Sixty five is a milestone age for many. Some strive to make it, some to exceed it and some just want to have the excuse to retire. For me it loomed as a threatening reminder that I have become more vulnerable to the ravages of time as the years go by. Personally I have long prepared myself mentally for retirement, as I did for empty nest syndrome. But there are often things over which we have no control. Such as, unfinished challenges and dreams yet to be realized.
For me there is a serious and unfinished challenge that just won’t go away. It is the welfare of a special family of two. Their circumstances involve the most involved advocacy I have ever done in my more than forty years of advocating for victims. They are facing the greatest challenge and it will be lifelong for them both.
The ‘Mom’ has been forced underground by domestic violence and escaping her ex husband and his vicious new wife. The child is autistic and while advanced in some areas, is very challenged in emotional control and stimuli. This may cause outbursts and situations which require holding “A” in place or down. This has led to the child’s need to be home schooled to be safe and to prevent the need to be medicated into a stupor. At home, the child is safe, loved and controlled by routine and a love of reading.
My first meeting with Mom was on the crisis line phone while I was working as an advocate for domestic violence assistance and shelter. She had escaped her home area and traveled here more than five states away seeking help. Some shelters would not accept her because her child could become out of control and run out any doorway of opportunity. The child needed to be watched 24 hours a day, exhausting mom and demanding her full attention. The rules of shelters require you to participate in chores and to follow rules which weren’t possible for this mom with her heavy care load. So much for the American with Disabilities Act, but that would take volumes to discuss.
When Mom first left her abuser, she was heading to New Orleans due to the favorable laws in that state protecting her custody of her child. She knew how devious her ex husband could be and that he had plenty of money to hire private investigators and track her. Already he had found records and information so many times that he shouldn’t have had access to. Thank goodness, she changed directions, for Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans two weeks after she arrived in our area. It was a sign that God is watching over them.
Our talks on the crisis line spanned months trying to help her get through each night, finding her resources and trying to find ways to safeguard her identity. Using her social security number would have quickly tipped off those seeking her whereabouts which added to her dilemma.
Coming from a warm climate, and planning to go to a warm climate she had only summer clothes for her and the child. She had many needs and food needs were among them. Not being able to provide ID’s and validations were a continuing problem. Homeland Security changes made it impossible to get around the previously long tried and true methods for support or to get a post office box.
Where I worked there was a rule that staff couldn’t meet directly with clients who were introduced via the crisis line. So, I had no way to get assistance to her. We devised a plan where I would make a delivery knocking on her door then stepping aside so we ‘never saw each other’. True, it was a pretty lame breaking of the rules, but it was a’ little salute’ to following the rules.
Our agency was steeped in well meaning bureaucracy and depending on them would have left her unaided in so many areas although they certainly did what they could. Their hands were tied in most instances because she couldn’t produce needed information to validate her situation when the donating agency would require it.
We had an unprecedented year and foiled many attempts by her abuser to find her and to try to use judicial tricks to force her back. Then one day, we found he had tracked her though my bank account. He had a source in the courthouse where they received the copy of a returned support check. Mom had been told he couldn’t have access to them. Her sister received an unsigned letter with the photocopy of a check I endorsed and cashed for her. Written inside the envelope were ominous words to the effect that he was getting closer.
We couldn’t ignore his message and began to make plans to move her if we had too. We finally took precautions to go out of county and apply for a driver’s license and contacted legal aid in her home state to help with the problems. This was the first time she had ever given out her cell phone number and it should have been confidential, but within 24 hours he had gotten her phone number and began a series of harassing calls.
With no money to travel to court in her home state for an income challenge by him and with the judge refusing to let anyone represent her while she was out of state, she had no one to help. She lost her court ordered support from the divorce. Financially devastated and fearful he would find her and take the child out of the country as he threatened, we made immediate plans to remove her from the area and send her deeper underground.
I can’t go into details but I must say we moved swiftly and got her out of state and into the underground and underground mail system. Little “A” was disrupted again and their little bit of support was gone. Two years after we first began to work on these issues, Mom still struggles and often has little food for herself at the end of the month. She always makes sure the child has the recommended juices and foods. Mom has special schooling arrangements now as the child is so challenged. They have little opportunity for transportation or recreation involvement.
I am in awe of this mom who has dedicated her life to this child. I believe God has His hand on them: but I also know they need advocacy at times to validate them with the needed resource agencies that require background information they can’t provide. I provide it and my credentials have been enough to move things forward. They have no safety net for eventualities if Mom becomes ill or is in distress for any other reasons. They require “A Champion” in case of emergency because this one is over 65 now, and “A” has no known replacement.
My gauntlet I throw before you concerning their welfare is this. The victims of Domestic Violence are the most challenged of victims to protect. To be a Domestic Violence victim trying to escape with a handicap child, with all kinds of special medical records and tests and school records, is nearly impossible. Time and time again, abusers accessed records they are no longer entitled too, and there is almost always a paper trail required by bureaucracy that exposes the victims to danger and being located.
Protecting victims and helping them go underground is a highly volatile and risky effort. More training and more legislation is needed to protect them so that they cannot be tracked. But in the meantime, it takes personal compassion and the dedication of ordinary people willing to do extraordinary things.
Advocacy for these Domestic Violence families is exhausting and when the handicapped child is involved, it becomes almost impossible. So I say again, my final appeal is to find “A Champion for “A” Before I Die.” Someone who will assume the risks and the commitment to contribute to these two specific people and the welfare of new ones who follow.
So to “A” and her Mom I say, hang in there dear ones. God is going to be there for you in the ways that count. I am praying that His angels stay near you and that hearts around you are touched to know your needs and help you. Though your life underground is not everything it could be, I pray you will find that bond of love will sustain you.
And my friends, as you read this remember that the Bible talks about how we meet “Angels unaware”. The Lord clearly directs that “as you do to the least of these you do unto” Him. Let compassionate advocacy be your legacy.