I had a case once—a 16-year-old girl, who I shall hereby refer to as Ann. Ann was removed from her home due to allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of her mother’s live-in boyfriend. When DSS intervened, her mother refused to enter into a treatment plan—and she refused to ask the boyfriend to move out. Her mother called the girl a liar. So Ann came into emergency custody. As they took Ann away, she begged her mother to let her stay: “Why don’t you believe me?! Why don’t you love me?!” Heart-breaking. A probable cause hearing was held, and the judge found probable cause to keep Ann in the custody of the State. Ann became a foster kid, and I became her Guardian ad Litem.
As is too many times the case, there was no available foster home or even group home placement available in our area, so Ann was shipped off to another county 2.5 hours away from home—away from everyone and everything she’d known her entire life with only a garbage bag half-full of clothes.
3 days after she’d been put into foster care, Ann recanted her story of abuse. When I met with her, she cried. She hated being in this strange new place with new people, hated her new school, hated her foster mother. Hated everything. Her clothes were still in a garbage bag on the floor. She was completely miserable. She wanted to go home. And so she said it never happened. And she begged to go home.
Often people wonder why children of abuse want to go home to the very people who abused them. One former foster kid recently posted on this topic, and he did a pretty good job of explaining it. For Ann, she wanted to be back with her mother, who she loved (and who she believed loved her). She wanted to be back at her old school with her old friends. She wanted her clothes back in her closet in her house in her neighborhood. I don’t think it’s too hard to understand why Ann would want to go back home.
What it all really boils down to is this: children just want to be loved. And they want to be loved by their parents—the people who are supposed to love them unconditionally—the people who they love unconditionally. Even children like Ann, whose own mothers choose boyfriends (or meth or booze or whatever) over them, will take their terrible parents back with open arms and hearts if shown only the least little bit of affection. Because they want to believe. They want to believe that mommy loves them, that this time she’ll stay, that she’ll give up the boyfriend, the booze, the meth. They want to believe daddy didn’t mean it, will try harder, won’t do it again. They want to believe they are loved—and they want it so badly that they will believe it in the face of even the most egregious parental acts one could imagine.
As her advocate, it was my job to report to the judge about what Ann wanted—she was 16 after all and deserved to have her voice heard. However, it was also my job to advocate for her best interests even if those best interests weren’t her preference. Ann’s mother was offered a treatment plan again. DSS asked her to send the boyfriend packing. She chose the boyfriend. And I had to tell Ann that. I had to tell the judge that Ann shouldn’t go back to live with her mother and boyfriend. But I also had to tell him she recanted her original story. Ann stayed in foster care. She moved to three different foster home and one group home over the next 6 months. She never stopped asking to go home.
Luckily, we tracked down Ann’s biological father and after a LOT of work, we were able to send her to live with him and his family permanently. For a while, everything seemed to be going well. Ann was enjoying life with two younger brothers she’d never known. She didn’t hate her new stepmother, and she was building a relationship with a father her mother had never let her know. She was doing well in school, and though she missed her old friends, she was making new ones. And then she ran away…to her mother’s house. Ann’s father went after her. When he arrived on scene, he pulled Ann’s mother off her. She was screaming at the girl, hitting her over and over, blaming her for ruining her life. Like many abused children, Ann was still seeking the approval and love of a woman who clearly had neither to give—but that wasn’t about to stop Ann from trying again. And again.