There is good news to report. Lots of good news.
And frustrating news to report.
First, the good news.
These two kids (again, the third one is welcome at and using the services of the local youth shelter, so this became all about the young couple on Friday evening) are currently being housed in the motel that we secured for them on Friday night. Thanks to the kindness of more people, they will be able to stay there straight through until next Monday morning.
I have also learned that they are being served by what seems to be every single social service agency in the city. And it’s complicated.
Because I was told on Thursday by the worker of another agency that these kids could not be served by the local child protection agency because of their age (they’re both 17), I did not contact that agency. I’ve long known that the services of child protection stop at age 16.
I also knew that because of behavioural issues, she was not allowed on the premises of the local youth shelter, and it was my understanding that he was only allowed to be there during the day.
There were other agencies that had also been involved, but they were unable to provide them with shelter the way they needed it to be provided (she has very real issues around personal safety and expressed, “I only feel safe sleeping beside him”) or the kids were choosing not to use the services (I’ll discuss that whole ‘choice’ thing in a minute).
However, on Sunday evening, the boy disclosed that he has an open file with the local child protection agency and that someone was probably looking for him. I immediately contacted the after hours worker for that agency and she confirmed they’d been looking for him and his girlfriend and they knew about the pregnancy. There are three caseworkers who are active on this file. Two for him and one for her, specifically related to the pregnancy. Whilst these kids are 17 and that usually ends the involvement of the local child protection agency, because of their numerous challenges, they are still heavily involved.
Then, this morning, the housing worker from the local youth shelter contacted me to inquire about their safety. I had a long discussion with him and he assured me that, again, numerous agencies were involved with them. And I already knew that the agency for which I work was involved with them (though, not through me, as that’s not the area in which I work).
The local mental health agency, the local community health centre, the local food banks, the local developmental services agency. They’re all involved. And I reconnected many of those agencies with the kids today. And the kids were (mostly) happy to be reconnected to all of these places.
So, this is all good news. These kids are connected to everyone and everything that can help them. It is now a matter of keeping them fed and off the street until housing can be secured for them. For now, they have a sort of landing spot where all of their workers can find them and support them.
Here’s where it gets frustrating.
These two kids have been diagnosed as functioning at the level of an 8-year-old (the girl) and a 10-year-old (the boy), and if I’m being very frank (whist recognizing this is not my area of expertise), I think that’s…generous. They have been honest with us about every single thing. And they have been Christmas morning kind of excited and grateful for everything we’ve done for them.
So, over the weekend, there was a lot going on with the “choice” narrative. People saying these kids have chosen to live this way; they’ve chosen to behave in the ways they do; they’ve chosen to turn down the services that are offered to them.
And I am struggling with that.
Whilst my friend and I have done our best to keep our distance, these kids have bonded to us, which is going to make some of this even more difficult for them in a few days when we are no longer involved in this whole scenario. Neither she nor I have a desire for this situation to go on for any longer than necessary. She and I stepped up to help (and then so many more of you pitched in with financial and other resources, so that we could), because we saw two children in need of so much help.
What we have learned in the last few days from spending time dropping in on them and ensuring they had food, clothing, etc. is that these 17-year-olds do not understand the consequences of their actions; they have next to no life skills; they are naive in ways that are difficult for those of us who are not naive to even comprehend.
We have witnessed them argue over whether to watch Teletoon or the Family Channel. When we’ve asked them if there was anything specific they needed, they’ve asked for Dora the Explorer Alphaghetti, colouring books, stuffed animals, and a rainbow loom. When I met them at the Giant Tiger to get them clean clothes and personal hygiene products, they played tag in the store and then (as we were checking out) stood outside at the window, watching me and my friend’s partner like excited three-year-olds.
I wish I was kidding.
They are children.
I am far from being a professional when it comes to these matters, but I have children. My 9-year-old and 11-year-old would fare far better on the streets than these two will ever be able to.
They have very little (if any) sense of long-term planning. They, again, don’t seem to understand that there are consequences for their actions. And if you’d read what my friend and I did on their Facebook profiles and the Facebook profiles of his mother, father, and grandmother, you’d understand.
These kids have not only been traumatized through physical and sexual violence; they are not only struggling with mental health and developmental issues; they are not only the products of addiction, they have never been loved. His Facebook profile is riddled with comments from his father and stepfather…threatening him with physical violence.
So, given all of that, where does “choice” come in? Intellectually, we all understand that all of these agencies have rules and that those rules have to be applied consistently. But what about special cases? What about kids who function at the level of children half their age, have mental health issues, have never been taught any life skills, and have never been loved? The services don’t fit these kinds of cases.
To be clear, I’ve now spoken with or met five workers who are involved with these kids, and I also work for an agency that has rules. Nearly every encounter I’ve had in the last five days has demonstrated to me that these workers are doing the very best they can with the system in which they have to work. Nearly every encounter has demonstrated that these workers are doing the very best they can to provide these two kids with help.
But the kids have to opt-in to get the help. They have to choose to use what’s being offered to them.
And they’re scared.
Two kids who have long and painful histories with the local child protection agency (I am not suggesting this is the fault of the agency) are afraid to use the services of that agency. She is pregnant and he so obviously just wants this baby to love it so that he can love it more than any baby has ever been loved, but they know that the local child protection agency is going to apprehend that baby the moment it’s born. How can we expect that they’re going to choose to use the services of that agency? I don’t think we can. And I don’t know what we do in that case.
I don’t know how we force kids to use services that will so obviously help them, especially when they don’t have the intellectual capacity to understand that.
And I don’t know how we keep blaming the kids for their choices when they don’t have the intellectual capacity to understand that either.
For now, though, due to the generosity of so many of you, these kids have a roof over their head and nutritious food in their bellies.
I’ll continue to keep you posted.