While working a maternity leave position as a Middle School Counselor, I was assigned a case load that included a 6th grade girl who had recently been reunited with her family after The Division of Youth and Family Services had removed her and her sisters from their parents’ home for confirmed child abuse. I had arrived in the middle of a volatile situation, so after collecting as much information as I could from administrators and the Student Assistance Counselor, I kept a close eye on the student and met with her often. I believed that providing support to this young girl during a tumultuous time of transition was, for sure, the right thing for me to do. Was I surprised when her mother did not agree with me? Not so much.
I understood that this mother felt like her home and her life had been invaded, like she and her husband had been vilified, like she was being watched for every move she made. I also understood that she was a working mother with five children whose husband had been out of work for some time. This woman was under tremendous pressure, and outsiders, from her perspective, had only made things harder for her. Still, as much as I could understand about this mother, my responsibility was to her child. So when she forbade me to speak to her daughter any more, I had to explain that I could not comply, that I was working on a team with administrators, other counselors, and teachers to make sure her daughter was adjusting well personally, socially, and academically to the changes in her life. The mother did not want to hear any of this since, “No one [was] bashing her head in or anything.” I’ll never forget how those words sounded coming out of this mother’s mouth. Why, then, was her child so scared?
Despite misinformed popular opinion, the goal of The Division of Youth and Family Services is to keep families together. After a period of separation, during which the parents were required to get help and undergo rehabilitation, five girls including my student went home to their mother and father. I was heartbroken, though not surprised, to hear from my frightened student the day after her mother called that the parents were still beating them with wet towels and hangers and that she had been punched in the head just last night. She had been punched in the head by the woman who had avowed to me just the day before that “no one [was] bashing her head in or anything.” The nurse confirmed some bruising and we reported the girl’s story and the case continued.
Of everything that could stand out to me in this situation, what is most poignant to me as the girl’s counselor is the courage of one 6th grade child. She had already undergone the foster experience and she knew the consequences of telling us her story. Still, she found the courage to trust us at her school and to reach out for help despite the pain and the guilt she was experiencing. Before I left the maternity position, the student and I took a small flat stone and a permanent marker and wrote the word “courage” on its surface. She said she would keep it as a reminder that no one could ever bash the courage from her heart.
Kristy L. Carlisle is a school counselor and a mental health counselor in training at Rider University. Her interests include protecting children from cyber-bullying and from food addiction.