Darryl is in foster care. Sean thinks that he's being abused,
but needs help to find out if that's true — and to find out what can be done about it.
As soon as he heard the bell ending seventh period, Sean went to Roger McGowan’s office to talk about his Sociology report.
“Hi, Sean. What can I do for you?”
“Mr. McGowan, I’d like to talk to you about my report.”
“Alright. Is there a problem?”
“No, there’s no problem. What I wanted to talk about is the visit I made to the Foster Youth Center to collect information for my report. The kids there are young, and almost all are in elementary or middle school. There is this one kid, Darryl Allen, who’s older. He’s fourteen, and in the tenth grade. He’s real quiet compared to the other kids. I talked to him and he’s a really nice guy. We talked about lots of things, and we discovered that our birthdays are only three days apart, and they’re both next week. We’ll both be fifteen.
“Then we talked about where he’s living. I think his foster situation is real bad and I’m worried that he’s being abused. He has bruises, and each time I see him there are new ones. I want to do something to help him, but I don’t know how. I decided to talk to you to see if you have any ideas.”
Roger took a deep breath.
“Sean, this is a difficult situation. Child abuse is a very serious accusation. If it appears there is abuse, it has to be reported to CPS, that’s Child Protective Services. Have you talked to the counselor at the Foster Youth Center about what you suspect?”
Sean ground his teeth in anger. “I did, and she said it was none of my business. I don’t care if it’s none of my business, he needs help and I want to find someone who can help him.”
Roger’s eyes opened wide. “That’s inappropriate. If someone reports possible abuse to a counselor they must investigate and take action. It doesn’t make any difference whether the person doing the reporting is a child or an adult. What is this counselor’s name?”
Roger considered that name. He thought that something had to be done, and soon, and he knew Mary Wilkinson wasn’t the person to do it.
“Is Darryl at the Center every day after school?”
“Sean, do you have anything to do this afternoon?”
“Shall we visit the Foster Youth Center, then?”
“Yes! That’s fantastic. Thank you, Mr. McGowan.”
“First, I’m going to phone a friend of mine at CPS and have him meet us there. His job is to investigate cases of child abuse that aren’t being reported. He is exactly who we need to accompany us.”
Sean smiled. For the first time since he met Darryl he had a feeling that things would end up better for him. He took out his cell and called his mother to let her know why he’d be late.
The drive to the Center took ten minutes.
“Sean, let’s go inside and you can introduce me to Darryl. Remember, tell him I’m one of your teachers, and that I teach English. That’s perhaps a bit of a stretch, but besides Sociology and Psychology I also teach English 3. It’s just that you’re not in my English class.” He grinned, and so did Sean. “When Mark Montanaro arrives he’ll come in and, let’s say, sniff around for a while. Hopefully we’ll have learned something from Darryl by then.”
The Foster Youth Center occupied about half of one of the five buildings in the county’s Community Center complex. It included a gym, computer room, library, play center, snack bar, health center, a large meeting room, and several conference rooms and offices.
Sean saw Darryl sitting alone, as usual, reading a book. He pointed him out to Mr. McGowan.
“That’s Darryl. Jeez, it looks like he has a black eye. He didn’t have that yesterday when I saw him.”
“Let’s get my introduction over with, then we can start chatting with him.”
They walked to the table where Darryl sat reading. He looked up and smiled when he saw Sean, but his smile turned to a frown when he saw an adult with him.
“Hi, Darryl,” Sean said. “One of my teachers came with me today to see the Center. He teaches English and some other classes. This is Mr. McGowan. Mr. McGowan, this is Darryl Allen.”
“Hi, Darryl. Nice to meet you.”
“Uh... hi, Mr. McGowan.”
“I see you’re reading. As an English teacher I’m always interested in what kids are reading these days. What’s your book?”
“It’s Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. It’s science fiction and a really funny story, too.” Darryl smiled. Roger guessed that he would be willing to talk about the kinds of books he liked to read.
“I know that book,” Roger told him. “I love Terry Pratchett’s books. I’ve read Going Postal, and his next story in the series, Making Money. Have you read any other science fiction stories?”
