Monday, May 25, 2009

A Rare Gift

Life handed me one of those rare gifts a couple of weeks ago when I was reunited with a young man I had known 15 years ago.

He was five years old when I removed him from his drug-addicted, neglectful mother. I was his Children's Services worker at the time. I vividly recall finding him home alone in the middle of the day, with no food and clutter strewn throughout the apartment. The police were called and his mother was arrested as I received an emergency order of custody from a magistrate, allowing me to place him in foster care. I strapped him in the back of my white Ford Taraus and delivered him to an emergency foster home in Cincinnati.

I had often wondered what had happened to that sweet little guy, particularly when my own little boy turned five. I got my answer when he and I came face to face at an unexpected meeting.

He stood before me two weeks ago, a meeting orchestrated by another child welfare professional. He was all grown up now. Even so, I could see a hint of the little boy with chubby cheeks. He wrapped me in a bear hug and thanked me for saving his life. Tears swimming in his eyes and mine, we talked for an hour while I answered his questions about his early life and he filled me in on his subsequent childhood spent in "the system," bounced from one foster home to the next until he was 17.

The system didn't provide a magic answer for him. It usually offered a bed and some food and nothing more. Out of all the thirty-plus foster homes he lived in, only one he referred to as loving. But still, he thanked a caseworker from long ago for saving his life. And that spoke volumes about how horrendous it would have been for him to remain with his mother.

Surely we can do better. We can put our heads together and figure out better ways to raise our children who have no one to protect, love and nurture them. Find a way to get involved. The kids are waiting for you to help.