You have a home; your friend has a home; my teacher at school has a home. But where is my home?
I am only five years old, and I am in a house, but it is not my own home. My home had Mommy and my bear Skooshy. That was my pet bear and my best friend, Skooshy. But Skooshy has gone away now, and I don’t know where Skooshy has gone.
My Mommy went away too. She went with a woman and a man who were wearing brown clothes. When they took my Mommy, my Mommy was saying many bad words and being very loud. And then she was asleep when the woman and man took her away. The people who took her away had guns. They must have taken Skooshy too, because I could not find him and he is not with me anymore where I live now.
When Mommy went away there was another woman who came the door. She said her name was Rapnick Soshall and she said she had some custard of me.
The lady Rapnick Soshall said because she had custard that I had to go and have a new Mommy. My new Mommy is a nice lady whose name is Mrs. Foster. I have a room in Mrs. Foster’s house. It is a nice room, but I cry every night because Skooshy is not with me and I can’t find him anymore.
The school that Mommy took me too is gone, too. Now I am in a different school. I cry there, too, because I don’t know anyone. And Skooshy is not with me in school either.
The Rappahannock Department of Social Services, identified as “Rapnick Soshall” by the entirely fictional little girl above, has been awarded custody (custard) of 21 children as of the start of October, 2014. The children now in custody range in age from 18 months to nearly 18 years. A dozen of them are girls, and there are four sets of siblings.
The reasons given for the court orders to take the children away make up a sad list: substance abuse, substance abuse, mental health problems, substance abuse, neglect, substance abuse, abandonment and substance abuse. That’s the legal language. In everyday talk, the deputy arrives and the parent is high, or drunk, or passed out, or simply absent.
The Department of Social Services was kind enough to let the Rappahannock News view the list of children removed from their families. The list includes gender, age and reason for the court order to remove the child(ren). No names are on the list.
Caution: You do not have to see the faces of the youngsters or even know their names. Simply staring at the list can make you weep.
The chief assignment of the Department of Social Services is to try to hold the family together. (Please read that sentence again and this time say the word “try” out loud a few times.)
Yes, they try. They have training to do that. They have experience. They have a limited budget, and they can get people into rehab. They can — and do — place children in foster homes or in residential treatment programs. Almost all the homes and places for treatment are outside Rappahannock County.
Seven of the children on the present list are in foster homes. Six of those are in nearby counties; only one is in Rappahannock. The courts and deputies and social services are being swamped by a tide of drugs and substance abuse that — in the words of social services head Bev Dunford — “amounts to an explosion.”
The following can and does happen — and may happen this coming weekend for all anyone knows: A family collapses, children need help, the judge orders transfer of custody and it’s four in the afternoon. Where to take the kids?
The social services folks need not only more foster homes, but need, right away, homes that can provide shelter in an emergency. A place to go with the kids in the sheriff’s car that very night.
People willing to help need to qualify, be checked out, have their homes looked at. There’s a small budget for those steps, and county officials will help.
Yes, the story at the beginning of this column is a fake. But the very real list of very young people in trouble not of their own making is completely real. It is our list. Little people right here among us. Most have never done anything wrong, and they do not know any longer where home is.
To become a foster parent, or for more information about the program, call the social services office at 540-675-3313 and ask for Lynette Dawson or Jennifer Parker.