*Danielle was born HIV positive. Her mother, while constantly in and out of jail, abused alcohol while pregnant with her. Her father couldn’t manage to care for her, often forgetting to give her the HIV medications she needed to survive.
She was a year old when she entered foster care.
Her father had finally given up, dropping her off at an AIDS clinic, saying he couldn’t handle it any more. He did, however, continue to have unsupervised visitation with her – until evidence emerged that he sexually molested her, something he was never prosecuted for.
This explained why Danielle had begun acting out sexually and in other ways. She was moved from foster home to foster home because of her temper tantrums and other extreme behaviors, starting at age three.
Close to age four, Danielle finally went to a foster home where she seemed to fit in. About the time she turned eight, when the family was close to adopting her, it was discovered that she had been physically abused in that home for years. She had been burned, hit, cut and had her head held under water. Of course, the adoption did not proceed, but again the foster parents were not properly investigated nor prosecuted for the alleged abuse.
From the foster home, Danielle went to a psychiatric hospital and from there spent the next five years of her life in long-term residential treatment facilities where she was prescribed an array of psychotropic drugs that heavily sedated her.
Today, she has AIDS because she never received proper medication to treat HIV.
Danielle struggles with the severe consequences of the disease as well as emotions brought on by her neglect and abuse.
When she was 13, Danielle’s case was included in the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Cold Case Project. (This multi-year effort, conducted by the Court’s Committee on Justice for Children, aims to review more than 200 cases per year of children who appear to be “stuck in foster care.”) Her case was reviewed in depth, and a network of caring individuals has emerged to look for ways for her to have a normal life, outside an institution. In time, a movement began to get Danielle to a permanent home.
Despite her circumstances, Danielle was found to be bright and full of life. It was soon learned that Danielle absolutely adored horses! Volunteers were sought to transport her to a farm outside Atlanta where she could spend time around horses, care for them and, eventually, ride them.
She grew to look forward to having time with the horses on a regular basis. During this time, Danielle’s very committed case manager was able to place her in the home of a caring family. This family came to appreciate Danielle for who she is and wanted to help her live a normal life.
Weaning from multiple drugs also slowly began.
But – like a “normal” teenager – when she started to act out, Danielle had to be told there were consequences for her behavior.
Weekend visits to the horse farm proved to be the incentive for Danielle’s work to control her behavior and try to regulate her emotions. Acting out in destructive ways meant she would not be able to go to the horse farm. This helped her learn to control her anger so she could function more easily as a part of a family.
Danielle has now been adopted by this wonderful foster family. After 12 years of being essentially alone, Danielle now has a forever family, a big network of volunteers and a hobby she loves: riding horses.
*Danielle is not her real name, but her story is real. This teen was part of a statewide review called the Cold Case Project. The Cold Case Project is being conducted in full partnership and transparency with the Division of Family and Children Services . The project is made possible by the Casey Family Program funds.