*The names of the children and family have been changed for confidentiality reasons*
I come to you today with one of the most moving stories that I’ve seen in my 10 years in child welfare. It truly made me believe that miracles do happen, and everything happens for a reason. While this story is still in progress and has some very sad parts to it, my goal in writing to you all today is to make you see that angels do live among us. I also hope that after reading this story, someone may be so moved to become a part of this story and make a difference. This is a longer blog than usual, so be patient. The story is worth it. I’ll break it down into sections. The entire story is very important, to show how the Opiate Epidemic continues to orphan children, neglect children, and how communities have to pull together as it “takes a village to raise a child”.
Elam’s Story: How Elam came into care, and the agency became his parents
Several weeks ago, on a Sunday, I received a text from my supervisor asking for help from the caseworkers. This was very unusual. There was a 5-year-old boy who along with his brother, was taken into custody on Friday. The caseworker assigned to the case has only worked in this agency for about six months. She received a call from the mother asking her to come to the hotel where she and her children were staying. She asked her to take her children that day. The mother and children had been moving from place to place for several years. Our agency and neighboring counties had struggled to find her for years. When the caseworker arrived at the motel room, she found mom and her three children, living in deplorable conditions. The younger two were 5 and 9 years old. She also had a 24-year-old son. This adult son was curled in the fetal position on the floor. He weighed only 50 pounds and was emaciated and malnourished. The caseworkers called an ambulance, and adult protective services. They then requested custody of the younger two children. Mom admitted she had an opiate addiction and had come to a point where she couldn’t care for the children any longer.
That Friday, the boys were brought to the agency. Both boys were autistic and minimally verbal. The youngest, who we will call Elam, was aggressive, biting, pinching, kicking and was eating dirt off his shoes. Caseworkers gave the boys McDonald’s, but Elam gagged when it was offered to him and continued to try and eat dirt. He drank only from faucets and appeared almost feral. Elam was not potty trained and was wearing diapers. The agency supervisors, caseworkers, and foster team spent the day searching for placement with family and foster homes. There was no family that was able to take placement of the children. Our agency struggles with placing children inside our county, due to our foster homes being completely full (another symptom of the opiate epidemic in our county). A home was finally located about two and a half hours away and the caseworkers went to the home with the boys. They left shortly after to go grab dinner, as it was evening by then, and also to purchase diapers and a sippy cup for the child. While at dinner, the foster home called and asked the caseworkers to return as they couldn’t keep Elam due to his violent behaviors.
The caseworkers returned and took Elam to the hospital for an evaluation. The hospital could not do anything for this child and released him. The caseworkers returned to the county after midnight and the agency obtained a room at a local hotel where the on-call supervisor stayed with Elam overnight.
Saturday came and a message was sent out to all our caseworkers, asking us to come to the agency to help watch Elam while another placement was located. A local foster home agreed to take Elam, but again, the next day said they could not keep Elam due to his behaviors.
Sunday came and Elam “moved in” to the agency, while our caseworkers worked shifts coming and staying with him day and night. Caseworkers who are not trained specifically to care for a child with high special needs. A child who had been removed from everything he’s ever known, and as a result lashed out with violent behaviors out of fear and frustration. That didn’t matter. Everyone banded together to help with Elam.
Monday arrived and an entire department in the agency was cornered off to make a makeshift home for Elam. The caseworkers halted their normal duties to help care for him, and figure out his likes and dislikes. Elam didn’t eat for days until we found out he loved cool ranch Doritos. ONLY cool ranch. If another type was mixed in, Elam would gag and spit it out. Elam would not drink from cups or bottles, only the faucets. Bathing him was difficult and he became violent as he did not like his hair washed. Caseworkers bought toys, bubble machines, clothing, diapers, and parented Elam the best we could. Elam struggled through all of this, as he didn’t like the constant transitions. He would cover his ears and become upset once he was used to a new worker, and they would leave for the next worker to take a shift.
Over 70 places were contacted by the agency all over the state as well as neighboring states. NO ONE would take Elam. They either didn’t have room, weren’t equipped to take him, or weren’t willing to give it a try. It was heartbreaking. It was dumbfounding. Workers who have done this job for 25+ years had never seen anything like this. I’ve been here for 10 years, and have never seen anything like it.
Finally, one worker had a thought “outside the box”. She has a special needs daughter herself, and while she wanted to take Elam, she is a single mom and works full time. Elam needed full-time care. She contacted a long time family friend, who works with special needs children and has a special needs child of her own. Our caseworker presented Elam’s story to them, and the next day she and her husband agreed to meet with Elam. They agreed to take Elam as a kinship placement. I was privy to the conversation when they were asked to take him, out of the blue. Their main concern was “how long” they would have him and if he would return to his mother. They were fearful of becoming too attached to him and having to lose him. The list of behaviors and concerns did not phase them. They fell in love with him through his story and wanted to provide him with a loving home.
