When my oldest daughter was taken into foster care, I had to confess. I had to speak to people who thought the worst of me. I had to take responsibility for my actions even though I didn’t understand what I had done wrong.
What I’d done was encourage my young nieces, nephews, cousins and my boyfriend’s kids to experiment sexually during a game of Truth or Dare. Growing up, I was sexually abused so many times that I really didn’t understand what was right or wrong in sex. Years later, after I found a good therapist and I did understand, I reached out to each child I’d harmed to ask forgiveness. I wanted them to know: “There was nothing wrong with you. The problem was with me.”
Looking for a Healing Word
After I did that, I wanted the same healing for myself from the foster care system, where I spent my entire childhood and where I experienced tremendous abuse. I had grown up feeling blamed for everything I suffered and like there was something wrong with me.
So two years ago, I reached out. First I wrote to the CEO of the agency I was a ward of from 1976-1993. Then I wrote to his secretary. Next I wrote to the commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services. I wrote about my abuse and explained that I wanted to help the system do better at protecting children. No one acknowledged my e-mails. Maybe they had good reason, but I felt overlooked, like I did when I was a child and my abuse went unnoticed by the system that was supposed to protect me.
People Who Care
Still, I kept looking for ways to speak up about what I’d been through. I began writing for Rise, and last March, I sent one of my stories, a poem, and a letter to child welfare officials in Texas, where I was living and where my daughter entered foster care.
A few days later, I received an email from the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Texas thanking me for wanting to join the fight to end child abuse and asking me if I would like to attend their conferences. I also received a letter from a child welfare official in Austin. She wrote: “I am so very, very sorry for your extremely painful experiences as a child! It is truly sad when agencies of help and service fail miserably!” She also invited me to volunteer with her agency.
I am still waiting for the New York City agency and the system I spent my childhood in to apologize for all that I suffered. That would make the biggest difference to me. Still, having someone in the child welfare system acknowledge that what happened to me was real has helped me feel less responsible for my own suffering. It also showed me that there are people in this system that care, and that I, too, can have a role in making life better for children in it, despite my history.