“Some of Isaac Asimov’s books, those about Rama, some of the books based on Star Wars, and the Harry Potter books except the last two. I didn’t like them very much. Too scary. I also like books about wizards and space exploration. That’s why I like to come here to the Center. I can borrow books, like at the library, but the Ygnacio Valley branch library is too far for me to walk.”
“Sean, what do you like to read?” Roger asked.
“I like mysteries and science fiction. I have a bunch of the Terry Pratchett books. And I like to read about computers. I want to study computer science when I go to college. I built my own computer, and I have a laptop to take to school.”
Darryl looked at Sean. “You built your own computer? That’s amazing. Is it a desktop?”
“Yes, it had an Intel i7 chip and 8 gigs of RAM.”
“That’s a great configuration. I wish I had a computer of my own. I use the ones at school and here in the Center to do my homework, but they aren’t very fast. I want to become a programmer. It would be easier to study programming if I could use the computer my foster family has.”
“They don’t let you use their computer?”
“No.” He spit out that answer. “They say I don’t do my chores fast enough to earn the right to use their computer.” He moved in the chair and groaned like something hurt.
“It looks like you’re hurting, Darryl. Is there anything I can do?” Roger asked.
Darryl looked away, at the edge of the table. “Mrs. Wilkinson told me there isn’t anything anyone can do. She said I had to take it like a man.”
“What is it you’re supposed to take, Darryl?” Roger asked.
“If I don’t do my chores when they’re supposed to be done or if he doesn’t like the way I did them, then he whips me with his belt.”
“Who is it that whips you?”
“My so-called foster father.” Darryl spit out those words, too. “I hate it there. Mrs. Wilkinson is supposed to help us foster kids when there’s a problem, but she doesn’t do anything. She doesn’t help me at all.”
Sean had never been so angry about something in his life. There’s no way Darryl should be whipped with a belt.
Roger reached over and held Darryl’s hand. “Does he do anything else to you?”
“He hits me. Last night I asked for my meal ticket for my lunches. It’s the new month, and the meal tickets change each month. He said he didn’t have the money from the state yet, and I’d have to wait. He doesn’t have to buy my meal tickets, they come in the mail. He just didn’t want to give it to me. I asked him how I would get something to eat at lunch, and he hit me in my face and told me to go to my room and stay there. And he said because of my smart mouth I wasn’t going to get any dinner either. I borrowed two dollars from Donny Orlando, he’s in my Spanish class, so I got some lunch. He told me I should complain but there’s no one to complain to.”
“Now you have someone to complain to, Darryl, someone who will listen to you and take action,” a man standing behind him said.
Sean looked up and Darryl turned around and they saw a tall man with broad shoulders. He looked like a football player.
“Mark! Good to see you,” Roger said. “Why don’t you sit down and introduce yourself then we can continue chatting with Darryl about the treatment he’s receiving from his foster family.”
“Thank you, Roger. Darryl, it’s good to meet you. I’m Mark Montanaro. I work for Child Protective Services.” He and Darryl shook hands. “I can help you, son, and I’ll start by removing you from that untenable foster family situation you’re in. Can you give me the name of your foster family and the address and phone number?”
Darryl gave him the information about Mr. and Mrs. Reyes, who were his current foster parents.
“How long have you been living there, Darryl?”
“In January Mrs. Wilkinson moved me from a really nice foster family, the Andersons, to the Reyes’s. I didn’t want to move, and the Andersons didn’t want me to move, but Mrs. Wilkinson said that CPS said I had to be moved to the Reyes’s.”
Mark stood up. He looked very upset. “I need to make a few calls, and I’ll be right back.” He stepped away from where we were sitting so he could make his cellphone calls in private.
Roger asked Darryl some more questions.
“What school are you attending, Darryl?”
“I’m going to Northgate. I should be going to Las Lomas where Sean goes. If I’d stayed with the Andersons I’d still be going there.”
“Do you like Northgate?”
“Yeah, but it’s a long way from the Reyes’s house and I have to take a bus. If they don’t give me my bus ticket at the beginning of the month then I have to walk until they give it to me.”
“How do you like school, Darryl?”
“I love going to school. I love learning new things, especially science and math. And English too, of course.” Darryl grinned.
Sean asked Darryl what he wanted for his birthday.
