From the Cold Case Files, a Child Who Shouldn’t Have to be Alone

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Brooke Silverthorn

Jessica is 17 years old and has learned how to take care of herself. She doesn’t quite understand, though, that she shouldn’t have to.

Jessica has been in the state custody of Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) since October 2007 when she disclosed that her father had been sexually molesting her for the past two years. After she and her brother and sister were removed, her younger sister also disclosed that their father and their mother had sexually molested her. Both of her parents have been criminally charged, but the cases are still pending after more than three years. This frustrates Jessica.

 In March 2010, a Georgia juvenile court terminated both the mother’s and father’s parental rights. Jessica is now at great risk of aging out of foster care as a legal orphan in less than a year.

Understandably, Jessica struggles with post traumatic stress syndrome and depression. She doesn’t let it hold her back though. She is an A/B student, plans on attending college and has already taken the ACT exam. She thinks she may be able to enroll in some college classes her second semester of 12th grade. She’s contemplated her future and has decided that she wants to be a DFCS case manager so that she can help kids in her future. She has a job through the Teen Work Program where she works with kids today.

Jessica appears to have positive coping strategies. She channels her emotions into a great desire to help others, partly by being a comedian! Jessica has made a couple of comedy videos in which she performs stand up. Her case manager told us that Jessica is very funny. Look out Ellen DeGeneres.

Since 2009, we have reviewed many DFCS cases on the Cold Case List and all have affected us greatly. However, there was something about Jessica’s story that stood out. In the paper file was an essay that she had written about why she doesn’t want to be adopted. Her reasoning was both straightforward and selfless, not unlike the young lady herself. She wrote that she sometimes thinks about being adopted but has decided that adoption is not for her. She can make it on her own, she wrote. She goes on to say that parents looking to adopt a child should focus on younger kids who “need parents more than she does.” She has people in her life who love and support her and that’s enough for her.

Michelle Barclay

Reading her words made us think about the amazing young woman she is and the great sadness she has had to endure. Despite the sadness, Jessica is willing to sacrifice her own permanency for another in need. She may be able to take care of herself; in fact, we believe she will do great things in her life. But she shouldn’t have to do it alone. Child welfare is hard and it is emotionally taxing to the professionals in the field. But when I think about Jessica’s story, we realize why we keep doing this work – because we have an opportunity to help children NOT to have to do it alone. We have more work do on Jessica’s case.

*Jessica is not her real name, but her story is real. This child was part of a statewide review in Georgia 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 conducted in collaboration with  Casey Family Program.


One thought on “From the Cold Case Files, a Child Who Shouldn’t Have to be Alone

  1. Wonderfully warm article. thank you for the cold case files. Jessica’s greatest relief is perhaps not being sexually abused anymore, but her struggles with “why” and “How” are probably going to be long-term unless she is also receiving trauma therapy for her history of sexual abuse. Her giving and kind personality and creativity are her strengths and will help her in her life. Adoption does not make much sense for her,but I do suggest a guardian family or a well-wisher family that she can share Christmas, Thanksgiving and holidays with; a place she can go when she is lost or unsure of her next step. Sexually abused young women who are resilient like her need far greater protection and support than they are willing to disclose. Her stability is critical as she enters the young adult years and a Mentor is also needed to help her make informed decisions. Interpersonal trust will also remain an issue as would perhaps bouts of depression. My warmest wishes to her and to you for increasing awareness. Best, Dr Gopal