wings in Gardendale. Registration will begin at 9 a.m. and the walk will begin at 10 a.m. Adults are asked to pay a $10 registration fee, and children under the age of 18 years old are encouraged to attend free of charge. There will be tents, vendors, inflatables, hot chocolate and other activities at the event. Strollers will be allowed during the walk. To register for the walk and for more information visit www.walkmehome.org.

“We’re just looking for people to come out and support us and be there that day,” Hacker said. “Hopefully it will touch someone who will open their home and be a foster parent.”

By Sarah A. McCarty

Gardendale family that fostered 34 kids raises awareness for foster care with 5K walk | AL.com.

10 Common Characteristics of Child Abuse Survivors

Broken Heart

Broken Heart

10  Common Characteristics of Child Abuse Survivors

I am sitting here this morning thinking about some of the long term effects of child abuse. Often adults that were abused tend to be extreme “people pleasers” and are fearful of authority. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with wanting to see others happy, but I’m not talking about typical niceness, generosity, or basic humanity. The focus here is the uncontrollable need to please others so that they don’t get mad, you don’t get in trouble (yes, adults abused as children continue to fear “getting in trouble”), or that loved ones will not leave. Here are 10  common characteristics of child abuse survivors.

  1. Incapable of Completely Trusting Others
  2. Depreciated Sense of Self-worth
  3. Elevated “Flight or Fight Response”
  4. Extreme Anxiety
  5. Inability to Express One’s Self
  6. Excessive Self-Doubt
  7. Difficulty Forming Bonds
  8. Chronic Over-achievers
  9. Highly Likely to Engage in Risky Behaviors
  10. Restlessness Within Themselves

This is just a mere few characteristics that plague child abuse survivors, and not all will exhibit all of these. The above list is what I see as a survivor myself, and what I see most often in my child/adolescent patients at the in-patient mental health hospital in which I work as a Psychiatric Nurse. The damage done leaves scars that can last a lifetime, and the challenges are fought daily.

Trust is a basic developmental milestone that is usually learned during infancy and reinforced throughout ones lifetime. For us, it is an elusive concept. Not having the ability to trust affects all relationships (intimate, casual, and professional), and often it affects what we are able to to achieve i.e., not trying to do new things for fear that something will happen to prevent completion of the achievement or endeavor. For example, many hesitate going to college or applying for a promotion because they may feel that their loved ones will need to be accepting of the time it takes to study, or that maybe a loved one will balk about the extra hours at a new job.

A healthy sense of self-worth is imperative to happiness. In general, people will try to do things they think they are capable of; therefore, if told often enough that they can’t do something they will begin to believe what is said and may never try for fear of failure. This further erodes their sense of self-worth. On the other hand, when accomplishments are achieved, it is tremendously difficult for child abuse survivors to receive compliments, often second guessing intentions or motives. Self-doubt also feeds into another characteristic of being an over-achiever, stemming from a sub-conscious need to prove ones self to be worthy.

Flight or fight response is a defense mechanism that causes anxiety, and is built into all of us for the purpose of self protection. I have been told, more often than not, that I remind people of a scared rabbit. Obviously I don’t actually look like a rabbit, but I have learned that I can appear very anxious or nervous even at times that others would not. It is akin to the saying “waiting for the other shoe to fall”, meaning I have become so accustomed to bad things happening, that I am always anxiously waiting for the inevitable. It is exhausting to say the least, and I can’t count the number of times people say to me “just don’t worry about it”. Do they not understand I am not equipped properly to “just not worry about it”?

Infants and toddlers learn to express themselves to get what they need and what they want. Child abuse survivors often struggle with the basic tool of communication. We can talk, of course, but being able to articulate what we want to say without anxiety or exposing our emotions is quite the challenge. This characteristic links back to some of the others we have already talked a bit about like trust, self worth, anxiety, self-doubt etc. It is often a balancing act to tell others how we feel without worrying about our wording, the judgement of others, or exposing our emotions. Often self-doubt wins and self expression is lost. The fear of these things and of exposing ourselves to potential harm, real or perceived, is too risky.

Difficulty forming bonds is another common characteristic that is seen as a result of child abuse. Okay, please note, I am not at all saying that we can not have relationships or form bonds with our children, family members, for friends at all, I am just stating that it can be challenging for many of us. My difficulty with this centers around my inability to trust, and I find that it is hard for me to express emotions to others verbally in a way that conveys the true depth of my feelings for them. A lot of times when expressing ourselves the words can sound shallow or lacking emotion. This is likely also the result of not wanting to expose ourselves to harm and lack of trust in others with our emotions and innermost thoughts.