His answer was immediate: “A new foster family! My so-called foster father said I shouldn’t expect anything because I was totally useless. I’m not useless! I get good grades in school, my teachers and my friends at school all like me. I hate living with the Reyes’s. Mrs. Wilkinson says I’m a whiner, but I’m not. I shouldn’t have to live where I’m being beat on all the time.”
“Forgetting your foster family, if you could get something for your birthday, what would it be?” Sean asked.
“What I want most of all is one of those lightweight laptop computers so I’d have my own computer for doing my homework. I could even bring it to school in my backpack. But they’re real expensive. So, I guess some new clothes, and a new backpack because mine is starting to fall apart.
“What do you want for your birthday, Sean?” Roger asked.
“A seven inch tablet so I could use the Kindle and nook apps. That way I could read stories on my tablet. I love to read. There are lots of free books for the Kindle app so I wouldn’t have to spend money for stories to read. It’d also be great if I could have my textbooks on it. Trouble is, tablets are real expensive, too.”
Mark returned. “Well, I have some good news and some bad news. I’ve been able to get you out of the Reyes’s house. I have a staff member going over there to get all of your clothes and everything else that’s yours. The bad news is I tried to contact the Anderson’s, but phone calls to them are forwarded to their neighbor. They are out of town for a family vacation the week before Memorial Day and the week of the holiday. They won’t return until June third. So we need to move you somewhere temporarily, Darryl. Because of the holiday it’s almost impossible to find a family that can take in a foster child, even on a temporary basis.”
“He can live with my family,” Sean declared. “I know my folks would let him stay for a couple weeks over the holiday with us, until the Andersons get back.”
“Sean, there’s more to having a foster child move in with a family than just saying they want to. You are too young to make that commitment, so we’d have to start with your parents then do a background check and a home inspection. There isn’t enough time, so Darryl will have to move in with a state licensed foster facility or a foster family that’s already approved by CPS. I’d rather he not move into a foster facility. However, finding a foster family is going to be a problem.”
Sean grinned. “As Ms. Garcia, my Spanish 3 teacher likes to joke, ‘No problemo!’ My folks are a registered foster family. You can check it, their names are David and Marilyn Gardiner. That’s how I know that Darryl will be welcome when I tell them about what’s happened to him. I was a foster kid and the Gardiners took me in and then they adopted me and now I’m legally their son. I know personally that they will be a great foster family for Darryl until the Andersons get home.”
“Let me make a phone call to my office,” Mark said.
Sean, Darryl, and Mr. McGowan listened as Mark confirmed that Sean’s parents were a registered foster family, and their registration was current. He looked at Sean and raised his eyebrows.
“Now it’s your turn, Sean. Please phone your parents and see if they’re willing to foster Darryl over the holidays.”
Sean pulled out his cellphone and phoned his mom. He explained Darryl’s situation and how his current foster father beat him. After he gave the details about Darryl to his mom, he handed the phone to Mark.
“My mom wants to talk to you.”
After a brief conversation, Mark returned the cellphone and looked at Sean, smiled, and nodded his head.
“You did a great sales job, Sean. Your mother is leaving work right now and will pick up both of you and take you home. She said that as required, he’ll have his own room, and I’ll arrange for his clothes and other things to be delivered to your house.”
Sean looked at Darryl and smiled. “Now I’m your foster brother, Darryl. And once a foster brother, always a foster brother.”
Darryl blinked several time to keep tears from forming. “I couldn’t ask for a better brother than you, Sean.”
“Something else, Darryl.” Mark said. “One of our caseworkers, and not Mrs. Wilkinson, will pick you up in the morning and you’ll be taken to a CPS registered doctor to be examined. He’ll take x-rays and pictures of your bruises. As soon as he’s finished, you’ll be taken to Northgate High School. You should leave your school books and other materials at the Gardiner’s house and bring your empty backpack with you so you can get everything that’s in your locker. You’re going to be transferred to Las Lomas High School effective day after tomorrow.”
“I leave all of my heavy books in my locker, and I have my stuff for PE in my locker in the gym. I don’t know if my backpack will hold it all without falling apart.”
