In a sea of e mails each day comes several with a red exclamation mark screaming “READ ME.” As my cursor hovers, I am painfully aware that somewhere in Georgia, a child is counting on us. The Universal Application for placement that introduces a child is the first step in securing a temporary place for the healing to begin. A quick read tells me the child is a female and the average age is 14. Many things have gone wrong and the end result is the child is no longer living at home.
I locate the phone number and reach out to the case manager who has often been in the office all night. Sitting a few feet away is a child who sits emotionless as the story is told over and over again hoping that this placement might “be the one.” Aware of the proximity of the youth at the time of the call, I ask if we can make a quick introduction and see if we can help.
My co-worker enters the room and pulls up a chair to see what services she’ll need. We run through a quick line of questions assessing safety, risk, benefit, and ability to meet the needs of another before asking the child “what questions do you have of us? The first question is typically “can I have a cell phone” followed by “what is it like there?”
Within minutes three strangers, one child and two adults, talk through the most intimate and private moments of life that has resulted in the need for immediate placement. The tone of the voice is a combination of anger, grief, defeat, and sadness toned with a hint of necessity, hope, and expectation that the journey to return home will be short.
Within minutes the call ends and the case manager gathers the child and any belongings they have to meet the rest of our family. As the car drives through the gate, children who have once been referred to as “the new girl” race out to see if it’s someone they might know. Brief introductions are made and the conversation turns to more practical matters such as “what room is she going in?” The once strained voice is now the face of a stranger who has placed all of her faith in the place she will call home for a while.
The girls come together as if they’ve lived in the home for generations to tell the stories of those who have come and gone. Within the hour, the “new girl” has made a temporary sisterhood with a place she once never knew. As we leave campus we look back to see the girls gathered in the gazebo swapping stories and getting to know one another.
Tomorrow is a new day. Once again, the ritual of reading e mails, clicking the screaming red paperclip, and having a conversation will begin all over again. The girls who will meet the car tomorrow will include “the new girl” of today. She will recite the rules of the home as if she too has lived there for generations. Our work is a gift. We never know who we will meet when we click the red paperclip. At the end of the day, the paperclip is someone’s child. It is a person who did not ask to be put in the situation they have been given. They may be angry, disrespectful, non-compliant or many other things when we meet. With love, care, support, and encouragement the “new girl” ritual becomes a part of the sisterhood story telling of the “those who have come and gone.”
In closing, I challenge you with this. Every time you see a “red paper clip” remind yourself that on any given day over 14,000 children in Georgia are waiting on someone to click on it. Get involved. Visit our website to see how you can help.