The need to achieve at work, school, parenting, sports, and other activities to the point of working excessively long hours, pushing yourself to exhaustion to complete projects early, relentless researching, and many other behaviors engaged in for the purpose of noticeably excelling at a task or activity are behaviors associated with overachievers. Over-achieving for the survivor of child abuse is a simple concept….be good…really good and you will be loved, accepted, kept worthy.

Drugs, promiscuity, self-injurious behavior, and fighting are just a few of the numerous risky behaviors that plague child abuse victims. It is not uncommon for others to label these children/adults as “bad” or “trouble”, when the truth is much different. Often these behaviors result from trying to cope with pain, shame, anger, and disappointment. Surely these are not appropriate ways to cope, but remember, some of us didn’t ever learn to cope in healthy ways with our feelings. Coping skills are tools learned to deal, in positive ways, with negative emotions or situations in life. Our toolbox is empty until someone realizes this, and cares enough to help us fill it up. Sadly, without tools to cope, many child abuse victims engage in risky behaviors for many years, and some have so much difficulty coping and are so hopeless that they may tragically take their own lives.

The last characteristic is the hardest one to explain, as I struggle with this one myself and have a tough time understanding it fully. Restlessness with my life, not the type of restlessness that causes you to get up and do something, or move your legs because you are uncomfortable. It might be best described as the inability to find peace and happiness with ones current lifestyle, job, location, accomplishments, contributions, and self. I always feel that there is something else I should be doing, or find myself searching relentlessly for something without really ever knowing what I am looking for. Could it be safety? Peace? Happiness? Love? Trust? Would I even fully recognize it?

I am writing this article to share with you some of the long-term effects of child abuse for two reasons. First, I believe awareness is the key to helping others, and secondly I want to share some insight from the prospective of a child abuse survivor. Not all children will suffer all of the characteristics I have shared with you here. Just as each child is unique, the spectrum of injuries to body, mind, and spirit that result from child abuse are also unique. There is one thing we all have in common; we all deserve to be loved. Make a difference, even if it’s only in one child’s life because “it will make a difference to that one”. – Starfish Storyadapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

RN Writer 2013

Boy Found Chained to a Bed in North Carolina

22 Aug 2013 / Posted by cr
Jed Maddalon entered foster care after he was found chained to a bed. While he now has a loving family, Jed’s journey through North Carolina’s child welfare system was harrowing. WCNC Charlotte featured his story and it begins with Jed almost dying:
“He was severely neglected to the point of dehydration and starvation, almost death. He was basically left to fend for himself, physically abused,” says Brooks Shelley, Jed’s dad. Shelley and his partner, Billy Maddalon, formally adopted Jed in 2010.
“He was locked in a room and fed from a dish on the floor in a pretty primitive way. I don’t know how else to describe it, except he was raised as a dog,” Billy says.
Jed and his family know this because Jed has his foster care files. The files show that he went through about 30 different placements–all before he turned 13 years old. The trauma of being moved around so much took its toll–Jedwould destroy things in his foster homes to see if his new parents would abandon him like all the rest:
“Once you’ve been backstabbed so many times, it’s just hard for you to trust and love,” he says.
Because Jed often ran away from foster homes, the state sent him to a mental institution. That’s where Brooks and Billy first met Jed, and their memories of that time show what it’s like for some kids who end up institutionalized. According to Brooks, ” “”He seemed lost and defeated.”
“That was a nightmare. Probably the worst place I’ve ever been to in my life,” Jed recalls.
“I’ve likened it to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest but you know you see that kind of stuff on TV and you don’t actually think it’s real. I’m here to tell you, it’s the juvenile version of it,” Billy says.
Billy and Brooks soon decided to become foster parents and go through the challenging process of getting Jed out of the institution. While both of them had specialized training for dealing with Jed’s PTSD, they were stunned by the level of trauma Jed had been through:
Brooks says, “He liked to eat beneath the table. He would hoard food because he was convinced there wouldn’t be enough food.”
Jed tried to run away, but his new parents refused to give up. Instead, they gave him the love and help he needed. Jed is now 19 and knows that he’s finally with a family that won’t abandon him:
“It took me a while to say that I actually trust them and love them,” Jed admits. “Because I had never trusted anyone or loved anyone.”
Until now.

