Emily’s Story: A Year in the Life of a Foster Child

PART 1: Removal

READ: PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 | PART 8 | PArt 9 | Part 10 | PART 11 | PART 12

When dragons wake up, they’re angry. They want to hurt. Sometimes it leaves a mark, but sometimes it’s a hurt you can’t see, that you don’t even have words for… those are the worst of all.

I don’t remember much of what they said when they came and took me away. I know that they showed up to my school one day and asked me about the bruises on my arm. Whatever I told them, I guess they didn’t like it… because the next day, they came to my house, packed up some of my clothes, and took me away, just like that. At least they let me bring my sword.

They told me that they had to take me away to save me from the dragon. But people who have never fought a dragon don’t understand. You can’t just leave. You can’t just run. A dragon will always find you.

I remember my mom was really upset. She argued with them a lot. But it all happened so fast. I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t tell them it wasn’t her fault. Nothing that dad did was her fault… why didn’t they listen to her? Why couldn’t she come with me? When will I get to see her again? Did I do this? Did I say the wrong thing? I didn’t even get to tell her goodbye…

Sometimes, I wish I was a dragon! I’d let out all the things that hurt. All the things that don’t make sense!

…but I’m not a dragon. I’m a little girl. And I’m all alone. I’m in a new home, in a new place, with people I don’t know. I have to go to a new school on Monday. What are they going to think of me? I miss my mom and my friends.

The dragon is gone, but everywhere I go, there are new dragons to watch out for.

I’m so scared.

What’s happening?

Emily has been removed from her home due to abuse and placed in the Texas foster care system. She is now in the Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC), or temporary custody, of the state.

Here’s how she got there.

It all started when Emily’s teacher called the Texas Abuse Hotline after noticing what appeared to be large bruises on her arm. Under Chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code, teachers, doctors, and other professionals are mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect within 48 hours of discovery.

After a report is made, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Investigations Division assigns an investigator to interview the child, the family, and other applicable people as necessary. If the investigator determines abuse or neglect has occurred and the child is not safe, a hearing is held, and the judge overseeing the case can grant the investigator permission to temporarily remove the child from their home.

If the child is removed from home, they are assigned a Child Protective Services (CPS) conservatorship caseworker and taken to an approved or licensed temporary placement. Depending on the child’s needs, the circumstances of the case, and availability, the placement may be:

  • the home of an approved relative (kinship care),
  • a foster home,
  • a cottage home,
  • an emergency shelter, or
  • a residential treatment center (RTC) if they need more specialized care.

The ideal placement is one that will cause the least disruption possible in the child’s life, which most often means kinship care. In Emily’s case, she has been placed in a foster home because CPS was not able to locate a relative who was prepared to take her in.

It is a common misconception that children in foster care like Emily have been “saved” from abuse or neglect, and now no longer need any more help – but this could not be further from the truth. Each of these children has experienced trauma due to the abuse or neglect by their families, and are now suffering additional trauma and feelings of grief, loss and confusion after being suddenly taken from their families and home communities. Emily’s home may have been unsafe, but to her, it’s still her home, and the only one she has ever known.

Studies show that trauma can have devastating effects on developing children and youth, causing both short- and long-term problems, including difficulties with learning, ongoing behavior problems, impaired relationships, and poor social and emotional competence.

Foster care is not the solution for children like Emily. It is a temporary solution, and the less time children must spend in the system waiting for a permanent home, the better. By law, DFPS has up to 365 days, or one year, to develop and execute a plan to find Emily a safe, permanent home where she can begin to heal. This could mean reunification with her family if her parents complete the needed services or it could mean adoption – or the state could take permanent custody and she could remain in foster care. We will be following her story over the next year as her case progresses.

Tune in next month for the next part of Emily’s story.*

*This is a fictional story based on real-life situations that many children in the Texas foster care system face. No confidential information about any real children or families has been disclosed.