Addressing those on the front line of our failing child welfare system…


This is only a portion of my story….there are too many layers to write in one edition of a blog.  I was asked to speak to a group of DCFS workers as well as a group of students at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

My story: 

-born to a dairy farmer in August of 1969….or so that’s what my birth certificate said.

-He was 15 years older than my mother who gave birth to their first child at the
tender age of 17.

-She went on to give birth to 4 more children…I was the second to the youngest.

My father was in an out of our home, leaving my mother to try to feed her children
with no means to do so.  We would go days without eating and when my father came home…it was only long enough to knock my mother up again.

Mama grew up in horrific conditions…with a mother who would have eaten her own young
to survive….so given the opportunity to run at the age of 15 she did…my father later met her in a house where she was a prostitute.

When I was born to this couple their days were filled with drinking and drugs and
often left me with my older siblings who were 5, 6 and 7 years older than me.  I had memories of a little angel who would care for me as a baby and toddler…I now know that was my 6-year-old
sister.  My youngest child is 6….I can’t imagine her having to care for an infant….I am certain it goes on daily in this country.  I know what you see on a daily basis is even worse.

We had a social worker assigned to our family where we lived in Mena, Arkansas.  She was feisty and mean…or so I thought.  She was very patient with my mother and so very kind to our family.  I remember Christmas when I was 5 years old, living in a house without electricity and indoor plumbing….it was Christmas Eve and not only did we not have presents, we didn’t have a tree.  We had a long drive way and it was so dark back in the property where we lived.  That night…the night before Christmas…head lights appeared and came down that long drive…we were all a little scared.  The car stopped in front of the house and the headlights stayed on and the door opened.   We saw it was Mrs. Brewer and she had her daughter and granddaughter
(who happened to be in my class at school). They began to get things out of the trunk and as they brought them into my house…not only did she have gifts for each of us, but she also had a tree and decorations.  Again, she was good and kind.

Mama had to take us once in a while to the court-house where Mrs. Brewer’s office was and we would see a nurse and be interviewed…it would be years later that I realized that my mother was under investigation.  Mama would always give us a spoon of dry oatmeal and drink of milk…that way when we were asked what we had for breakfast we would not have to lie.  Mama convinced
all of us that if we told her that we really didn’t have anything to eat that she would take us away and we’d be split up and never see each other again….we were all terrified of her after a while.

Eventually my 3 older siblings ran from home…one by one.  My mother was always very violent with my oldest sister…I would hide and cry with my baby brother.  When I was 7 she finally ran and it would be years before I saw her again.  Mama then turned her rage on me.  She often would place a boxed fan in the bedroom window and have me strip down to my panties and she would beat me until she was too exhausted to continue…  I would wait until the coast was clear and go out to the back yard and lie in the grass and talk to God.  I never felt alone during my mother’s storms…I always felt His presence and knew it would be ok.  As I prayed while the tears were still drying on my little cheeks, I’d ask God for a new family…one that would love me and keep me safe, with a mom, dad, brothers and sisters and horses….

I grew older…taller…and began to fight back….mostly through running and getting
involved with the wrong crowd….Have any of you seen “Winter’s Bone”?  That is an incredible depiction of the world of CRANK.  The adults I hung out with aspired to cook crank and get high.  When other children my age were having orange juice for breakfast, I was walking to
school smoking pot on the way.

At the age of 12  I found myself in and out of jail, locked up in Cecil, Arkansas at a detention center…ran away and ended up back in jail….when I’d get arrested Mrs. Brewer would threaten to send me to Pine Bluff, Arkansas…but thankfully she sent me to a children’s home in
Oklahoma instead.

I arrived at the children’s home on a Wednesday afternoon.  I remember what I had on from top to bottom….white t-shirt, “chick” jeans…remember those?  Tennis shoes….all things I received while living in Cecil.  I was checked in at the office where I met my foster-mother.  She took me in an old mint green van back to the cottage that I would soon call home.  I was terrified at first, but after meeting the other children, including my roommate who was 15.  She was awesome!  She put me at ease right away!  Barbie taught me 2 priceless things….how to laugh and how to whistle….both of which I’m good at!

