They Never Told Me Why
When asked about challenges our community faces, young people often remark that social services are inadequate, and that public agencies designed to help youth in crisis don’t step in when needed, either because they can’t—or they won’t. Young people are struggling to understand why the adult world seems so unable or unwilling to meet their basic needs.
Youth Journalist Lydia Anderson, age 16, tells her story:
I grew up with two drug addicted parents. I was taught how to transgress the law and get away with it. I was taught and trained to fear authority—to know which police officers sold drugs just like my parents did, who would smooth my path if I got into trouble, who would throw me in a cell if I wronged him. And most of all, I was taught never to ask any official for help. Ever.
Drugs swallowed my parents’ lives, something not unusual in this community. And my parents lost the ability and desire to parent me. I lived on the street along with many other kids in Del Norte County. I started living on my own when I was ten. I slept at friends’ houses some nights and some nights I slept outside. I was surrounded by drug addicts. No one signed me up for school, though I deeply desired to go. For more than a year and a half of this—of not laying in a bed to sleep, of not having a parent to help me, of not having the education I wanted, of being so hungry I forgot what feeling full was like—I decided I couldn’t take it anymore.
I went to the Child Protective Services Building, despite my upbringing to avoid seeking help from those in power. I would tell them what my parents did, tell them how alone I was, ask them for help—and betray my family. It was my last resort.
They had me sit in a room. It was small, square, and plain. It smelled of baby power and hand sanitizer. I told them everything. And then I sat in that room for nearly six hours—waiting. They didn’t come to check on me. Finally, one of the social workers came to retrieve me. She told me she had made a lot of calls, but that I had to go. She sent me out onto the street, knowing I wasn’t going home—knowing I didn’t have a home to go. They didn’t have a foster home to put me in, she said.
I’m not the only kid that this has happened to. It happened to both my sister and I, on separate occasions, and I saw CPS turn my friends away, too, when they went for help. Child Protective Services, by definition, is supposed to provide protection to children—and yet children who don’t have food, a home, caretakers, basic means of protection, are turned away. For whatever reason, they didn’t do their job—I went out onto the street with no support and nowhere to turn for help. I never understood why.
By Lydia Anderson