FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

community-driven prevention programming at the Bester Community of Hope, an initiative of our organization San Mar Family & Community Services. We spent several hours exploring her ideas of what she believes should be done to improve the child welfare system. Now living in Washington County, Maryland, after coming of age in the larger metropolitan centers in the Washington D.C. region, Monica shared her experiences with the system as an adopted child, a young adult struggling with addiction and partner violence, and now as a grandparent trying to break the multi-generational cycle of trauma currently impacting her grandchildren. The people we serve have the answers, and she spent time teaching us all about the problems and the solutions of how to design a more effective system through her feedback if we simply choose to listen. Monica: “I had a sneaky uncle who abused me starting at the age of 5. I had foster sisters, and we were raised by the village. I lost a pregnancy when I was diagnosed with cancer; my child was stillborn. I was in an abusive relationship when I was younger. [A lot happened] and I got tired of being ashamed of what happened to me. I was brought up in a very good home.” Monica has worked with her husband to support their children from their blended marriage and channeled her own trauma to attempt to break the cycle of trauma playing out today through similar challenges of addiction and child welfare involvement. M: “One of my sons is trying to get what he needs for his child. He is the father of our grandchild but is not listed on the birth certificate, and the mother is an addict. So, in this situation, my son lives in fear when he takes care of his son, that the mother will call social services on him as retaliation to get what she needs. If a police officer would ever visit his house, he would see my grandchild is so loved, but because my son is so scared of what could happen to him, he doesn’t call and ask for help, because he knows at some point it could be used against him. In my experience, kinship care has no teeth. For example, if an addicted parent wants their kids back because of the financial benefits for the kids. One of the children was once told to be quiet so ‘I can fuck and get these tennis

shoes’ not knowing what’s really going on. My grandson was traumatized from what he was hearing in the other room. I see children in my neighborhood that aren’t being raised correctly, but they’re not bad children. One has parents that are into drugs, and another has a single mother working two jobs. Those kids are raising themselves. So, government is going to react to them when they make small mistakes and put them in the system? (Getting emotional) It’s not about the money. These are the future men in our community. What message are we sending to them?” M: “Thank God the [local mental health provider] is there, but are they really working on the major reasons things that are going wrong? Therapists sometimes blame me for our grandkids being angry and then want to throw them on pills. What do you think that’ll do when they’re older? There’s this one therapist named Paul, and he’ll take my grandson out to the basketball court and create comfort, and it’s casual, and then my grandson talks about what he’s really feeling. We need more Paul’s doing this work.” Monica has had to navigate systems of care to get help as a caregiver, and struggling to obtain minimal financial resources to support her grandchildren’s needs and to advocate for her son. M: “No one at the State wanted to talk to me. They all said ,‘that’s the way it is.’ They all dismiss me, and in turn, everyone is yelling at them, so at some point, what do you think they’ll do? But I was able to find one person. I started getting kind of angry and evil about it. As I talked to eight different people about delays in getting benefits for my grandkids, they said, ‘You have to wait,’ and when questioned, I’d hear, ‘It’s the way the system is’. But this one person at the State who took the time to listen, empathize, and gave me the opportunity to be heard. She didn’t solve the problem, but it was the fact that she cared and gave me time. Here I am with no food in my house and no Easter gifts for my grandchildren. So ya’ll put people in a position where you make people lie . I took on a cleaning job, and my husband does yard work to make up the difference in funds we don’t have. Even though we’re both disabled,

94 | FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022

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