My first visit to a four year old CASA guardian child was at the suicide ward of Fairview hospital in Minneapolis. Her seven year old sister (Alice) and two younger siblings were my introduction to child protective services. Alice had been horrifically abused physically, mentally, and sexually for four years and had a vocabulary of about 25 words when I met her. After repeated police calls to the home (North Side Minneapolis) children were taken from the family when Alice was kicked so hard by her abuser that she went into convulsions and needed hospitalization. She remained in my caseload for 11 years.
I have dozens of stories about how Alice made life extremely painful for almost everyone she came in contact with, especially people trying to help her. Her regular juvenile judge asked me for permission to put her on a long lasting birth control that was to be inserted into her body because she was so promiscuous – sneaking out of St. Joe’s Home for children and having sex with old men when she was eleven, and multiple sexual encounters at school, forcing educators to put two and sometimes three teachers / helpers to make certain that she did not escape the premises for sex (they failed).
In the end, at 18, Alice finally helped arrange for her younger sister and two younger brothers to live with their biological father, who was a really decent man but earned little money at the auto shop where he had worked for many years.
Because dad could not afford day care the State determined that he should not raise his children and that the children belonged in foster homes (the underlying reason was that he could not insure that “mom” would not return to further abuse her children if the kids were not in daycare during the day when dad worked.
I had lobbied for the removal of 7 children from Alice’s birth home over 11 years. I was removed from the case eleven years later when the 3 year old boy (7th child) was found to have cocaine in his blood and evidence of sexual abuse. I lobbied hard to have the boy removed. The same man that had abused Alice and her siblings eleven years prior was still in the home and he had never been made party to any of the court proceedings. I believe that the boy stayed in the home to his severe detriment.
What could have been a somewhat better ending was destroyed by the State refusing the biological father custody.
I knew him well, he was a fine man and really wanted to raise his children. The criminal that committed 15 years of unspeakable acts against children was never brought into the conversation or made to atone for (or stop) his acts.
2) Not Saving Any Money
I met Alex almost twenty years ago. He had been violently abused for four years. He was almost eight years old when I met him as his CASA GAL.
Because the State did not execute a background check (at a cost of less than $500)on Alex’s biological father, it was not known that dad had spent 2/3 of his adult life in prison for the same crimes he was about to commit on his four year old boy. There was also a court order in an adjacent state forbidding dad to be around young boys for what he did to them. Like other states, MN courts are underfunded poorly understood by decision makers, and not able to protect children because there is a lack of resources and institutional accountability.
Alex left a perfect foster home* and lived with his father until he was almost eight years old and entered the public school system.
On his first day in school, a teacher saw that Alex was covered in bruises from head to toe and turned him in to child protective custody. For almost four years Alex had been tied to a bed, sexually abused, beaten & starved. He spent days left alone in a small apartment from the ages of four to seven tied to a bed with no food and unable to use a toilet.
The impact this abuse has had on Alex has caused him attempt suicide on many occasions over many years. He stabs and beats innocent people, steals, and senselessly destroys things and relationships. He has caused tremendous pain almost all of the people** that tried so hard to help him.
But I do understand why and have been his friend for almost twenty years. He responds violently to authority, trusts only the wrong people, and has a concept of reality that is opposite my own. At a movie I took him to when he was 14, he laughed when violence occurred and was unable to detect humor at almost any level. A few years earlier he tugged on my sleeve when playing miniature golf and asked me “***when will I be normal” something I suspect all abused and neglected children feel deeply within.
Alex has always been a ward of the state and I predict he always will be. Before he aged out of foster care he contracted AIDS, just one more tragic event in his life. The AIDS medications alone exceed $50,000 annually and I estimated his costs to the County prior to aging out at about 3 million dollars (not including the people he has stabbed, beat up, or the property damage he has done). This boy’s story represents much of what is wrong with child protection in America and should be news worthy but is not because it is an uncomfortable topic that does not sell newspapers.
*All of Alex’s mothers children were removed from her custody as all her children were born cocaine positive (among other drugs) and conceived during the short periods of time she was not incarcerated.
