Tuesday, October 23, 2007

little boy lost

It was the first and last time I'd ever had the feeling that this child didn't belong to the woman who was claiming to be his mother. It was 1999, Prince was partying and I was holed up in a large street shelter. And something wasn't right.

Mikey and his mother moved in after claiming to have moved here from Florida. They had no friends or family in the area but the mom said she lived here in the past and wanted to come back home. From the beginning things seemed off - the parent child relationship seemes almost in reverse - Mikey was an incredibly bright six year old, far too old for his years. He spoke almost scripted about his love for his mother and his happiness in general. Mom's behavior was very odd, no photographs were allowed, the child was not allowed to speak with us unless she was there. Other residents started to report other weirdnesses, patterns of questionable interactions and behaviors that further raised suspicions on our part and far too uncomfortable to recollect here. The local school also contacted us - Mikey's mother would stand outside the fence of his school all day and during recess would silently watch him. They also indicated they were unable to get his records from Florida and asked us to assist. She would have preferred to keep him out of school entirely and dragged her feet in getting him enrolled and getting him to school.

We'd found similar issues during our intake process. A birth certificate that did not bear the name she called her son, and a last name different from hers. Things weren't adding up and to be honest, this level of digging wasn't the norm but something simply wasn't right.

After much discussion and a number of weeks his mother provided the Florida information along with a release and I made a few inquiries. It turned out that the school there had suspicions similar to ours in conjunction with a lack of previous records. Once they'd alerted the authorities she'd disappeared and they warned me of the same. I called DSS in Florida who also expressed concerns but lost track of him once a monitoring had occurred. But I learned along the way that she gave up public housing, the equivalent of a gold ticket to Wonka's place in the process. Abandoning a housing voucher is unheard of in my world, another red flag rising.

I then did something I'd never done before or since. I started searching the national databases of missing and exploited children looking for a match. While searching we were conferring with child advocates and other experts in the field. All the while it began to feel dirtier and dirtier, unfair of us to be feeling this way but our concerns for the child were stronger than anything else. And we didn't want her to run again until we'd figured out what to do.

Child Services received various reports and I tried to fill them in on the larger concern and our fear that if they came she'd disappear. They were concerned and agreed but then showed up and met with the mom and the son and said they'd be back the next day as further investigation was required.

In the morning they were both gone. Their room was trashed and they had disappeared. It was a horrifying time because while we had our assumptions no one was guilty. We contacted the police and child services again and while everyone agreed something wasn't right suspicions aren't enough for legal intervention and besides, we'd lost him now. It was too late.

Three years later I am walking through the adult shelter and I see her, battered and older with hair dyed a different color. I approached her and asked about Mikey and she claimed not to know what I was talking about and wouldn't acknowledge she had ever met me before. She didn't have any I.D. this time around and was simply a single homeless woman in need of shelter. We made inquiries to the police but there was little follow up. But there was no denying that it was her.

This was a difficult post to write. Part of me feels I had no right to pursue things as I did and the other feels I didn't do nearly enough. Intuition is not a reliable strategy in all circumstances but sometimes it's all you've got. Those of us on the ground make mistakes and are dealt a difficult hand all the time and there aren't always good or right decisions in times like this. And I will never know what happened to Mikey, whether he's okay or not, thriving or not. I just know that the woman who claimed to be his mother all those years ago claimed to have no idea who he was.

44 comments:

thailandchani said...

Well, call me crazy.. but it sounds awfully suspicious to me, too.

Is it common to find people in the homeless community who are completely off the grid?

Arwen said...

There is nothing you can do now except hope and pray the best for the little boy. I think I would be just as torn. You were doing everything you could but the unknown in this situation is so potentially terrible. Does the organization you work have any protocol in place now for how to deal with a situation like that?

crazymumma said...

That must have felt like a kick in the gut Jen. Impossible not to be haunted.

I am sorry the system could not have done more.

kristen said...

God Jen, I don't even know what to say. I think you did right, you had to trust your instinct and it sounds like the whole situation wasn't right. I hate the way the system is set-up, that nothing can be done until it's too late.

Tabba said...

oh, holy wow.

you all truly were just acting in the best interest of Mikey.

what a story, jen.

meno said...

I can't believe how stupid those Child Services people were. You had warned them and everything.
And that she claimed not to know what you were talking about is chilling.

Kyla said...

You, friend, did the right thing. If there was nothing to find, a little digging wouldn't hurt anyone.

I'm so sorry...the what-ifs must be heavy for you. I hope Mikey is well, some place he truly belongs.

Her Grace said...

How terribly difficult. You truly were stuck between a rock and a hard place. I hope that wherever he ended up, he's ok.

Janet said...

Haunting.

Beck said...

I read this last night and then had hard time falling asleep, thinking about that poor little guy. I hope he's okay.

Jill Urbane, The Mentor Mom said...

Wow, that is an incredible story! I am haunted as a well. Sounds like you did what you felt was right at the time with what little information you had. As a former CPS worker, I have to say I probably would have done the exact same thing. Thank you so much for sharing your story :)

cinnamon gurl said...

Such a haunting story.

jen said...

Chani - yes, i've met several families off the grid. one family i knew camped forever and had a mess of joyous wild children. they finally came in when it was too cold and the food had run out. what a glorious family they were.

Arwen - to a degree. a lot of this is governed by laws and protocols that we can't change. we are mandated to report issues but can't foresee outcomes.

Meno - I don't blame child services - it was a very difficult situation and you can't move on a hunch. people have rights and we are all glad about that.

