Before the Start of 9th Grade
“Joan, tell me about Sylvie Dunham. I understand that she’s been a bit of trouble over the years. What hope do we have for this child?” he said, getting straight to business, once he had their attention.
“Sylvie Dunham is about to age out, sir. She has a long history of interaction with the Dunwoody Fangs and has repeatedly been arrested for drug possession and distribution, as well as repeated usage. At this point, rehab is a waste of time, sir,” Joan replied.
“Is there any reasonable chance to rehabilitate her, even through extraordinary means?” he asked.
“Although I don’t like saying this...no, sir,” she said, looking at the table, rather than at her new boss.
“Alright, we’ll let her age out, and send her to an independent living facility, or let her fend for herself,” he stated. Although his reply was cold, there was sadness in his eyes.
They went over a number of other cases, before he made it to Stacy Gomer, many very similar to the Sylvie Dunham case, although most were too young to age out of the system. He looked up at Stacy, after studying a piece of paper in front of him. When he looked up, he was obviously curious.
“I understand you’re new to this office, and you probably haven’t had much time to familiarize yourself with your cases. However, I’d like to discuss Priscilla Pimlott. She’s been a trouble case for past caseworkers, and is the primary reason you were brought here,” he said, and looked up at her.
“I haven’t had enough time to become very familiar with my caseload yet, but I have years of experience in foster casework, especially troubled cases. Being that she’s a particularly difficult cases, I made a point of at least familiarizing myself with her first thing. She’s been in state custody for less than four years, since her mother died from a heroin overdose. In that time, Priscilla has been in and out of 10 homes, and she’s been in rehab seven times, having had seven caseworkers over that time. Although there have never been charges filed, her case has many mentions of apparent drug and gang affiliation, apparently with the same Fangs mentioned in most of the previous cases. She also has reports of prostitution, and petty theft,” she said, then began examining documents in front of her.
“Sir, Priscilla was never on my caseload, but I am quite familiar with her, due to her interaction with Sylvie Dunham, and as some of her past caseworkers were friends of mine,” began Joan. With the director’s motion to continue, she resumed speaking, “Sylvie seems to have recruited Priscilla into the Fangs just before she moved up to sixth grade,” she said.
Before anyone could say anything else, Joan said, “She has steadfastly denied joining any gang, much less the Fangs, and all of the other charges against her, other than the charges of petty theft. Although you’d believe that’d be expected of a child, or pretty much anyone involved in illegal activity, there’s something different about her. When she was caught shoplifting, she admitted to what she did, and offered to work to repay what she’d taken, every single time. What child volunteers to work off their debt? I remember a couple of the incidents, and her caseworker at the time, Mindy, told me that she was embarrassed, and crying, not because she was caught, but that she’d done it. Mindy felt Priscilla was relieved to have been caught. There’s also an odd pattern regarding family animals. Priscilla has a consistent pattern of being able to influence family pets, even to the point of the pets attacking other members of the household.”
He thought about that for quite awhile. “As with her apparent mentor, it’s plainly obvious that rehabilitation is failing this child, but she is too young to release,” he observed, but there was an odd tilt to his head.
Finally, Stacy said, “Sir, this doesn’t make sense. For a child connected to the stuff she’s accused of, her grades are way too good, not to mention what Joan just told us,” she said. Although there was obvious curiosity from him, he didn’t comment on this added viewpoint.
“What’s your assessment? Is there hope for her to be adopted?” he then asked.
“Her second foster home made inquiries into adoption, but it was never completed. The records are rather empty as to why, although they never withdrew the petition,” she stated.
Just before he began speaking again, she continued, “As a matter of fact, it seems as though they’re still trying to pursue that, but outside of this agency, and it’s been about three years since they relocated out of state,” she said, which caused one of his eyebrows to rise.
“Why weren’t we aware of this?” he asked.
“I have very little to go on at this point, but it actually appears that we denied their petition, without reason. Again, due to a rather glaring lack of notes, I’m unable to verify much of anything, but there’s no doubt that this office denied it,” she said. Now, the director was even more curious than he’d already been.
“Sir, I should also inform you that her time in foster care has definitely not been very beneficial. In all but one of her past foster homes, she was removed by this office, usually due to abuse or outright neglect, when it wasn’t due to going to rehab. Her past caseworkers did document the reasons for her changing homes, as required. Her third home is really the most disturbing. It seems that the caseworkers involved in that home failed to properly monitor it, as the children in the home were regularly abused and subjected to some kind of cult type brainwashing. What finally forced action was Priscilla escaping and reporting the abuse, along with the family’s attempt to force Priscilla into a marriage, even attempting to adopt her to get around our involvement. The oldest son molested her, at least to some degree, but according to the records, she never fully told anyone the extent of the abuse after the initial report. She’d also been accused of having drugs while in the home, but no charges were ever filed. It seems as though the evidence was planted, but her case worker sent her to rehab anyway, which might explain why she stopped talking,” she said.
“You failed to answer my initial question, though,” he said, but not with anger or any hint of sarcasm.
“Sir, in spite of her troubles, and the normal trauma you’d expect her to have experienced,” she began and paused, thinking very deeply. She then continued, looking back at him, her brow deeply furrowed, “I think she’s absolutely adoptable, sir, but she’s going to have problems, probably needing professional help, which this office has been incredibly negligent in providing, to this point. Regardless, I’ll get a better feel for what her potential is when I meet with her next week.”
“Alright, with what we know, what then is your suggestion for Priscilla Pimlott?” he asked.
“Sir, I would suggest giving me the resources to properly investigate the Bazemore adoption petition, and why it may have been denied, along with trying to get a good feel for her past. The truth of it, not these unproven allegations and innuendo. If there are valid reasons for the adoption denial, we confirm it. If not, we do what we’re able to do in order to see if they’re still interested, and if so, we expedite it. Should it be a good petition, we would accomplish two goals, assuming we’re able to complete it. First, it removes her from state custody, which is always the intent. Second, and most importantly, it places her in a potentially good and loving permanent home, something she’s been lacking, and needing. As for the allegations, I’m not a criminal investigator, but I’m pretty good at discovering the truth with regard to children in state custody. As with the adoption petition, if the charges are valid, we start getting serious with her. If not, we start listening to her when she denies the charges against her,” she said. The new director looked pleased with her answer.
“Give me the list of her alleged problems,” he said.
“Well sir, she’s been accused of drug distribution and abuse, the aforementioned gang affiliation, and also prostitution. There are some mentions of theft, including three arrests for shoplifting, but all of those cases were dismissed. Even if she was stealing, as Joan seemed to affirm, I can almost understand why, considering the pattern that’s emerging in her placements. With the abuse already documented, I doubt she’s receiving any of the money provided for her care. I’d bet what she steals is probably clothes, and maybe food. In other words, necessities,” she said.
“With what little real information you have, I want your assessment as to her criminal activity,” he said.
“The shoplifting is real, considering she admitted to it, but as I said, I think it could be understood, if not excused. As for the more serious charges, all we have are a lot of unreliable witness statements, those being Sylvie Dunham, along with other known members of the Fangs, and the records kept by her former caseworkers, but never any formal charges and no real evidence,” she said, and paused. Finally, she looked up and said, “I don’t think she’s guilty of most of this, but I can’t be certain.”
“We’ll adjust your caseload to provide you the time to dig into this case. Get me some answers, and let’s see if we can improve this child’s opportunities, if they’re worth improving,” he said, and then moved on to the next case.