LA FO$TER CARE: Angel on 48th Street
LA FO$TER CARE: Angel on 48th Street.
There are a lot of decent people in the foster care business. Foster parents who do anything , spend anything, go anywhere – all for the children. There are Social workers who go above and beyond, who on a regular basis, pay from their own pocket to buy candy, or journals, or tickets to a theme park. Mentors who give of themselves completely, working with teens through adulthood and are a mentor in every sense of the word. Administrators who are tireless in their pursuit of the best interest of children.This is about one of them.
Author’s Note: I was introduced to Mrs. Wilson by a social worker who has known her for a decade. Shesaid she wanted to see something positive in these pages after reading so much about greed and corruption and now the death of Viola Vanclief. So, here you have it – somebody making a difference, making the world a better place.
Mrs. Wilson has lived here for over two decades, she is proud of her home, and the pride shows in its upkeep. There remains a dignity to the neighborhood. People still watch out for one another. Yet, time hasnot been kind. The neighborhood used to be safer, one could walk late at night without much worry. Thatmay have changed over the years but her home remains the same. It is perhaps – because of this – evenmore dignified, located on a street that retains a neighborly quality even if that can’t be said a block away.
Wilson’s home now has a gate around the porch and prudently, it is almost always locked. This gated home is a place where Foster Teens have graduated from Dorsey High or Manual Arts High School to then go on to a dignified life working productively, raising their children, and moving away to newer homes in Victorville or Ontario, where hopefully, there are still front and backyards and kids are told to come home before supper or before it’s dark. Sadly, it is not like that in Wilson’s neighborhood. Mrs. Wilson has a name for what goes on around the corner. Not quite unprintable, but best left unsaid.
Perhaps three dozen foster teens have passed through Mrs. Wilson’s home during the past 15 years. Many return now, to visit, to see how ‘Mom’ is doing. To most of these grown ladies Mrs. Wilson is Mom in every sense of the word. Many are grown and have husbands and children, while others have good, honest jobs with productive work that contributes to society. Wilson’s ‘kids,’ foster teens who came to her now have futures; something that seemed lost before they arrived at her home. These ladies, these ex-foster teenshave one thing in common: They call her “Mom,” and this was and still is their home. They visit often.
“I treat all these girls as if they were my own daughter. Everyone is equal here,” said Wilson. “I don’t like the term foster child. Some of these girls have no hope when they come here.”
Wilson has fostered teenage girls who have suffered every imaginable evil. She has seen it all. Girls who were forced out to make their way on the street before they have reached puberty. Girls who were beaten by mothers and fathers and boyfriends. Twelve-year-old girls left alone in their homes while their parents drank or gambled or sold themselves (or them) for drugs. Many of these girls were sexually abused by their step fathers or fathers or some other male relative. Actually, there is not a lot of talk about fathers one way or another. That’s just the way it is.
While never routine, the horrors from the girls’ pasts are not an uncommon story here. Perhaps that is a good thing. The knowledge that other girls have gone through similar situations, have suffered and come through, and have made good lives for themselves can be comforting. Being around and speaking to others with experiences like your own demonstrates to them that they are not alone. There is a word for this in psychology text books, it is called universality. All these girls have come to the home of Mrs. Wilson. For them it is a shelter, a sanctuary.
Wilson is old school and proud of it. No, there is no ‘woodshed,’ in back. She wouldn’t last a day in foster care if there were. But she is old school nonetheless. The rules are simple but strict. Most important is respect. Respect for the home, respect one another, respect for teachers, social workers, for birth parents – especially if parents are trying to make things right. However, most of all, the girls must have respect for themselves. Because that is how the healing begins.
Some girls can’t abide the rules and leave in anger for another foster home – sometimes a group home. It is a pity really, because Mrs. Wilson has saved a lot of lives and experienced professionals of all types knowsthis. Drugs, gangs, crime, violence – not tolerated. Back talk? – Not a good idea. Make an effort at school and with your studies. Finish your homework, do your chores. Treat each other well, no foul language.Care about each other.
Some girls come with boyfriends outside the home and need careful supervision. Some are pregnant withattendant trips to the doctor, therapist, or tutor – you name it. Others come with tattoos, piercings as well as bruises and scars – many scars.
The girls learn modesty and decency; words not often heard from a system that is perhaps too concerned with being nonjudgmental. The girls can attend any Church or house of worship, and while religious freedom is encouraged, they often accompany Wilson to her regular church where they become part of the community. These are “her girls.”
Wilson will work with birth parents if they want the best for their child and they are trying. However, manyparents do not. She will do everything she can to help the teens return home. But while in her house, these are her girls. And she is Mom to all.
Mrs. Wilson can be wary of therapists and social workers. Some she likes, some she doesn’t. “Nobody is going to come into my home and tell me what’s what,” said Wilson. ” I earned this home working for decades for the county and with a small dry cleaner.” Social workers and therapists, and anyone else looking to help should know, you don’t just walk into this home and announce that you are going to help.Help comes with time and love. Help comes when you are accepted enough to be believed. You earn that, and it’s not easy.
Foster care means trips to the doctor, trips to the dentist, trips to medical evaluations, trips to the therapist,trips to court. There are frequent visits with birth parents and school meetings adnauseum. Foster care means opening your home to agency social workers, investigators, County social workers, nurses, and community care licensing. Foster care means stacks of paperwork for each child and it all better be filled out correctly.
Mrs. Wilson does all of this for each girl in her home, and somehow graduates a high percentage from highschool, a much higher percentage than the norm. Many go on to junior college or vocational school. Others have run away, gone AWOL to be with boyfriends or relatives not vetted by the county, or sadly, they go to live on the street. Unfortunately, this is not unusual. But more than a few runaways have returned because they realize what they gave up. And they are welcomed back. Others are never heard from again.
The ones who remain make a commitment and are rewarded with a family, with love, with a home and a promise. A promise that Mrs. Wilson (Mom) will do everything in her power to help these girls succeed. She helps to heal wounds and the scars of horrible violations of neglect or abuse that have come from the people these young women should be able to trust the most – their blood. A home with Wilson is a reward for trying.
The girls learn to give back, to help each other and the community. They learn about bank accounts and check books. They learn about car loans and scholarships. They learn about dignity and babies having babies. Mrs. Wilson has seen it all. She has been there during personal times of bad health and family crisis.This is what she does. This is what the Lord wants from her she says.
But not all girls want help, and the trick is trying to change their minds and their way of thinking. Sometimes when an adult chooses to be lost, make bad choices, you have to back off and let them make their own choices no matter how miserable. You don’t have that luxury with children. You have to try with each and every one, no matter how street smart, no matter how tough. You have to try.
That’s what a parent does.