After I put my few things away we ate dinner…soup and sandwiches….It is etched in my
mind like it was yesterday.  After we cleaned up the kitchen we were allowed to go to the playground before heading to church.  I thought I heard something like a horse in the distance (remember I’d asked God for horses while laying in the back yard when I was little).  I looked
up and down the road was a man riding a horse….one I was able to ride many times growing up there!

As I went to bed that night I thanked God for all the things he’d given me that I’d asked for so many years before.  I also asked Him for one more thing that night….I begged God to help me to not wet the bed.  I had wet the bed ever since I could remember….this was the first time in my life I had a bed with sheets….a top and bottom sheet! J  So…I had a dry night Wednesday night,
Thursday night and woke up Saturday morning with wet sheets….I thought I would die.   I began to make my bed back up praying nobody would ever know….and here comes my roomy telling me not to bother making my bed because Saturday’s we changed our sheets. You would think that was a good thing, but I knew eventually someone would discover my sheets had been wet on. I slowly gathered my wet sheets and walked down the long all to the laundry room….there in the center of the room was a ringer washer full of hot soapy water for us to place our sheets in!
Nobody ever knew…and due to unconditional love, consistency, gentle touch, routine in meals, affirmation…I never wet the bed again…not ever.   Maslow’s hierarchy of needs….psychology 101 …why have we moved away from that?  It is not what we all need?

I graduated from high school in 1988…and knew I had to figure out what I was going to do as there was not one place for me to go after graduation….all I knew was that I had to leave.  I decided to go to college and when I moved to Dallas to attend Dallas Christian College….ALL of my belongings went with me, I was basically there because I needed a place to live.  When other
freshman students were wondering if they were going to make it for a 7am class I was wondering what I would do for the Holidays….I knew I could stay in the dorm for Thanksgiving, but they closed the dorm for Christmas.  I was pregnant and married by Christmas….purely trying to survive.  I was blessed with a great husband…of 23 years.  We have 3 daughters and many, many more foster daughters….I was a nana at 28 years old! J  I haven’t been a perfect foster mama…and at times loving some of them was on purpose…but I did do my best to treat them as
my own and the love soon followed!

Due to my own story and then watching the girls who lived in my home and became a part of our little family not really having options as they aged out, my husband and I started a transitional living house in Rogers that has 14 bedrooms for young women aging out or homeless. We connect them with 3 mentors…sister, mother, grandmother..teach life skills, equip them with job skills, offering counseling…all to help them escape poverty and change their family tree.

I recently asked some of our residents what the best and the worst thing about being in care was for them.  They all considered different things being the “best”….love, food, feeling safe….however, those same things were the “worst” for others as it was withheld in some cases…by far the 2 worst thing for the girls I spoke with was not being told what was going on as they were taken from their homes in separate vehicles and not knowing what was going on and if they would ever see their families again….remember, my mother said if we were taken we would be separated and not see each other ever again….the other thing was being separated from their
siblings.

There were times when I was in care that things were withheld from us just to upset us…or it gave the foster parents some sense of control…it was awful as a child…a bit of a mind game.

As a foster mom I tried to over communicate with our children so they were always
in the “know”….sometimes they come across as nosy and mostly they are just afraid of the unknown….I could have been better and at times I failed miserably, but know that God’s grace is sufficient and He was with me and my greatest hope is that each girl knows how much I love her.

I want to thank you for the work that you do….the burden is great and the issues regarding families in crisis is an epidemic in this nation.  We are all in this together…these are our babies and it is only by the grace of God that my children didn’t end up in foster care too…

You must at times wonder if what you are doing is making a difference….it is.  Don’t stop pressing on and doing the hard work.  I have such respect for you and personally want to work with you to change the future for these precious lives….to break the silent epidemic in our nation and help heal the hearts of our children and break the cycle of abuse and neglect and a life of
poverty.

Thank you!