If you have experienced the foster care system, the pain of being shuffled through multiple homes, never finding a sense of belonging or attachment, then you may be able to understand how having my children at Hutton gave me a sense of peace.
To start at the beginning, I am second generation child of the welfare and foster care system. My mother was removed from her parents along with four siblings when she was two years old. Throughout her life, there were numerous homes and multiple separations from her siblings. At 17, she aged out of a system that had taught her no life skills; she became a parent and struggled to raise five children, eventually surrendering myself and two older sisters to the state.
Having lived my life in a severely abusive home, one where there was never a sense of safety, I approached foster care in survival mode. Between the years of 12 and 17, I cycled through 13 foster homes and two group homes. The memories that I have during that time are very traumatic.
At 17, I was pregnant and addicted to drugs. I was afraid and even in my chaos, I knew I wanted a better life for the child I was carrying. I made a call to my caseworker and pleaded with him to return me to foster care. His response: “you are 6 months from your 18th birthday and you have run from every placement. We will not place you again”. I was broken; with no where to go I began searching for my mother (she had moved to another city to escape my father). I eventually found her address through my sister and hitchhiked to Yakima, WA, a place I had never been before. Imagine at 17, five months pregnant and detoxing from drugs, arriving on your mother’s doorstep and being told that you could not stay there.
Alone and abandoned, I spent the night in a park, heartbroken and afraid. For years I struggled with the abandonment I experienced as a child; it impacted every aspect of my life. I could never understand how a mother could not love her children. It wasn’t until years later that I came to terms with the reality that my mother did love me in her ability and capacity to love and only then did I understand and accept her love as being enough.
I eventually got off of drugs with the help of a man that I would eventually marry. Our relationship was not healthy, but it offered some stability. During that time I welcomed two children into my life.
My children were my life; I wanted them to never know the suffering that I had known as a child, but I didn’t know how to be that parent. My husband and I separated and my life spiraled out of control. During that time, I had my second two children. I don’t think I can express the fear I experienced bringing more children into an already chaotic life.
I wrestled with the idea of abortion and met with the adoption agencies, but I realized that I was coming from a place of fear – fear of seeing children that I loved so much suffer the pains of life. Such is the life of an addict. There were moments of great joy and bliss but there were also moments of explosive screaming and rage directed at these tiny children.
We became homeless and there were times that I would have the children sitting on the curb while I begged for money for food, knowing that once the children had a convenience store hamburger, I would use the rest of the money on drugs. These sweet innocent children experienced more in their first few years of life than anyone should ever experience in a lifetime. The state intervened and removed the children from me; a day that is imprinted in their memories, etched with pain and sorrow. I still failed to realize the impact my choices had on my children. They were separated into two different homes and then three, eventually being placed with my mother. My mother became too ill to care for them and they were taken into custody–once again separated in three different homes. During this time, they were only allowed to visit each other on one occasion. At the time of removal from my mother’s custody, I had the realization that I may not ever see my children again so I made a desperate move and turned myself in to jail. I had been running from multiple warrants and I knew there was no other way that I was going to be able to get “clean” off of drugs but to detox in jail where I had no access.
On my youngest’s 5th birthday, I entered into a 90-day inpatient drug rehab. My caseworker explained that I had smaller than a 15% chance of ever seeing my children again and I responded, “even if I don’t ever get custody of them back, they will still know that I fought for them, that they were worth fighting for.” Throughout the next several months, I was told about the Hutton Settlement Children’s Home. I can’t express the emotion that over took me as I toured Hutton; as I was told that the focus was to keep sibling groups togther, as I was told that I would be able to have a relationship with my children. I was overwhelmed with the sense of belonging that my children would experience, the love and nurturing that they would know. I could not deny my children that opportunity; they deserved a home where they could thrive.
After 9 months, I was able to get clean, completed all requirements of the court and was able to get custody of my children again. They were happy and adjusting to their new life at Hutton and I gave them the option to come and live with me or stay. My middle two children decided to stay, while my oldest and youngest came with me, but returned to Hutton about three months later. I honored their choice even though my instinct was to have them with me. In Hutton, I found a place that I felt I belonged as well; the house parents were always warm and welcoming. They took every opportunity to invite me into the childrens’ activities. The children would spend every other weekend with me as well as holidays and several weeks in the summer. I was able to rebuild my relationship with them and they saw the work that I was doing to rebuild my life. We experienced trust and closeness.
My son and his wife are houseparents now. They love the boys they are raising, and have started their own family. Hutton taught me what a family is. Each one of my children has had the opportunity to know what it is like to be raised in such a nurturing environment. I am forever grateful for Hutton; in my work in the child welfare system, I advocate for the Hutton model because we see the success it creates in the lives of families.
In Gratitude, Carmen Pacheco Jone