"It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man." - Frederick Douglass

The Darkside of DHHS

DHHS
Courtesy of Chris Elt (Flickr CC0)

Have you ever wondered what the dark side of DHHS removing children from their homes is? There may be some people who have not even heard of DHHS. For the ones who haven’t you are lucky. It’s not great. DHHS stands for Department of Health and Human Services, they involve themselves in family situations when there are reports made about dangers in the residence.

They come and investigate, ask questions, and look around the home to see if there are any issues with the place. They will ask questions twice to see if the story is set, or if people are lying. Most of the time when DHHS gets put on a case it won’t end well. Children get removed from their families, no guarantee that you will see them for a long time or see them again at all. It causes pain, heartbreak, anger, hatred, and trauma. Because whether anyone believes it or not it is traumatizing to be removed from their family and get ripped apart.

DHHS Enters My Life

I am speaking from experience. I was six years old and had lived in a small apartment in Augusta when DHHS had come into my life. I was in second grade and a state worker came to my school to see me. I was pulled from class and went into a conference room to see her. But, before she could get a word in, I spit out “They are not mean to me.” Which obviously raised suspicion and caused her to have many more questions for tons of people.

The DHHS worker told me to have a seat and I did. Her interview took about an hour because for some time I had refused to say a word. I had felt if I said anything I would be at fault for any decisions the Department of Health and Human Services office made. I had explained a game that my stepdad would have me play. How he was way too aggressive in the game, and he didn’t care and made that clear.

How he’d cheat on my mom and how they both thought that I didn’t know about him doing it. I knew that none of this was going to result positively, I knew what to expect I had a friend that was in the same situation, and I have always been good at figuring things out when people don’t want me to know.

The Real Pain Began

For the next following weeks, there had been many DHHS workers coming into the home and into school to talk to me, my mom, and my stepdad. My home was clearly a mess, and it just never seemed to stay clean between my younger siblings, me, and my parents. None of us could keep it clean to state standards. It became one of the biggest safety issues that the workers had seen.

I soon learned that the state had found my biological father. The day I got taken away, I had gotten off the bus and my dad was waiting for me.  With a big smile and open arms. I knew something was off because he never picked me up from the bus. He would wait in the parking lot of my home. I wanted to refuse to get into the car until he told me what was going on, but I didn’t want to make it worse for my mom.

The Trauma Worsens

So, I got in and he brought me to his house. He was married and had two daughters that were older than me. Shelby was seven, and Isabel was thirteen. They were really mean to me and thought my situation with my family was funny. That family was the only ones who thought all of it was funny. They found joy in other people’s pain. Every day they found some reason to beat on me. If I got a bad grade, dropped something, spoke when they didn’t ask me a question, didn’t say “yes Ma’am” or “yes sir,” asked to see a friend, or brought up my family; They would make me kneel in a corner with my nose touching the wall, they would put soap in my mouth, and whip me with the metal part of a belt.

They would make sure they didn’t stop until there was bruising and sometimes even bleeding. I never said anything because I was scared of two things: One, that no one would believe me. Two, that they would cause permanent damage if they found out I said something, so I kept my mouth shut. About a year after being removed from my mother’s residence, I was able to visit with her and my younger siblings. Of course, the attire that I was given to wear by my awful father was a short dress. During the visit, I had asked to use the bathroom, and I never went without my mom when I was near her. So, she came with me, and she saw the marks.

Weight Off My Chest

She demanded to know where they came from, and I had to tell her. So, I did, it felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted off of my chest after I had told her everything. The DHHS office took forever to investigate, and my father and his family got tired of me, and they decided to send me to one of my aunts. Knowing I wasn’t allowed to be in contact with them at the time. But they really didn’t care they just wanted everything to go back to normal and didn’t want anyone in their way. They dropped me off with my aunt outside of the Old Navy in Augusta and I had nothing with me.

They gave all of my stuff to Shelby. Therefore, my aunt had to bring me shopping. Later that night, DHHS came with someone who looked very familiar. They introduced me to her. She was my brother and sister’s foster mom. She told me that I was going to be staying with her for a little while, and I was okay with that as long as I knew I was safe. She had a warm smile, and her voice was gentle when she spoke to me. I knew right away that I would be safe and secure at her home.

The Meltdowns Begin

I had only been there a few weeks, and my trauma was causing me to have massive meltdowns. I was throwing things and yelling at all the family that lived in the home. The cops were called, and they admitted me to my first residential. I was quiet there, mostly because I was the youngest. It wasn’t fun being the only 8-year-old living with a bunch of 16 and 17-year-olds. But it became very effective but for my kind of behavior, it wasn’t enough. I had bounced around from mental hospitals and residential’s.

Until when I was at Acadia hospital again, a foster mom was looking to take me in. She seemed sweet and kind when I met her.  I soon moved in with her only to repeat what had happened at my previous home. And I was sent back into programs. I found that I wasn’t even close to being ready to be in a home setting. I had also put my mind in the place where I would only go to live with my mom. While I was at the hospital, my mom was visiting me three times a week and it was freaking awesome.