Mary and Tom came to visit Elam the next day and it was love at first sight, on both ends. The interaction was amazing and they knew right away they wanted Elam in their home. They agreed to come the next day and get him. They were very concerned, however, about not having room for Elam. Mary and Tom had been slowly renovating their home over the past year, and doing the work themselves. They did the upstairs, but the downstairs was under construction. They did not have a bedroom for Elam, as they themselves were staying in the living room during construction. The agency agreed it was fine, as long as Elam had a bed and the love he needed. After all, he had lived in our offices for almost a week! The next day, Elam went to his new family’s home.
The workers at the agency were tired, beat up, bruised, and exhausted. But when Elam left, there were tears shed in happiness and sadness, as everyone in some way had become attached to Elam and were touched by him in one way or another.
Elam’s Mom and Dad: How opiates have orphaned more children
When Elam was taken into custody, with his brother, his mother told the caseworkers that their father passed away about two years ago from an overdose on heroin. She had never really recovered from this loss and had struggled for years with her own opiate addiction. After the children were removed at her request, the caseworkers did not hear from her again. She did not call the agency or attend court hearings. It was reported that shortly after the removal, she did go to the psychiatric unit at our local hospital for several days. But nothing else was really known about her whereabouts.
Elam had been doing well and made huge improvements in his new home with Mary and Tom. He started eating other foods, not just Cool Ranch Doritos. He started drinking from a water bottle and cup and has stopped drinking from the faucet.
Soon after, the agency learned that Elam’s mother had overdosed and it was fatal.
Elam and his brother were now officially orphaned.
Both parents were taken by their opiate addiction.
The caseworker called Mary and told her. She cried. Mary told me later, that she felt terrible for the boys as they lost both parents and do not have the developmental capability to truly understand this, as well as to grieve. “I have to grieve for them”, she said. While Mary and Tom realized then, they would likely be able to keep Elam forever, they were heartbroken that this addiction took not one, but both parents from them.
Mary told the caseworker then that she felt compelled to take in Josh, Elam’s brother. Josh had moved to a new foster home, several hours away and was progressing as well. Elam and Josh were all they had in the motel room they stayed in with their mother. It became very apparent to Mary and Tom they needed to keep the boys together, and are working toward having Josh come to their home. There is one huge thing making this difficult at this very moment, and that is the physical structure of the house. The house is under construction, and they have minimal room for the boys to thrive and have their own space.
“We will do it though, we want to make this work. God put Elam, and maybe even Josh in our lives for a reason. We will somehow make it work”, Mary Said.
Mary and Tom’s Story
Mary and Tom were married this past October and have been together four years. They had talked about children but never really decided they wanted children of their own until about a month ago. While they could not have natural children together, they had considered the idea of fostering and adoption. When they received the call from our caseworker, the opportunity presented itself.
I met with Mary and Tom in their home and observed Elam with them. The bond is strong, even just after a couple weeks. Elam is a completely brand new child. He is calm, is not aggressive and is happy. Mary and Tom are natural with him, and Mary’s children have adjusted well too.
Mary showed me around their home. The upstairs is beautifully finished, for her children, and they gave them the brand new bedrooms; while she and Tom lived in the living room area during construction. They have done all the work themselves and were planning to do the same with the rest of the house as time and money allotted. But with the arrival of Elam, and possibly Josh, they are overwhelmed with the idea of how they will finish their home soon, if at all. They talked about dreams of expanding out or upwards, to make bedrooms for the boys, and a playroom where they could do occupational and physical therapy with the children. They told me they would pray that something would come along to help them finish these plans, as they are much different than the original plan of expanding the kitchen and bedroom. And now, they need to put a rush on this due to Elam and Josh moving in.
They assured me they will make it work, however they can. The home is actually Tom’s childhood home and has not had work done on it in decades. The foundation needs re-done if they want to build up, and the windows need replacing.
They talked about dreams of having a handicapped shower put in the bathroom and remodeling the bathroom for the children to be conducive to their special needs.
While listening to these wonderful people, all I could think of is “How on earth can I help them and make these wishes and dreams come true?”. Trying to convey in words, the feeling of happiness, warmness, and hope for humanity, that Mary and Tom exude, is near impossible. They make you want to laugh, cry and hug them all in one feeling. Two angels who have committed their lives to a child, that two weeks ago they did not even know existed.
Where do we go from here?
This story is still in the making. I plan to provide updates as they come. But the story was so compelling I could not wait to share. A special needs child, orphaned by drugs, who no one wanted and lived at an office building for a week. Who now has a wonderful loving home. And that home needs our help.
My call to action is to you, my readers. I would love to help Mary and Tom complete renovations on their home. They have opened their lives and hearts to a very special child. Hopefully/maybe two children!! They need a blessing to finish this home to make it match the size of their hearts.
If anyone reading this blog has ideas of ways to help, please contact me.
To Be Continued……..