Imagine you’re 11 years old. Actually, you’re about to turn 12 and your mother is planning a birthday party for you. At least that’s what she has told you. Trouble is, experience has taught you that you can’t really depend on your mother to come through on her promises. She does come through for other people, but she has so neglected her relationship with you that now you are in residential treatment.
Sadly, you don’t need to imagine this scenario. It’s real. We’ll call this young girl “Tracy” to protect her privacy, but she’s as real as any 12-year-old girl.
“Tracy can be a handful at times, but no more than any girl her age,” says Taniesha Burton, MSW, LCSW, Residential Clinician for CHD. “Her mother decided the best way to deal with her was by dropping her off at a residential program. Tracy is at a CHD Caring Together home on a voluntary basis. Her mother says she can’t handle her, but she’s not a bad kid, not at all. Outside of a bit of ‘tween-age whining or verbal opposition that’s easily redirected, she’s a great kid. There’s no fight in her. She loves to keep herself busy through creative things like drawing and arts & crafts. It’s really mom who needs to work on her parenting. Mom has a care plan to help her, but she has to make the effort, and so far we’re not seeing evidence that she has.”
What Tracy’s mother has done is make a lot of empty promises. “Mom and her boyfriend have a 5-year-old son and she made a BIG deal for his birthday party,” Burton says. “Those of us at Caring Together were all thinking mom was going to do the same thing for Tracy’s 12th birthday. But when Tracy asked, mom’s response was, ‘Sorry we can’t do it, we have no money, we’ve been doing so much this summer.’ Those things they’d been doing all summer, like multiple trips to the amusement park, were with her brother. Tracy was never invited. One time mom said she might pick Tracy up to go shopping, but if she did it would be with a gift card that Tracy would have to split with her brother.”
When Tracy has gone home for occasional visits, it’s been made clear in both explicit and implicit ways that she’s not the important one. Mom focuses on perceived faults in Tracy and emphasizes things that she says Tracy doesn’t do for her. “When Tracy did have some kind of close personal interaction at home, it was more with the step-father than the mother, which was a cause for concern,” said Burton. “So after evaluating Tracy’s case in detail, our recommendation was that she not go home permanently until mom shows more engagement and makes significant improvements in her relationship with Tracy. A judge agreed and Tracy is staying with the program for another 90 days.”
Evidence of mom’s lack of concern for her daughter continued. Family counseling support is part of the care Tracy receives at CHD’s Caring Together and Burton made an appointment, confirming with mom that the date was convenient. “We were all set, but then mom rescheduled it for another date,” says Burton. “That’s not a big deal, but then she rescheduled again—on Tracy’s birthday—and canceled the party she claimed to have set up. Why would you schedule a therapy intake on your child’s birthday to discuss the trauma she’s experienced, and then not take her out for the birthday party you promised her? Mom bought her 12-year-old girl a coloring book, took her to her therapy appointment, and then dropped her back off at Caring Together. Mom told our staff that she was going out to get a birthday cake and bring it to Caring Together for her daughter. Well, there wasn’t one. I don’t think there was ever going to be one. It was heart breaking. But the people who work in this program knew about all the disappointment this girl had gotten from mom, and they weren’t about to let Tracy down. Tracy deserves something better every day, but especially on her birthday. So one of the staff quietly went out, got her a birthday cake and a special card that everybody at Caring Together signed, and together we all celebrated Tracy’s 12th birthday with her. The smile on Tracy’s face melted my heart. The next morning, she had her birthday card displayed on her dresser and after school I saw her looking at it again, reading all the names of people who signed it and smiling.”
With help from CHD’s Caring Together, Tracy is now paired with an advocate who looks out for her needs. Her advocate took Tracy shopping for school clothes and supplies. “When the available funds did not cover the girl’s reasonable costs for back to school, the advocate took money out of her own pocket to pay for the girl’s sneakers,” Burton explained. “With a voluntary placement, mom should be paying for all of this, but that’s not happening. We were not going to allow a young person to start a new school year in a poor space. We want Tracy to have what she needs to feel good about going to school. In addition to what Caring Together staff does clinically with her every day, we make sure she feels good about herself and starts off on the right foot. We also make it clear to her that she has to do her part. She has everything she needs to do well, so if she chooses not to do well that’s a decision she’s making.”
What Tracy wants and so desperately needs is one-to-one attention at home. That’s something she can get with the right foster placement. “In a case like Tracy’s, those foster placements come from other organizations or agencies,” Burton explains, “but Tracy’s advocate has a close friend who recently completed foster parent training and she would be a good fit for Tracy as a foster parent. It’s not our role to make the fit in this case, but we certainly can lubricate the wheels of the process to help Tracy.”
Burton and her Caring Together team are the kind of big-hearted, find-a-way people who work for CHD. They are the kind of people who make our organization different and who make lives better for the people we serve.
CHD Caring Together provides so much more than just a roof over the heads of girls like Tracy. “We’re about providing guidance and support, along with opportunities inside and outside the program that are as true as any other girl would have at this time in her life,” Burton says. “As much as we can, we help the children in our care to have a normal life. Every child deserves that.”