Part VII of Wolverette #2′ print issue: “THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN”

Posted: September 27, 2009 in Past issues

The fogotten children (by Sara Stadler)

I was just 16 years old when I walked through the doors of Vista Maria, a non-profit community-based program, with treatment designed for abused and neglected girls.  I was held captive there for a year; locked away from the outside world.  The only times I ever did see the outside world was when I either went to court or walked to school, or through the tall fence.  Often times when I did look through that fence the kids playing in their backyards would refer to us as “caged animals” and would say other cruel remarks.

Life at Vista Maria wasn’t easy; everyday was the same.  We all followed a tightly knit schedule that consisted of going to school, quiet time in our rooms, dinner, therapist sessions, cleaning and free time. Girls often acted out because they were so frustrated with the program.  TVs and chairs went flying across the room.  Restraints were frequent.  I held my cool for the most part but it was hard because there were so many things that would make your blood boil.  We each had a therapist that we saw two times a week (well, we were supposed to.)  I saw my therapist only two times a month, 15 minutes at a time.  We had a doctor, and we had our treatment plans.

I consider the treatment I had at Vista Maria to be very poor.  We had our therapists, who in hindsight did more bad than good, and the everyday routines held nothing in substance.  We didn’t have too many groups or situations in which we could learn valuable skills.  A lot of the girls there came from very awful backgrounds: neglect, physical and mental abuse, sexual abuse and rape. It wasn’t just their parents either; it was also foster parents and adopted parents.  It bothers me that the state would allow children from an abusive background go into similar conditions.  You’d think the state would do its best to make sure it didn’t happen like that.  It bothers me that some foster parents take children in just so they can cash in on the money that the state provides them.  It also bothers me the ill ways they are treated in residential placements.  Locking up an adolescent girl from the real world doesn’t sound like a good idea.  I’m not a certified therapist or psychologist, but keeping someone cooped up in a building for one and two years at time with such terrible treatment does more damage then it does good.

I was 17 when I finally walked off the campus for good.  I went home to a loving and supportive family, though my family isn’t perfect, it still is a good home.  Unlike most of the girls in Vista Maria, my story has a fairly happy ending.  Not all girls were as fortunate as I was to be able to walk home to love and support.  My personal experience has made me aware of how corrupt the system can be.  I’m hoping that by telling my story at least some people will realize how it really is, and it will help make a difference for some of the kids who are living the same way I did years ago.

In my experience “treatment” was very much damaging.  By the time I got out I was so conditioned with the Vista Maria lifestyle, that it made going back to the real world very difficult.  They didn’t teach me any useful skills that would help me outside of the program.  For close to a year after I left I had developed a severe case of social phobia where I was afraid to leave my house.

Also highly alarming was my personal experience with the psychologist.  I was on 8 different medications at once.  Again I’m no psychologist or doctor, but that much medication: anti-depressants, anti-anxieties, consumed by one person cannot be good.  I was constantly tired.  I felt drained and I just wanted to sleep.  I’d get yelled at because I would come back from school simply because I couldn’t stay awake.  Near the end of my stay I was allowed to go on home passes.  I went on one, came back, and took my mandatory drug test.  The test came back and I had dropped dirty for Vicadin.  I know I didn’t take any while I was on my home pass.  Set aside the fact that you can’t test for a specific drug, only a certain class, the test would’ve showed up as a benzodiazepine instead of specifically Vicadin.  I requested to see my charts; they refused to let me see them, which was a violation of my rights.  This happened to other girls, too, two of which were in the same building as I.  I spoke with some of the staff about it and they told me that the longer one girl stays, the more money they make.  I don’t know how true that is, but if it is it’s awful to say the least.

Later I found out other girls shared a similar experience as well.  Luckily I had a family to take my side and vouch for me.  A lot of the girls didn’t have that, and remained in the system because the judge wouldn’t take them seriously, which is another aspect that enrages me about the system.  They take the word of social workers and the recommendations of therapists; yet don’t bother to hear what the child has to say.  Shouldn’t they have a say in regards to their own future?

The mental health system for adolescents is terrible.  They’ll throw a kid anywhere regardless of their specific problems.  As long as there’s an open bed and insurance funds, that seems to be the only things that matter. This makes me question what kind of world we’re bringing our children into.  As well as what kind of world they’ll bring their kids into.  In 2006, there was confirmed to be 872,000 cases of neglect and abuse.  518,000 in foster care. (Statistics from Casey Family Programs – Child Welfare Fact Sheets.
Hopefully these statistics will go down in years to come.  Hopefully people will start to recognize the significance of the youths of America and that the conditions they are born or put into greatly affect and determine their futures.  Hopefully we as a country can provide more loving homes for them, homes where a child wakes up in a warm bed and can enjoy breakfast without worry.

There are ways you can help.  You can become a foster or adoptive parent yourself.  There are plenty of websites available where you can find more information. You can also volunteer to be a mentor at a local facility.  You can also donate money to help fund for better programs.

For more information on helping a foster child please write me:          TornPagesOfTears@

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