**Alex did really awful things to many of the 29 foster and adoptive homes that tried so hard to help him.
***The quantity and variety of psychotropic medications this boy was forced to take was frightening to me. He hated them and eventually refused to cooperate in taking proscribed medications.
3) Sins of the County
I became a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem many years ago partly because a business partner (Ann) adopted 4 children from the County and was told that there was no serious abuse suffered by these children.
The children had in fact been horribly abused. Ann and I had been business partners for years and I watched her and her family fall apart because of the dishonesty and serious mistakes made by the county she lived in.
Ann is one of the most capable, strong, and committed human beings I have ever known.
I watched her mental health disintegrate during her first few years of the adoptions and have come to know just how impossible her family became to manage after the adoptions.
The problems her family encountered with these terribly troubled children were so many, so severe, and often so dangerous, that there simply were no right answers. Life for the family became a nightmare of anxiety, failure, and fear.
During the first months of the adoption, Ann’s husband Dave had to stay awake all night and guard the younger children from the abusive and homicidal, 14 year old adoptee to protect the family.
Sexually abused children often execute destructive behaviors like starting fires, hurting themselves or others (about half of the children in my CASA guardian ad-Litem caseload were sexually abused).
All the adopted children had been horribly abused and after twenty years are all still unable to function normally. They are all special needs people.
For twenty years Ann and Dave have stood by these children to help them into adult hood. What they have been through is nothing short of a heroic struggle of dealing with severe mental health issues and the violence, crime, and institutional problems that become a part of your life.
4) Lying and mistreating people
Some of my actions as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem cause me great sadness and guilt.
One of my low functioning troubled moms had violent boyfriends that caused her to have several children removed from her custody. After the adoption of the first baby boy to a rural MN couple was complete, I was let in on the fact by social workers that the baby had shown multiple signs of autism. But the adopting couple was never informed. I still feel dirty.
When the 7 year old abused girl in the first story was 18 she arranged to have her 3 younger siblings live with her biological father, who I had come to know and like very well. For the first time in these children’s lives, they had some real love and control of their lives.
But because there was no subsidized daycare available to dad, the state determined that for the safety of the children, they all belonged in foster homes (broken up again).
I fell victim to believing the authority within the system that convinced me to take the state’s side that they needed to be in foster homes because of the possibility that the mother could again abuse these children.
The little girl that had been my friend and active case child for 11 years and always knew I had her best interests in mind now hates me. I do too. It was my biggest mistake.
5) Happy story
A twenty something prostitute was brought into the system with a four year old boy (whose guardian ad-Litem I became). The boy knew five languages and had perfect behavior. He was a beautiful child.
Violence and repeated arrests for prostitution, drugs, and child endangerment had brought them into the system. Mom was reasonable, very intelligent, and like all moms, in love with her little boy.
After two months of coffee and visits, she began to understand the life her boy would lead because she could not give up her addiction to drugs and prostitution and asked her father to adopt her boy. Dad was so happy (and a wonderful fellow).
This is the happiest story I have.
6) Why I Hate Montana
My very first CASA guardian ad-Litem case was eight children. Six of the older children had been sexually abused.
Two of the girls were adopted by a married couple that had their own two year old little girl.
Within a year, mom found out that the father had molested the older daughter, called the police, and after forensics were completed found that he had also molested the two year old.
This man ran away to Montana, and when sued by MN for his crimes, counter sued for custody.
Keep in mind, the police did a thorough investigation, had a lengthy report from the older girl (13), and there were semen samples from both the two year old and the 13 year old making it clear that the dad was a child molester.
Montana was extremely uncooperative and demanded that this now poor mother drive (she owned a 15 year old pickup truck) to Montana and force her child to be a witness in a lengthy trial, where she (the 13 year old) would testify.
This woman was now alone in the world, the child was scared to death, and there was no help from the state of MN. Video conferencing would have worked, and there were other alternatives available but Montana would not allow them.
I hate Montana.