Rockport Facility

The staff didn’t like when she came tough because she brought me food every single time. After almost a year of being there, I was accepted into a residential in Rockport, Maine, and was going to be leaving Acadia in a week. I did not do well in Rockport. I was running away often, was constantly aggressive, and hated everyone. I was there for 16 months when they finally had enough and kicked me out. I went to the ER to wait for someplace to open up, and my mom came and stayed with me while I was there. We were watching the news and had seen that some guy that was friends with my aunt had died.

Me forgetting that I had my mom in the room with me had said that I hated him, and she asked me why. I had never told anyone before because I was scared but I had told her how he had raped me when I would go see my aunt at her place. She was pissed. I had never seen her that way. She was also disappointed in me for not saying anything, but she understood. It was too late to talk to the police though, so we just left it alone even though it had haunted my childhood more than anything else in my life. Later that day I found out that I was going back to Acadia until they could find somewhere else for me to go. I was struggling at Acadia worse than ever before, and I just didn’t care.

Being Shuffled Around

DHHS
Courtesy of Noel Reynolds (Flickr CC0)

It’s like I just shut off my emotions. I waited months again to find another placement that would accept me, and one did. The only deal breaker was it was out of state. And I had never been that far away from my family. But I still went and turned out it was not going to be successful. I was there for four years and made no progress. I was back to running away almost every day, I was self-harming, getting into fights, and I had restraints every day. I eventually got kicked out and I was angry that they kicked me out but happy that they were sending me back to Maine.

Until I found out I wasn’t going to be in Maine that long. Only long enough to wait for a spot to open up in a juvenile facility in Tennessee. When I first got to Maine, I was quarantined in a hospital until I no longer had COVID. Which was only about two weeks but being in a room by myself felt like months. I was so bored.

Short Stint With Family

Near the end of my quarantine, I had a meeting to see where I would stay until I traveled down south.

It turned out I was going to live with my brother and sister’s adopted family for the time being. It was nice while it lasted, I was there for two weeks and had a blowup. Freaked out on my foster mom and broke a glass screen door. The cops were called for what seemed like the millionth time in my life and it was decided that I would be admitted to St. Mary’s hospital until I got placed in Tennessee. I was pretty cooperative for most of my time there. I had a few issues. Mostly freaking out because they would not let me talk to my sister who had worked there.

Next Steps DHHS Took

I was at St. Mary’s for 2 months, 11 days, and 5 and a half hours before going down to Juvenile. The whole way there I had hoped that this place would be different. That the staff there would not be aggressive towards you. Hoping they wouldn’t start augments out of small disagreements. But I was wrong, they started so much. The staff and kids were drama filled. They would sit there and talk about other kids that lived there and even about other staff. And the worst part was, every single staff had each other’s backs. The problem could have evidently started with the staff, and they have proof from the cameras that are literally everywhere. But they found ways to cover for each other.

I was in the juvenile facility for 8 and a half months and I dreaded every second of it. But I can say that I made some pretty good and healthy reports with some of the staff there. So, when I found out I was leaving it was a little tough for me. I was only going to be right across the street from it though. Because I had been accepted into a residential program associated with the juvenile center. It was all a big company. For that, I knew couldn’t end that well, seeing the way the detention center treated me. Luckily, I was only at that place for 8 months as well. So, when my time to leave came I was so ecstatic. I was finally coming back to Maine, and I couldn’t have wanted anything more.

Steps Forward

About one month after moving back I had a treatment meeting scheduled and I and my therapist were going over who’d be there. Out of all the people, there was one name in particular that caught my attention, Sheena Robertson. I had no idea why my mom would be in my meetings she had not been a part of my treatment or decisions since I had gotten removed almost 10 years ago. I demanded that he told me why she was going to be in the meeting, and he told me he had no idea.

I knew he was lying so I went to the one person I knew would tell me, my GAL. She told me the best news I had ever received. I was going to be reunified with my mom after all the years, all the struggles, all the tears. It was almost over. All she needed to do was move into a bigger place, and I would have to do a few overnight visits at her new place and then I could move in.

Almost There

It has been 7 and a half months since I have been back in Maine and I was just recently discharged from the residential I was at in Bangor, Maine, and went to a respite home, I am still waiting happily for my mother to move. But I have done it. I successfully broke the bad habit of getting kicked out of programs, and I was successfully discharged. I just recently left my very last program ever and am on the right track to happiness.

I can say I have to say that even though DHHS caused a lot of darkness in my life. They also just caused a lot of happiness in it too. I know that they couldn’t have even gotten the court to agree to the reunification without me and my mom doing something right. So, I feel obligated to say thank you to my mom over and over again. She saved my life many times but this one is the most important to me.

Written by Key Robertson

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Chris Elt‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Courtesy of Noel Reynolds‘ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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