I was just talking to a kid I used to work with. For a few years, I worked as a respite worker with the foster care system. I would do my best to provide kids with a positive role model, perhaps provide a positive influence, maybe even see some of them graduate from high school and go to university. A few of the kids I worked with did just that. And then there was Tommy.
Tommy’s dad was an alcoholic. When Tommy’s mom couldn’t take his alcoholism and violence any longer, she packed her bags and left. She also left Tommy in the care of his dad. Not a good idea. Tommy’s dad neglected his son. Tommy did without food, love and education. That was when someone took notice. Once an honor student, Tommy’s grades began to drop. In fact, he missed an entire year of schooling because his father was too drunk to encourage his son to go to school.
With this, child welfare paid a visit to Tommy’s house, and in no time, Tommy was in the foster care program. From one household to another, stability was always an issue for the child. When he reached high school, his grades in top 90’s, thanks to a former school teacher who took Tommy into her home, provided love, understanding, and help with his schooling. She also insisted on Tommy following common courtesy rules. Tommy didn’t like rules. His dad never lived by rules, and neither did Tommy. He put up such a fuss, and made life so difficult for his foster mother that she had no choice but to give him up. He bounced from one home to another, and that was when I began to work with him.
I introduced Tommy to my family. He came up to the house and took part in board games, outdoor sports, and other activities as a member of my family.. He had a sense of belonging, and it showed. His school marks began to improve, and so did his behaviour. In no time, he was back in another foster home. This time he lucked out. The lady was a kind person who knew that Tommy needed love and attention. She gave him his own room, a weekly allowance, and three square meals each day. She had rules as well. Be home for your meals, do your homework, no smoking or drinking, and don’t use drugs. One more rule, respect your elders. Not a bad situation for any teen. Tommy didn’t see it that way. He figured that he was being pressured into following her stupid rules, and he wanted no part of them. He made life so miserable for her that he almost drove the poor woman mad. She sought counselling and got advice from professionals, but nothing helped. She gave up fostering. Tommy was out of a home again.
We offered Tommy a home with us. We planned on fixing up a room in the basement, complete with a BRAND NEW bedroom set, a big screen television/game system, and a hardwood desk for doing his homework. We were actually excited that we could provide Tommy with a home. We even made an appointment with a photographer, to have a family portrait done, one that included Tommy. When I brought the idea to Tommy, he flatly refused.
“I seen how you set rules in your home. I don’t like rules, and I don’t follow them for anyone. I don’t want to live in your home!” he said.
Forced to live in a group home, Tommy learned that rules were part of every daily routine. Be in before curfew, keep good grades in school, stay out of trouble. Again, rules became Tommy’s downfall. He left the group home, and even worst, he quit school. With just three years left until graduation, he threw away all the years he spent in school. Since he quit the group home, funding that kept me working with him was cut. I had no choice but to take a job elsewhere. I never seen Tommy for quite awhile.
We ran into him at a town event. He was in the crowd with some loser who provided him with cigarettes and alcohol and perhaps drugs as well. When he seen me, he tried to hide his face. When I approached him, he reacted by telling me how he planned on returning to school in the fall and getting his diploma. I knew he wasn’t serious, that he was just saying that because he was ashamed of the predicament that his choices in life left him in. The loser who accompanied him assured Tommy that he didn’t need school. The loser said that he didn’t go to school, and look at how he lives. He lives within the welfare system, living from cheque to the next, living in run down apartments with nothing but the shirt on his back and a six pack in the fridge. Some influence!
I was downtown today when I passed a crowd of teenagers. There was about six of them. Two of them were pregnant teens, and the other four were kids with the asses out of their jeans, all smoking bummed cigarettes and loitering in front of Tim Hortons. One of the kids was Tommy.
“Nice truck, you are some lucky to have such a nice truck!” he said.“I plan on getting my ABE (Adult Basic Education) next year” he said. “Ya right, same story you told me last time we spoke” I returned. “No really, I plan on going to a private college and getting my diploma.” “How are you going to pay for this education? You gave up on high school, THAT was free education, this isn’t!” I told him. I could see that he was growing tired of the conversation. “Nice truck, wish I had one like it! Think I will go into the coffee shop and ask for a job, they will hire me for sure!” He said.
The days of ‘free rides’ are all over for Tommy. Obtaining your high school diploma at a private college is very expensive, and without a job, he is finished. The coffee shop idea didn’t work out, as the police arrived shortly after Tommy went inside. Apparently the manager called the police to rid the parking lot of the teen dropouts who loiter outside, smoking and bothering customers. Tommy was the first to be escorted into the police cruiser. He took a few swings at the arresting officer. It broke my heart to see a kid fail like this, but I guess you can’t save them all. In the end, Tommy’s decisions got him where he is today, 18 years old with a criminal record, no job and maybe even no home.