Article Obtained From www.childrensrights.org

Must Read – Facts About Foster Care

Hands of Children

Hands of Children

Too many children are trapped in foster care.

  • On any given day, there are approximately 400,000 children in out-of-home care in the United States.
  • During the last year about 650,000 children spent some time in out-of-home care in the United States.
  • Children entering foster care remain there on average for nearly two years.
  • Despite the common perception that most children in foster care are young children, the average age of the children in foster care is over nine years old.
  • The median amount of time children spent in foster care increased between 2000 (12 months) and 2011 (13.5 months). On average, children in the American child welfare systems spend about two years — 23.9 months — in foster care. Ten percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.
  • While most children in foster care live in family settings, a substantial minority — 15 percent — live in institutions and group homes.
  • Nearly half of all children in foster care have chronic medical problems.
  • About half of children under five years old in foster care have developmental delays.
  • Up to 80 percent of all children in foster care have serious emotional problems.
  • More than 60,000 children living in foster care have had their biological parental rights permanently terminated. The assumption is that once parental rights have been terminated, the State should work as rapidly as possible to ensure that the child is safely in a new adoptive home and that the adoption is finalized. Yet of these children, the average time they’ve been waiting to be adopted is nearly two years (23.6 months).
  • In 2011, 11 percent of the children (over 26,000) exiting foster care aged out of the system. Research has shown that teens aging out of the system are highly likely as adults to experience homelessness, poor health, unemployment, incarceration, and other poor outcomes.
  • Sixteen percent of children in foster care in 2011 were in foster care for three or more years before they were emancipated.

Information Obtained from www.childrensrights.org

 

On a Positve Note -Seeking ‘Forever Families’ for Foster Kids

 

“Forever,” Lisa Cantanese whispered to her newly adopted daughters Ashley, 8, and Maryann, 5.

The two siblings sat around a courtroom table with Cantanese, her husband, Shaun Fryling, and two children they already had adopted: Justice, 12, and DeAndre, 7.

Together, they had officially become a “forever family” during a heartwarming adoption ceremony conducted last week by Erie County Family Court Judge Lisa Bloch Rodwin.

“I didn’t know we were having a party,” said Rodwin, kidding the girls before handing each their presents – a stuffed animal and big picture book in which the judge wrote: “Happy Adoption Day.”

“Believe it or not,” Rodwin said. “I’ve been working on this case for a long time, and I’m excited, too.”

November is National Adoption Month. Nationwide, there are more than 500,000 children in foster care, and approximately 114,000 children waiting for an adoptive family…Read More…

Every Storm Ends, yet the Toll Mounts

Stop Child Abuse

Stop Child Abuse

The weather was warm and the sun was bright on this late spring day in 1979. AJ, a 7-year-old girl with big brown eyes, and brown hair so curly that people often likened her to a brown-haired Shirley Temple. She has a sweet and innocent smile that proudly displays the recent loss of yet another baby tooth. She is dressed in her favorite dress with teddy bear print, and patent leather shoes, holding the hand of her big sister just two years older than she. Her birthday just passed a week ago on Easter Sunday and now she stands in the doorway of an enormous unfamiliar house, unfamiliar people, and with hopes of something else unfamiliar to her…. a happy family with a Mom and Dad that will love her and never hurt her. AJ is starting over, again, with another family in Foster Care.

 

Wait, lets go back a bit first, and take a brief look at AJ’s journey in life up to this spring day. It was mid-April and very early in the morning when AJ’s Mom awoke in tremendous pain. The pain was not from the beating or punch to the stomach she received from her husband the night before, nor from the meal she made of onions she often ate due to lack of food in the home, but instead she was in labor. AJ’s Mom made it to the hospital but ended up giving birth to little AJ in the elevator.  She weighed approximately 4 pounds, a result of being born a few months early, and needed to spend quite a lengthy time in the nursery at the hospital. Unfortunately, she spent most of that time alone as Mom had to return to her husband. Finally, social services contacted AJ’s parents and let them know that their baby was ready to go home to be with her family.

 

No one knew AJ’s struggle being born and getting home were the easy part and that her biggest challenge, for the next 4 decades, would be to simply survive. Between birth and the age of seven, this little girl endured several forms of abuse, witnessed many horrors, and suffered tragic losses. Between birth and the age of seven she was physically abused, emotionally abused, witnessed severe domestic violence, observed her mother attempt suicide multiple times, was hidden in the trunk of her mother’s car, was dropped off at social services by her parents several times, was used by her mother as a shoplifting mule to steal meats from grocery stores, and witnessed the death of her baby sister at the hands of her mother. AJ survived. Not only did she survive, but also she managed to still be hopeful and optimistic that she, if she could be good enough, would find a family that wouldn’t hurt her. Shortly after her seventh birthday she thought just maybe this new family would be what she wanted and dreamt about for so long.

