The following is an excerpt from Foster Girl, A Memoir, by Georgette Todd. In the excerpt below, 14-year-old Georgette and her 12-year-old sister Jean-Marie both meet their social worker for the first time.
Chapter 5: Paperwork
Betty Jo McNeece Receiving Home for Children, December 1993
Jean-Marie and I are sitting in a windowless room, waiting to meet our social worker in the flesh. It’s been about a week since the phone call, and I can’t wait to get out of here. I really thought we would be out already. In a few days it’s going to be Christmas, and we still don’t know what’s going to happen.
My friend Esperanza told us that Jean-Marie and I were lucky that we’re new to the system because we don’t have a record. It also helps that we’re white girls, but it doesn’t help that we’re sisters and teenagers. Esperanza said siblings of all ages are usually separated.
The room is dead quiet when an alarmingly thin woman with spaghetti thin braids comes in.
“Hi,” Sharon smiles, sticking her hand out. She has nice long red nails. I hope she doesn’t separate us like Esperanza said she might.
Once comfortable in her chair, Sharon opens her briefcase, takes out a notebook, and asks us how we’re doing?
I want to tell her, really tell her that I’m scared and this is all so new and unlike anything I have ever been through before. But I don’t know her well enough to tell her this or if she could really do anything about it. Probably not.
Jean-Marie and I answer at the same time, “Um, fine,” but I can’t help myself and wave around the room, “You know, considering.”
Sharon nods sympathetically. “I know, I know.”
She does? “Oh, you were in foster care?”
Our social worker puts her pen down for a moment. “No, but I’ve worked with kids for years so, I have an idea of what it must feel like.”
I let that comment go and listened intently as Sharon shares what she knows about Grampa.
“Well, the good news is that he’s been released. There was an investigation, and he was not at fault.” Sharon briefly goes on to tell us that Grampa made a mistake, but the judge found his story legitimate about coming out here only to take care of us girls because our mother died. Also, our stepfather who was already in prison, would take on the additional charges.
I think this makes sense since he’s already in jail, and actually none of this would have happened if it weren’t for him. Him and me.
“Now, your grandfather asked if he could take you back to Alabama, but it’s been decided that he’s not a suitable role model.”
“What?” Jean-Marie and I can’t believe what Sharon just said. Can she really do this? Isn’t it against the law to take you away from your family? Isn’t this kidnapping?
Who are these people making these decisions for us? Who are they!?! Why are they doing this?
Jean-Marie and I defend Grampa. We tell Sharon our history with him, how much we love him, and that he’s the only family we really know. It’s true! I mean, we know his side and if it came down to it, we would be okay living with Aunt Vanda, Uncle Alan or even Uncle Wade. Aunt Tammy is behind Grampa, but he’s first. We know him the best and love him the most. Sharon needs to place us with him.
“Sharon, he made a mistake but the cops let him go. Since they did that that means he’s okay. He didn’t do anything to us, he just made a mistake with drugs.”
The braids of Sharon’s head shake. “You’re too young to grasp the enormity of danger your grandfather put you in. I know he loves you and you guys love him too, but he’s not appropriate for you girls.”
There’s that word again. Appropriate. I can’t believe that this is all happening and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m now beginning to understand the feeling of foster care. It’s like we’re trapped, have to do what people with name badges say, and we can’t just up and leave here. Like jail.
If we had money, I would grab Jean-Marie’s hand and we would bolt through a side door and take a bus to San Diego; first we have to know where everyone lives. Grampa told us that Uncle Alan sold the family home awhile back. So, I don’t know where we could go.
Maybe if I call Grampa he can tell me, and we can start planning to run away. But would we go back into foster care and get our family in trouble if we go to them? Would it only come out if we enrolled in school maybe? Oh, for fuck sake! This is so weird that I can’t just go be with my family?! Why do we have to put up with this holdup? This is not normal at all.
“Can we have Grampa’s number at least?” I ask. “I mean, there can’t be any harm in that?”
And there couldn’t be. We would just be talking, although I’d try to have him wire Jean-Marie and me some money when we’re on the outside so we could travel cross-country to him. That could work. Child welfare can’t follow us across states can they? I don’t think so.
Sharon claims to not have that information yet, but she’ll work on it. “And then you can give us his number?” Surely she could.
“Um, we’ll see. It’s up to the courts.”
What the . . .
“What, really?” Jean-Marie and I ask.
Sharon acknowledges that this all may seem strange, but she has to comply with the orders from her supervisors and the court, and it’s her responsibility to make sure that we’re not put in harm’s way.
“Look, I’m not saying ‘no,’ and I know a phone call may seem innocent, but we have to evaluate all your contacts.”
I am in foster care. Now I’m getting it. I ask if it’s all approved then can we?
Sharon repeats that we are subject to court approval. She writes something down and changes the subject by telling us that she found a home. The pen eventually stops.
“Girls, you should consider yourselves very lucky. It’s rare, almost impossible, to find a home for siblings. Especially two teenagers. But you’ll like Delia.”
Lucky is the last thing I consider myself. I really can’t get over how we can’t live with Grampa or even ring him up.
“So, does this mean we can never live with our family?” I’m almost in shock to be saying these words to this stranger.
Sharon assures us that the system will do everything it can to place us with our family as soon as possible. I ask how long are we going to be with this Delia, and she said it depends on the system’s family search efforts and our family.
I look over at Jean-Marie. I don’t think our life can get anymore strange. I’m just going to have to accept this. I don’t want to, but clearly I have no choice. I just can’t believe all this.
Sharon goes on and tells us that this Delia has a history of caring for foster children and that currently, she has in her home a teenage girl who has lived there for many years. Delia lives in Calipatria and . . .
“Where’s that?” I have to know these things. I have to know everything, anything.
“Calipatria is a town about twenty miles north of El Centro. You girls will be moving there tomorrow.”
Georgette Todd is the author of “Foster Girl, A Memoir.”