Lindsay Reilly (Read by Nancy Fortunato)
Can I call your attention in the courtroom
To the mother with mental illness
With multiple kids and multiple fathers
Who was raised by a system
That never loved her
By people who never loved her
Who gave birth to 4 beautiful children
Stemmed from a poisonous father each time
Those who promised to love her hurt her
The mother who tried to be loved
So hard she lost herself
Guns, drugs, unlawful imprisonment
But she’s still here
She looks at her 4 beautiful children
Everyone says she has too many
But they are more than a statistic
Anastacia wants to be an actress
Harmony loves to hum despite being upset
Jeremiah understands Spanish and it rolls off his tongue
Camille has been a fighter since she was born
She knows her children aren’t case numbers
Because she was always more than one herself
She is loud and abrasive
But she is quiet and timid
She is in love with nature
She is a contradiction, a poet
She never really meant to neglect anyone
And she neglected herself by thinking she could never love herself
Still she grows for her lifelines and herself
The case isn’t closed
The journey continues
When I was young, I was a very quiet but active child.
I was always running around doing something—dancing or going swimming, or playing games outside. In junior high school, I learned that I was good at basketball and track. Everyone I knew wanted to challenge me to a race, and everyone lost.
Now as a parent, I spend my time running after my children.
My older boys love sports as much as I do. Every year my family plans a field day. We play games like Twister, Uno, Clue and, of course, there’s a race.
Last year, one of my sons was determined to finally beat me. When he saw that I was winning, he pushed me out the way! I busted out laughing and he won. Next time, I plan on reminding him who the real champ is!
There was a time in my life when I wasn’t able to be an active mom. My two youngest children were taken into ACS custody. I found out because a note was left on my door.
I called the caseworker, upset and confused. She got all my anger that day. When we met in person, I didn’t have much to say to her. I just wanted to know when my children were coming home.
My children were in care for a year. And the entire time my life was upside down. All I wanted to do was stay in bed and sleep. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or go outside.
All my energy was gone. Without my children in my life, I couldn’t be myself.
My caseworker never tried to get to know me or my family. She never tried to understand why I was upset or how I expressed my feelings. Because I was quiet and withdrawn, she thought that I didn’t care about my children.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
My son, Aaron was removed at birth and spent the first two-and-a-half years of his life in care. The entire time I felt like I was under the world’s biggest microscope. Every action I took or didn’t take, every word I said or didn’t say, felt like a test to prove that I was worthy of being his mother.
Imagine going to visit your child in a room so small it feels like a 4×4 cage. Sometimes you have to share that space with other families. Now imagine having a rambunctious toddler who is just learning to walk. One minute my caseworker is saying that I have to keep him still and entertained, the next she’s questioning why we aren’t being active together.
With all of these confusing expectations, I was always left feeling like, no matter what I did, I wouldn’t be a good parent. I wasn’t given the chance to learn how to be a mom, I was just expected to be perfect at it.
Once during a visit, Aaron ran to the staircase. He wasn’t hurt but I didn’t move fast enough to get him and, in my caseworker’s eyes, these actions showed that I wasn’t able to keep him safe.
I thought that Aaron and I would never be free.
Even when I moved to unsupervised visits, I was always worried that ACS would come up with a reason to keep us separated.
I feared that anyone who could make decisions about my case would say I’m an unfit parent because I live with a mental illness. Or because I am poor. I was worried that they would see me as a bad person because I was taking him away from his foster family—the only family he ever knew.
ACS viewed me as a problem. Not as a parent who loves their child.
Now, Aaron is home. And now he is the person who watches my every move.
As parents in the room know, our children can tell when we’re upset. When we are sad or frustrated, they can feel that pain too.
I don’t want Aaron to feel what I felt with ACS—that whatever he does, he won’t be good enough.
When he does something wrong, I explain to him why. I offer support and I give him a chance to learn from his mistakes. I tell him all the time that my job, as his mother, is to protect him, teach him and cherish the time we have together.
Before joining a peer support group, I would walk into the foster care agency ready to raise hell. I wore my anger on my face and didn’t think twice about lashing out.
I was having real concerns about my case. I was having a hard time in visits with my two oldest daughters. I didn’t feel that I was getting the information and support I needed. I was struggling and had no one to talk to.
Throughout my life, I haven’t had much support. I have been used and let down by so many family and friends that I learned not to trust people. I didn’t want people to disappoint me, so I burned bridges and kept everyone away.
No one ever saw what I was going through, they only saw my attitude.
The only person I could turn to was my parent advocate, Teresa. Teresa always spoke to me in a calm and passionate manner. She understood how difficult it was to be a mom under ACS’s watch and reassured me that everything was going to be ok. She saw that I needed support and referred me to the right services. She even got me into a crocheting class that help me control my temperament.
Teresa also referred me to the parent support group that she ran.
Being around other parents whose children were in care made me feel less alone. I knew that, around them, I was free to be myself. They understood the anger I had inside me, and more importantly, they knew that it was more than that—it was frustration, loneliness, and hurt.
There, I found community.
I also learned skills from those parents. They encouraged me to take deep breaths before talking to anyone. They kept it real about what I needed to change. I had to learn that I couldn’t always get what I wanted, when I wanted it. Things take time.
The support I received from that group and from Teresa helped me get through the really hard days.
Teresa showed that she believed in me, then pushed me to believe in myself. Sometimes, she would even go with me to appointments. I didn’t have to explain to her how hard it is to push a double stroller and carry multiple bags around the Bronx—she just knew, and never hesitated to offer help.
Unlike every other person I encountered in the system and in my life, I knew that to Teresa, I mattered.
I learned to enjoy my life by making every task a game. Ever since I was young, I would create a long to-do list and tell myself that I only have 12 hours to get everything done. If I did, then I’d treat myself to a special prize.
Playing games brings me a lot of joy. It also gives me the feeling that I have a sense of control over my life.
When I was struggling with substance use. I didn’t have that sense of control.
I was raising four children in Harlem. Drugs were everywhere and easy to find. My family helped me out a lot. But when I felt down, I didn’t know anyone I could talk to that really understood what it felt like to be me—young, disabled and living with an addiction.
I wanted to stop using but I couldn’t find the support I needed to quit. As a result, my children were placed into foster care.
I knew that if I wanted to get my children back, I would have to comply with ACS’s demands. Running around the city to visits and services was so hard on me-mentally and physically. This felt like a game that I didn’t know how to play.
As much as I love my children, I felt overwhelmed, alone and lost. Some days, I didn’t even go see them.
It wasn’t until I got connected with other parents who were advocating for change, that I began to understand how the child welfare system operates like a game. With hidden and unfair rules, as if they were designed to make parents believe there was no way we could win. No matter which way we turned, it felt like an obstacle was always in our way.
For many of us, this caused a lot of pain. Together, we learned that we needed to heal—and we could. We had to be better for ourselves, not just for our children.
The support I received, helped me develop from an affected parent to a parent with purpose. I realized that when parents come together, we can beat the game of the system—and of life.
Now, the main thing I want to achieve is giving other parents what ACS didn’t: time, patience and understanding.