Jason was a 10-year-old in foster care when I first met him. He had been in and out of foster care since infancy. He returned to his mother’s care just a few months after I first met him. They received in-home services for several months after that; until his mother declined additional voluntary services after the court case was closed.
Over the next few years, I maintained contact with Jason. Somehow in the short time I handled his foster care case, I became Jason’s “emergency contact”. When he had problems at home or school, he called me. At one point I convinced his mother to accept voluntary services after several calls from Jason. She eventually grew tired of my involvement in their lives and terminated services. But I remained on Jason’s speed-dial list. At one point when Jason was 17 years old, I learned I literally was his “emergency contact”–he had convinced school officials that the contact identified by his mother was incorrect and gave them my name and number. I tried repeatedly to gently convince him that he needed to rely on the support system within his school and family but he continued to call me when his problems became overwhelming.
Jason’s family history was truly heart-wrenching. He had been abused by nearly every adult in his life. Three of his uncles were in prison for, among other things, physically and sexually abusing Jason and his cousins. His mother was marginal in terms of her parenting and protective abilities. She was never diagnosed but it was clear she was mentally ill. She vacillated between wanting me involved and demanding I stay out of their lives. And yet, occasionally she would call me for help with some issue going on in her life or with Jason. Not surprisingly, Jason had behavioral and emotional problems. Despite all the drama, their situation never quite rose to the level of justifying court action and acceptance of voluntary services was sporadic.
After Jason turned 18 and graduated from high school, I thought he might lose my number. It was about that time that I left my position with the state child welfare agency so I was fairly certain I would not be hearing from Jason any more. And I didn’t hear from him for a few years. It was shortly after his 21st birthday that I heard about Jason again. He was in therapy and had given his counselor my name. As fate would have it, his counselor was a long-time friend of mine so after he signed a release of information, she called me one day to discuss Jason’s situation.
My heart sank when my friend gave me the signed release of information form. It wasn’t because he was in therapy–it was because my friend worked exclusively with sex offenders. He had provided my name when his attorney suggested to him that he find people who could testify on his behalf at a sentencing hearing. It was made clear that this was a request, not a subpoena, so I had a choice.
This is when I asked myself, can I advocate on behalf of Jason, this young man I had known for years and whose family history continued to haunt me? I spent several sleepless nights deliberating whether I could in good conscience testify on behalf of someone who had abused innocent children. But this was Jason, once an innocent, and abused child himself. I resisted the urge to discuss it with my friend, his counselor. This was my decision to make and unfortunately, in social services, some decisions are not easy or clear-cut.
Ultimately, I did not make a decision. Jason’s attorney withdrew his request. I don’t know if he sensed my hesitation or if there were other reasons for the change of heart. I do know that I was relieved to have the decision made by someone else. I could continue on, my self-applied title of ‘advocate for abused and neglected children’ in tact. And the cycle continues.
Author’s Note: The details of Jason’s story, including his name, have been changed. The sequences of his story are true; unfortunately the eventual incarceration is true as well. The photos represent the boy, and the man he became.
I suspect I will forever remember his face and his story. I don’t know the children he abused but I know their story.