“Darryl,” Sean said, “you’ll get a new backpack when you get to my house this afternoon. I have an extra one at home that I don’t need. My great-grandma in Atlanta sent it to me for my birthday. She’s real old, so I wrote her that it was a great birthday gift. Thing is, I like the color of the backpack I’ve been using better.” He picked up his backpack and put it on the table. “It’s my favorite colors, teal and black, the colors of the San Jose Sharks hockey team. So you can have the one my great-grandma sent me.”
“Thanks, Sean. That’s really nice of you,” Darryl said.
“No problemo,” Sean replied. The two boys laughed.
“Sean, you’re taking Spanish 3, so you must know it’s actually ‘no hay problema’ with an ‘a’ at the end,” Darryl said.
“I know. That’s why Ms. Garcia jokes about it. She thinks it’s funny how ‘no problemo’ became so popular. It's slang.”
Mark motioned to Roger to step away as the boys started an animated conversation about Darryl’s classes at Las Lomas and the textbooks they used, and that he’d have to return the books he got from Northgate High and get replacements from Las Lomas.
“Roger, thank you for taking action when Sean told you about Darryl.”
“I’m required to contact CPS. But I couldn’t take the word of another student. I had to see how much physical abuse Darryl had received, and listen to what he had to say. I’m so glad that he’s going to a family that will show him love and let him enjoy the next couple weeks.”
“Sean seems very excited about Darryl staying with his family.”
“I think he feels possessive about Darryl because he’s the one who recognized he was being abused. Having been in the foster system gives him a personal point of view about the process and how it should work. That brings up a question. What’s going to happen with Mary Wilkinson?” Roger asked.
“That’s not my decision, but I’ll certainly submit a report with my suggestions. One thing I find interesting is that she hasn’t come out to see what’s going on. It’s possible she saw the two of us talking to Darryl and wants to keep a low profile.”
“You don’t know her?”
“No, but I’ve heard about her.”
“I have as well.”
“You’re a teacher and don’t have any connection to CPS or the Foster Youth Center, Roger. How do you know about her?”
“There are foster kids attending Las Lomas, and I’ve had several in my classes. I’ve heard negative comments about her. One of the girls, a senior in my English 3 class, told me she thinks Mary Wilkinson moves kids to foster homes and gets a kickback from the new foster parents. I didn’t have enough evidence to report it to CPS.
“Which brings up another question about Mary Wilkinson. If she’s a full-time employee of CPS, how can she be running this Foster Youth Center full-time?”
“That’s another item that will be in my report.”
When Marilyn Gardiner picked up the boys she fussed over Darryl. That embarrassed Sean no end, but Darryl seemed to be enjoying being pampered, so Sean kept quiet. He decided that his mom was providing something that Darryl had been missing for the past six months: love and concern.
When they got home Sean showed Darryl the room that would be his.
“Wow, it’s big! It’s perfect.”
“Uh, Darryl, it’s not that big.”
“Compared to the tiny room I’ve been in at the Reyes’s house, this is huge. It’s about the same size as the one I had at the Anderson’s house.”
“Can I help you unpack?”
“Yeah. One thing I want to make sure is that I have everything that’s mine. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Reyes threw out some of my stuff just to be mean to me one last time.”
They dumped the two bags of clothes onto Darryl’s bed, and he went through it, sorting then folding items into neat stacks. When he finished he counted each stack.
“Everything seems to be here. I guess when the CPS person showed up the only one home would have been Mrs. Reyes, and she wouldn’t have known that I would be moved. So she wouldn’t have had time to keep any of my things behind.”
Darryl put his clothes in the dresser drawers and closet.
“How about books and electronics and stuff like that?” Sean asked.
“There’s a box on the floor. It’s probably in there.”
They opened the box and sorted the items more carefully, then Darryl put his books on the shelves above the desk and the rest of his things in the desk drawers.
“That’s all the stuff from my desk and bookcase. Not much, is it,” Darryl stated. All Sean could do is nod his head.
Finished with the unpacking, they flopped down across the bed, next to each other.
“I can see why you spent so much time at the Foster Youth Center,” Sean said. “How did you get there, and how did you get from there to the Reyes’s house?”