 

AJ, her big sister, and the social worker moved into the kitchen in the big white house. Nervous, scared, and excited at the same time; AJ looked around with eyes wide and heart racing to see a smiling lady and man that appeared happy to see her and her sister. She spent the rest of the day getting to know her new foster Mom and Dad, baking cookies, playing with their poodle, and making sure to be very good so that they would hopefully love her and not send her away again. AJ’s dream of a “nice real family” seemed to be coming true. Within a few weeks her hopes and dreams would again begin to slowly shatter.

 

Within a few weeks this foster Dad, also later to become the Vice President of the local Foster Parent Association, began to take a special interest in AJ and her sister. She did not understand exactly what was going on, but it definitely didn’t seem right. AJ is to be sexually abused by him for many years, and because of all she had been though, she had so much difficulty figuring out what was right and wrong. She wanted to tell her foster Mom so many times, but the foster Mom was not exactly nice, and AJ was afraid of being cast away yet one more time and losing another family. AJ tried to tell the social worker what was going on; but not about the sexual abuse, as that wasn’t something she couldn’t bear to tell anyone. She told the social worker about the foster Mom almost punching her, breaking wooden spoons on her behind, and saying really mean things that made her really sad. She also explained that the foster Mom would go on many trips for several days and leave AJ with the foster Dad and that it was scary and made her feel bad. The trust she put in the social worker to help her was destroyed when all was shared with the foster parents and AJ was punished as a result. She learned quickly that no one could help her, and that if she wanted to keep a family she had to be so very good and not tell anyone anything.

 

The abuse continued for many years and AJ remained silent about what was happening. She spent so much of her time trying to be perfect so as not to make her foster Mom and Dad mad or not love her. The abuse didn’t stop, but her ability to remain silent was rewarded at age 13 when the foster family adopted AJ, and her sister, giving the world and AJ the illusion of a real family. This created a lot of anxiety and confusion for AJ to the point that one day the Mom was going on another of her frequent trips and leaving the girls with their newly adoptive Dad. AJ’s fear and anxiety over what would surely happen again, as it always did, when they were left alone with their foster/adoptive Dad. She would be molested again. AJ broke. She went running to the car to beg and plead again not to be left behind, but as usual it wasn’t working. Crying, pleading, and scared AJ finally said what was happening to her and her sister when the Mom was not around. AJ broke her silence and told the Mom that if she left them behind she would have to tell someone that could help. AJ’s foster/adoptive Mom was very angry with her, but did not leave for her trip and confronted the Dad. He locked himself in his bedroom and threatened to kill himself and the law was involved. AJ and her sister had to retell the horrific abusive events to many court officials several times and though he was found guilty, the Dad (Vice President of the local Foster Parent Association) did not receive any real consequences that fit the horrific crimes he committed against AJ and her sister for over 6 years. The world successfully reinforced AJ’s concept that nothing in her world is just or fair. Although the Mom did not return to live with the Dad, life for AJ continued to be one struggle after another.

 

Words can never convey how AJ felt about stopping the sexual abuse she endured for so many years. Unfortunately, her relationship continued to decline with her foster/adoptive Mom. AJ continued to try with all she had to be perfect; she was so careful and tried to stay out of trouble, do as she was told, and she excelled in school to try to ensure she would be loved as much as other children that she saw were loved by their Moms. No matter how hard she tried, her Mom always found fault in her and nothing she ever did seemed good enough. Even as she got older and started to date she faced mental abuse by her Mom. She was often told that she had big thighs, called names like “thunder thighs”, that she talked too much, and that she needed blinders (like those worn by a horse) in order to pay attention. When AJ was in high school, an A/B student, she had a car accident and missed so much school that they were going to have her repeat a grade. She ended up getting her GED, and her Mom told her that she would never be anything and would not have a place in her Mom’s Will. AJ felt cast away once again. When she was 17 and her boyfriend asked AJ to marry him, AJ went to her Mom for support because she was not sure this is what she wanted. Her Mom told her that she should accept because with her background she should be happy that someone wanted her. AJ did as she was told; she got married at 18.

