Political Science Professor and Los Angeles County Special Services Assistant, Jenny Serrano, shares a very personal story in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
My daughter turned 18 last month. An amazing rite of passage for her. A very proud moment of accomplishment for me. But even more importantly, an opportunity to breathe a deep sigh of relief. She is the first child in my family in 2 generations to never be in foster care.
That relief comes from living in a constant state of threat. The looming, ever present concern that perhaps I'm not doing my job as a mother right. "Right" by some unseen, unknown to me standard. Worrying that there's someone to take her from me on the other side of the door.
I'm proud of my beautiful, smart, funny, sensitive, passionate, focused daughter. She's always been sweet, independent and has taught me all about unconditional love.
She saved my life. She gave me life.
When I was 3 years old I remember being hit for the first time. They say most people don't have such early recollections. But I do. Still a toddler, I recall my dad walking in and removing his belt as I sat, feet dangling, on the toilet. He whipped at my thighs until blood was drawn. Inside my mind I can still hear my own high pitched screaming. Through my teary eyes I could see my mom behind him looking down. Not helping. I lived in an almost constant state of terror for ten more years and was finally taken away from my parents when I was 13.
My baby girl came when I was 22 years old. We grew together. Laughed. Loved. Cried. I honestly shared how little I knew about what parenting her should look like. I hoped she'd forgive any errors I made along the way.
But always, I worried. That someone would say I wasn't doing a good job. That someone would call a hotline on me. That someone might greet me at the school to inform me that she was being taken. There was NO reason for it. I didn't hit, ridicule, neglect or do anything that would give anyone cause.
However, the fear never left. Until that 18th birthday.
I don't know any foster care alumni who don't have this fear. Of my friends, none are justified. I see us working ten times harder than other parents because we want to do better and we put in great effort and make tremendous sacrifices. But almost every one has fought allegations of abuse or neglect, including me. Calls came, in all cases, from family members or ex spouses. Our own former foster care status played negatively into the assessments. It turned out the fear was real.
So this month, when we raise the flag on child abuse prevention we must remember that we have a responsibility to educate, model, support and properly resource alumni who are parenting. The desire to do right by their children should be met with understanding and commitment. If they're your neighbor, your co-worker, a family friend -- find a way to share and give of your own experience. Prevention is everyone's responsibility.