“I used my County Transit bus pass. I’m lucky that the Anderson’s got me a bus pass good for all year. Anyway, I’d walk up from school to Walnut Avenue. That’s a long walk. The number 68 bus stops there and I’d take it to Ygnacio Valley Road then it’s a short walk to the Center. Mr. Reyes would pick me up at the Center on his way home.”
“Couldn’t you use that bus pass to get to and from school?”
“No. The school district has its own buses to get us to and from Northgate High, and it has its own bus pass. County Transit doesn’t have buses that go to and from Northgate High.”
“So you did most of your homework at the Center?”
“Yeah, there or at school during Study Hall. The only things I did at the Reyes’s were chores.”
“What kind of chores?”
“During the week I had to clean the house, every day. I had to do the laundry on Mondays, vacuum on Tuesdays, dust on Wednesdays, wash the kitchen and bathroom floors on Thursdays, and clean the toilets and tub and shower on Fridays. I had to wash and dry the dishes every night. They don’t have a dishwasher. On the weekends I’d have to mow the front lawn on Saturdays and the lawn in the back on Sundays, I had to sweep the sidewalks and driveway, pull weeds in the flower beds, rake leaves, take the trash out for the Monday pickup, and anything else Mr. or Mrs. Reyes would think up.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Sean exclaimed. “Sounds like you did everything and they didn’t do anything.”
“Mrs. Reyes fixed dinner every day, and also breakfast and lunch on the weekends. Mr. Reyes sat watching TV and drinking beer. Neither of them did any cleaning or gardening.”
“So, I suppose you also had to iron their clothes?”
“No. They sent their stuff that needed ironing to the cleaner’s. I washed everything else, including all of my own clothes.”
“Didn’t some of your clothes need to be ironed?”
“Probably, but they wouldn’t send any of my stuff to the cleaner’s. So I wore stuff that looked okay without ironing, and kept the rest in a drawer by themselves.”
“What about having fun? What did you do?”
“Nothing. The only exercise I got was at school in PE and walking to school and back a couple days at the start of each month because Mr. Reyes said he didn’t have my bus tickets. I knew that he lied about that because a couple other foster kids at school said the bus tickets came at least a whole week before the end of the month.”
“Didn’t you go to a friend’s house, or have them over? And how about going to the movies or the park or… shit, from your expression I can tell that the answer is ‘no’ to all of those. Am I right?”
“I assume it wasn’t that way at the Anderson’s, right?”
“You’re right about the Andersons. They have two girls and a boy, and they treated me exactly the same as they treated their own kids.”
“Well, it’s sure going to be that way here. You’re going to be treated the same as me. Maybe even better.” Sean grinned.
“Because you’re like a guest, not someone who’ll be living here forever like me. Guests always get treated better.”
“Well, because they’re… they’re like, well, guests! I think that’s something adults do, they make guests feel more at home then their own kids. The kids already know what it’s like living there — and I want you to know that it’s always been great for me living here. Anyway, since you’re a guest you probably won’t have to help me do things like get the newspaper off the driveway every morning, put the dishes in the dishwasher, empty the waste baskets every night, and take the trash cans out to the curb on Tuesday evening.”
“That’s just normal chores, Sean. At the Anderson’s I did all those things along with their kids.” Darryl looked concerned.
Sean grinned. “I know, I’m just pulling your leg.”
Darryl laughed, then stuck out his right leg. “You can pull it any time you want.”
“What if I decide I want to pull something else?” Sean asked, wiggling his eyebrows.
There was a brief pause while Darryl computed what he’d just heard. “Oh my god, you’re terrible, Sean Gardiner!”
Both boys burst out laughing.
When they calmed down they laid side by side, looking at each other.
“Maybe I’d like it if you did,” Darryl said in a soft, breathy voice. He smiled at Sean, then wiggled his eyebrows.
Sean grinned. “Excellent! We’ve got a couple weeks to figure out how to do just that.”
Darryl took a deep breath and let it out. “That is fantastic. And definitely that’s no problemo.”
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Note that there is no word ‘problemo’ in the Spanish language. The correct noun is ‘problema’ and the correct translation of ‘no problem’ into Spanish is ‘no hay problema’. ‘No problemo’ is American slang and is used in this story, as it’s used as part of the common vernacular in the San Francisco East Bay where I live, as a joke.
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