All - thanks. that movie brought up so many memories.

mitzh said...

I feel really sad after reading this.

I hope and pray that wherever the boy is, that he is doing OK and living a life he deserves..

I often feel that at times we can't seem to anything, all that is left is HOPE.

A very haunting story, I must add.

The Expatriate Chef said...

I could hope that if she taught him how to run from a situation, he ran from her to a better one. I'm gonna hope that.

dawn224 said...

I hope Mikey is safe and warm tonight - you acted on gut instinct, and were still cautious and caring - that's an admirable thing for sure.

Ally said...

I'm at a loss for a comment because this post was like a kick in the gut. The thought of being unable to help a child, even while doing everything you legally *can* be doing, and to not know about Mikey's well-being after they fled. The whole thing just makes me ache.

slouching mom said...

meno had it right -- this story is chilling.

flutter said...

Oh jen, I just don't have words

Amy York said...

Wow, Jen. I have goose bumps...
I would have had NO idea what to do in that situation... I think you are a rock star for doing SOMEthing.
At least that woman knew people were on to her... perhaps knowing how difficult it was to get away with something that she may have gotten away with... prevented her from doing it again?
I hate to make assumptions... but it sounds very suspicious to me. If that were my son... I'd want a you stepping in and trying to help.
I commend you for that.

painted maypole said...

oh jen, so heartbreaking...

Kellan said...

Hi Jen - nice to see you (you know I have difficulty getting into your site - but here I am). This post made me so sad and grateful that all my babies are safely in bed in our nice clean and warm house. That poor baby, I just want to go out and find him. What a haunting memory and now it is one of mine as well. Thank you for sharing this difficult story. It was nicely written and so touching in such a frightening way. See you soon.

Family Adventure said...

I am just left with this nasty sinking feeling in my stomach. Oh, I want to think that he is OK, but I am afraid.

And questions want answers, such as why did Social Services have to come right then and there? Couldn't they have waited just a little longer? Maybe you would have had a chance. Maybe Mikey would have had a chance.

Horrible.

- Heidi

thordora said...

How would a situation like that get worked out? If a child had no real documentation, what would happen?

If Mikey was as strong and smart as you say he was, I'm sure he's ok.

pgoodness said...

You see such joy and sadness, it must be like a roller coaster every day. You were thinking of Mikey, and I think you had every right to listen to your instincts and pursue it. I'm certain he turned out all right - perhaps the best thing that could have happened was getting away from her - I wasn't there, but my gut says she wasn't his mother except in her head.

kgirl said...

Think of how you would have felt if you had never done anything and they eventually disappeared anyway.
Once again it sounds like you intervened in a caring, as non-intrusive way as possible given the circumstances, and handled it with grace and composure. It sucks that your reward is to be haunted by it.

Sober Briquette said...

I don't know what to say.

It would seem her problems were pretty deep, and I hope that he was doing better, as he was no longer with her the second time you met.

Oh, The Joys said...

Haunting.

Redneck Mommy said...

What a nightmare.

I can't imagine. Poor Mikey. I hope he is all right.

cce said...

This is sort of a harrowing tale, especially for me, who fears kidnapping over all else.

You did what you could and that will have to be good enough.

Jennifer said...

This makes me ache. :(

Karen Forest said...

What is amazing to me is your ability to keep your composure.

After the second meeting and her claiming not to have known who he was, I don't believe I could have. Anger wouldn't have been productive at all, but I am afraid that I wouldn't have been able to keep mine in check. Again, this is why you amaze me and I truly believe that you are God's gift to the people you help.

Bon said...

i shudder.

poor Mikey.

you didn't do wrong...you tried to do right, but also tried to set it up so that she wouldn't run, tried to be as wise as you could. and yet there are parameters and protocol and rights to be respected. the system isn't perfect.

and sometimes it makes me shudder.

KC said...

I would have done the same. Despite no proof, intuition counts for so much and the possibility of helping that poor little boy.

I hope he's okay somewhere.

hel said...

I wish I could enfold your heart in my hands.

biodtl said...

I don't think it was wrong to look into it the way you did - the welfare of a child was at stake. I would have done the same. It's sad that they disappeared again.

Momish said...

I am so sorry you have to live with such haunting memories and unknowns. All because you want to help people. How sad, and I am sure you have many more heartbreaking stories, which is even sadder.

{{{hugs}}}

Christine said...

this one hit me hard in the gut. where is he? is he ok? we can only hope. . .

you diod the right thing. really.

Marymurtz said...

Oh my God....how heartbreaking. You did exactly the right thing. It's part of the bleakness of things at times to realize that sometimes even the right thing doesn't work out.

When I worked in a child care center, one of the children mentioned some sexually inappropriate things and we were led to believe she was being molested. We had to call the authorities, and her parents came in and questioned us, sobbing, asking WHY DID YOU DO THIS? The result came back unfounded, but their lives were wrecked. We did the right thing, but was it really?

Julie Pippert said...

Oh this is killing me. I think you did all you could.

Julie
Using My Words

slackermommy said...

That's heartbreaking. Not having closure must be so frustrating. I hope Mikey is okay wherever he is.

Lawyer Mama said...

The not knowing must be the worst. What a haunting story, Jen.

Susanne said...

I don't really have to add something to all these other comments but I just wanted to you that I am here and listening. Well. Reading anyway.

b*babbler said...

A haunting story. You should never feel guilty for pursuing your intuition in this case though.