Speaking Engagements

Excerpt

Chapter One
Little Marcus

Five year old Joey leaned across the kitchen table, his brown eyes as dark as night, and whispered, "Do you know about the little boy who died in the closet?"
            "Yes.  I know about that little boy.  How do you know about him?" I asked.
            Joey's eyes remained fixed on mine.  "My mom told me about him.  She said if I told anyone her boyfriend was living here, then I would have to go to foster care.  Then, they would tape me up, lock me in the closet and kill me."
            "You must have been very scared when the police and the social worker came to take you to a foster home," I replied. 
            Sensing I was interested in hearing all he had to say, those big brown eyes swam with tears.  His voice quivered, "I was crying half to death when I got here."  His words tumbled out faster and faster as he dumped his terror onto the kitchen table in front of me.  "I thought I was going to die.  I haven't seen my baby brother.  Do you know where they took him?  Is he dead?"
            Joey had been living in foster care for only a few days when I first met him.  As a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) appointed through Hamilton County Juvenile Court in Cincinnati, Ohio it is my job to represent the best interests of children who have been abused or neglected.  I was appointed to represent Joey and his six-month-old brother, Jordan, after a Children's Services caseworker filed a motion in court seeking the boys' placement in foster care.  I met the boys' mother, and her boyfriend, in court the morning after the boys were placed in an emergency foster home. 
            I sat through hours of testimony from the caseworker, the police officer, and finally, the mother herself.  Through their testimony, it became clear that Joey's mother had been using drugs for several years.  The police had been called to their home repeatedly for domestic disturbances.  In the latest incident, Joey had jumped in front of his mother to protect her from her enraged boyfriend.  He had been shoved to the side and fell to the ground.  The police responded to a neighbor's 911 call.  Joey and his brother were placed in foster care.  Now the court would decide what should happen. 
            The juvenile court magistrate counted on me to learn as much as possible about the boys and their lives.  This information would determine what kind of help Joey and Jordan needed while they lived in foster care, and where they would ultimately reside.  The court also relied on me to ensure that the boys were safe and well cared for during this time.
            Sitting through testimony, and hearing all the horrific details about children like Joey and Jordan's troubled lives, is common in my line of work.  What I was not prepared for were those terrified brown eyes, convinced that placement in foster care was a death sentence.  The highly publicized story of a murdered foster child, Marcus Fiesel, had been rippling through the communities near where he lived.  County agencies and the courts were re-examining foster care practices and politicians were introducing new laws to protect foster children.  But I had no idea this ripple effect would make its way into the hearts of little boys like Joey and be used to terrify them into silence.

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