We turned down a dirt road in a neighborhood where basketball hoops were old and worn, the silence of no children out on a beautiful spring day was deafening, and the lack of tending to gardens and homes was painfully obvious. The GPS said we had arrived and a woman came out in an all black robe with a clipboard when we pulled in.
My gut check told me this was a terrible idea so I texted the address to my boss knowing that if we went missing she would come find me.
We got out of the car and were quickly introduced to the robe lady and then told that she would not try to keep track between the two of us because it is “too confusing”. She told us we should go around the back of the house because that is where Q is. I couldn’t help but wonder if people would think I was a lunatic for going around to some back of a house after they found my body. We went anyway.
We were led down a stairwell into the basement where they keep her. When we walked into the living space, the stench of poverty hit me so hard I stopped in my tracks. If you have ever worked in human services, I think you know this smell. I can’t quite figure out the exact way to describe it but I think it’s a combination between stale air, cigarettes, kool-aid, and general cheap products.
The “apartment” (if you can call it that) had two living spaces: a kitchen/dining space and a living/sleeping space. The windows were typical basement windows that are at the ceiling about 5 inches tall. It’s not up to fire code by any standards and to be clear, if there was an emergency, anyone living in that space would surely die.
When we went into the living space Q was hiding in the corner behind TVs (there were two, one placed right in front of the other) playing with cords. She went back throughout our visit to play with the cords and outlets.
She was not excited but rather had a very flat response without affect (which we expected). There weren’t any hugs but rather us trying to pretend like we had just seen her the day before type of “hey! we brought some things for you” type of engagement. We sat the bag of clothes that we had brought on the couch and told her we brought her magazine. We asked if we could read it together. So we sat awkwardly on the squeaky, sagging couch reading through the magazine page by page as if it were any other day.
Her energy was strange. This was not the child we knew.
At one point she went back and forth to the fridge to show us items like the tub of margarine and generic jelly named “jelly”. She ate chunks of the margarine with her hands. The staff member brought her a cake to show us that Q had decorated. At 10 in the morning she proceeded to sit on the couch and eat the candies and cake with her hands throughout our entire visit.
She was a feral child.
I asked her the last time she had a hug and she let me know it was from us. Back in March when she was at the hospital. Because of policies and procedures, staff cannot hug, which mean that this 5 year old that has severe attachment and neglect history is continuing not to get the physical attention she will need in order to heal. Let’s remember that her biological mother left her in her car seat for so long that Q’s muscles atrophied. We asked if we could hug her and she slowly said yes. We hugged her. We sang our special songs to her.
The program is teetering on the line of conversion therapy. They will not acknowledge her gender identity as being a girl. They have decided that her gender identity has been constructed simply from us. Never mind that we are the Muck Boot, Carhartt type of gals and we met Q who was demanding nail polish, dresses, and that she wants to be a girl in the most self-confident way possible. We never encouraged this. We just validated whatever her experience was and whatever way she wanted to express this. Of course, what would they know, they have no interest in learning about Q’s history or about us. We had to remind them that Q’s trauma and neglect is something we did not cause.
At this point Q is surviving. She is not thriving. She will not heal in this environment.
The way that this placement has been handled by DCF and the courts is not great to say the least. Believe me when I tell you, there is nothing that can be done. It’s out of our hands.