 

Married at 18, had her first child by 20, and pregnant with second at 21 was the beginning of the many challenges facing AJ as a young woman. She had her second son in 1993, and she had no idea that tragedy would strike again just a few short months later. AJ’s second son died, of Sudden Infant Death, just 9 weeks and 6 days after his birth. She was not even home with him when he passed as she was helping a friend by babysitting their child, while her own baby stayed home with AJ’s husband. AJ’s last moments with her baby were spent in the hospital after he passed away, holding him, rocking him, singing to him, sobbing, and praying over him – Now I lay me down to sleep….

 

AJ endured the tragic of the loss of her child and tried to continue on her journey to find happiness and peace. Sadly, the loss of a child was too much for such a young couple to bear, and this resulted in AJ’s first divorce. She was alone, with two children and one tiny angel, again struggling in search of her dreams and how to survive. A few years later, AJ got remarried to the man she would love forever, but loving him would require all the strength, perseverance, and survival skills she had acquired thus far. Roughly a year after meeting her knight in shining armor, something changed in him, the abuse started again for AJ. It started with emotional put-downs and escalated to physical abuse towards AJ and her then 5 children, 2 from her first marriage and 3 with him. It had gotten to the point she knew she had to flee to protect not only herself this time, but also to protect her children. They all endured the abuse for more than 10 years while AJ tried to come to terms with what she had to do. She knew she had to leave the man she loved so much, because he was too abusive, and the abuse wasn’t going to stop, no matter how good she and her children tried to be. He would get mad and continue hurting them in some way. The day finally came, she was almost done with nursing school when she decided she couldn’t take the abuse a minute longer, and she packed up her children and left.

 

Leaving, the abusive man she loved so much, proved to be one of the biggest struggles to survive she would endure. It also served to continue to build her strength, optimism, and determination. She struggled with poverty, homelessness, hunger, and exhaustion while she finished nursing school; the only ray of hope she saw for her children and herself. She managed to scrounge up every bit of inner strength she had and graduate at the top of her class, pass the nursing boards, and even won her states Governor’s Award for Excellence. Things began to look up for AJ and her children. She was able to get a job in mental health that would provide very well for all of them. AJ and her children began to find their self-worth and learn to like themselves again. They all continued to be haunted by nightmares and emotional issues from a tumultuous past, but nonetheless; they moved forward and enjoyed their love as a family and their freedom from abuse. AJ was stronger, happy, and felt she might find companionship again.

 

Now that AJ and her children seemed stable and doing well, she started attempting to develop some sense of a social life and the possibility of companionship. She entered a few relationships that taught her more about life, but ultimately were not what she wanted. It seemed she couldn’t find the complete family she yearned for so badly all her life. One day, a few years later, she found someone she thought was nice and would be a good companion and partner in life. She remarried thinking he would be good to her and her children. Like a recurrent nightmare, her marriage began to fall apart in less than a year later.  He began drinking, using drugs, and becoming verbally and emotionally abusive to AJ and the children, both his and hers. AJ’s two daughters also started showing dangerous behaviors, resulting from emotional damage over the years, and now required professional help. AJ also realized that happiness would likely remain elusive, for all of them, without some form of professional help. She again started to question her life, her choices, and her self-worth. She often wondered if maybe this is all she was to expect out of life and what she deserved? AJ and her children were on their own again trying to rebuild themselves, hope, and faith in people.

 

Even now, AJ chooses to be hopeful and optimistic that the many difficult decisions she made, and struggles she has endured, have given her much strength. She believes that one day she and her children will find the peace and happiness they so desire. AJ struggles each and every day knowing that she holds responsibility for choosing to allow hurtful people into her, and her children’s, lives. AJ finds she is having a difficult time trusting all of their safety, her own choices, and life in general. AJ refuses to give up and remains optimistic that she and her children will find peace, so she continues to hope, to dream, and to survive. They say life is about the journey not the destination… for AJ it appears to be about survival and hopes of a peaceful destination.

The above is a true story that is being shared in hopes that it may help others. For my fellow foster care survivors, may you find all the peace and happiness you so deserve. Also, if you are reading this and contemplating becoming a foster parent, I pray that you will chose this path for all the right reasons and know that you might just save a life. I believe there are many wonderful foster families whom chose their paths for all the right reasons. For those of us whom weren’t lucky enough to be place in those special homes, the storm is terrifying, the toll mounts, and we never stop fighting for our hopes and dreams of peace and happiness. Foster care children; we have the strength to overcome surmountable odds.

RN Writer; November 2013

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