A new home for Amanda*

St. Peter-St. Joseph Children’s Home

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PJ’s residents attend a Vacation Bible Camp run by St. PJ’s youth volunteers. Photo courtesy of St. PJ’s

By Julie Rattey


*Based on the story of Amanda (last name withheld for privacy). Information for this story was provided by Amanda and by Jamie Moody, LMSW, who is Amanda’s case manager and St. PJ’s Transitional Living Program supervisor.

 

“Mommy, why is there a police car outside our house?”

 

Amanda, 9, had abandoned her homework to peer out the window.

 

“What?” her mother asked.

 

Amanda repeated herself. Since the stroke, her mother often had difficulty understanding things.

 

“Look!” Amanda added, pointing. “There’s Sandy!” Her caseworker had gotten out of the police car and was coming toward the door. She looked serious.

 

Amanda saw fear flit across her mother’s eyes. Did this have something to do with the people who had showed up to inspect their house recently? What was going on?

 

There was a loud knock, and Amanda opened the door to find Sandy and a policeman.

 

“Hello, Amanda,” Sandy said kindly. “Is your mother home?”

 

Amanda stepped aside to let Sandy and the policeman talk to her mother. Amanda couldn’t understand everything they were saying, but her mother was clearly upset. Then she was going around the house, getting Amanda’s birth certificate, her medicine. Sandy explained gently that Amanda would be going away from home for a little while, and to bring what she needed. Amanda, dazed, grabbed a book she had been given at the hospital during her recent stay. It was the only thing she could think to take.

 

A few minutes later, Amanda was walking out her door to the police car. She was startled to realize that most of her family — who lived in their neighborhood in Texas — were there, watching. The police car had drawn their attention. Some relatives were whispering, some looked angry, others looked fearful. Amanda kept expecting someone to argue with the policeman, to shout, “Where are you taking Amanda?” But no one did.

 

As the car door was shut behind her, Amanda looked for her mother. She was standing helplessly in front of the house, looking as though she were about to cry. Tears fell down Amanda’s cheeks. Why was everyone letting her be taken away? Amanda cried harder as the car pulled away, leaving her family and her home behind.

 

***

 

About a month later, Amanda was starting another school day in her new school. Her classmate Shannon bounced into the desk across from hers.

 

“Hi Amanda! How was your weekend?”

 

“Um, OK. How was yours?”

 

“It was great!” Shannon beamed. “My parents and I made pizza at our house last night. Then we played games. I had so much fun!”

 

Amanda couldn’t concentrate on her lesson; tears were stinging her eyes. She had heard stories like Shannon’s before she was brought to the emergency shelter at St. Peter-St. Joseph Children’s Home, but in her new school, she heard them even more. They were stories about kids having fun with their parents, parents being nice to their kids. To Amanda, they confirmed what the staff at St. PJ’s had gently told her: She had been taken away from her parents because they were not taking care of her.

 

Amanda looked at Shannon’s arms in her short sleeves. Amanda’s mom had always made her wear long sleeves to hide the bruises from where she and Amanda’s dad had hit her. It hadn’t occurred to Amanda before coming to St. PJ’s that it wasn’t normal for parents to hit their children. But she had wanted it to stop. The only person she’d told was God. But despite all her prayers, her father hadn’t stopped drinking, and her mother hadn’t stopped hitting.

 

Amanda tried to hold back her tears. It wasn’t fair. Why did some kids have parents that loved them right and others that didn’t?

 

Amanda glanced again at Shannon. The tip of her ponytail was wet; she had probably taken a shower that morning. Amanda remembered that many times she had borrowed buckets of water from her relatives because their water had been cut off. She remembered, too, the days of craving her classmates’ lunches of fresh sandwiches and fruit and cheese. That meant that family had a running fridge. That meant they had electricity.

 

Amanda had had little to eat at home, and besides, she had thought she was ugly and needed to be skinnier. It had been a shock when the staff at the hospital, where her mom took her when she started running fevers and throwing up, said she was underweight. Amanda remembered her mother telling the staff they didn’t have money to buy food. She was right, in a way. The food stamps were usually sold to pay for drugs and alcohol.

 

At a nudge from Shannon, Amanda opened her textbook. But she stared unseeingly at the page. Her parents hadn’t taken care of her, but she still loved them. She missed the times when her mother was nice to her, when she kissed her goodnight. What if her mother never learned how to take care of her? What if she could never go home again?

 

***

 

That afternoon, at playtime at St. PJ’s, Amanda sat alone. She heard laughter coming from the other side of the room. Pica, Amanda’s roommate, was with her brothers and sisters. The older girls were doing the younger girls’ hair. The brothers were playing.

 

I wish I had a sister, Amanda thought. Then I would have someone to talk to. She talked a little to Pica in their room, but felt too shy to approach the whole family.

 

Pica noticed her looking, and their eyes met. Amanda flushed and looked down, but through her lashes she could see Pica whispering to her older sister, Maria.

 

“Hey! Want your hair done?” Maria called out, grinning.

 

Amanda smiled nervously. “OK.” Timidly, she walked over to their corner and sat down with Maria, who began working Amanda’s long, thick hair. Her hands were gentle; she didn’t tug. Amanda began to relax a little. This was one thing she liked about St. PJ’s: No hitting, no hurting. Here she was safe. She could get used to that. 

 

What happened to Amanda?

Amanda was placed in long-term care at St. PJ’s and, with time and care from the staff, began to establish trusting relationships with others and with God. She chose to remain at St. PJ’s instead of seeking adoption, and is in contact with her mother. Now 17, Amanda is a member of the St. PJ’s Transitional Living Program, which assists youth ages 16 to 18 with their shift from foster care to independence. She hopes to attend a Catholic college and become an OBGYN or a therapist.

 

“I really love the people at St. PJ’s,” Amanda says. “I see them as family, and people I can go to when I need help, or when I need advice, and I really appreciate that, as well as their being there for me through the hard times of my life.”

 

Help from St. Peter-St. Joseph Children’s Home

Most children in the care of St. PJ’s have been removed from their family by Child Protective Services and placed at St. PJ’s for long-term care (on average nine months). St. PJ’s provides residential care to abused and neglected children and comprehensive therapeutic services to the community, working to heal body, mind, and spirit.

 

For more information, and to help children like Amanda, visit stpjhome.org or call 210-533-1203.

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from 23rdPublications.com.