Jared thinks his pre-school teacher must have been the one who called Child Protective Services. She noticed that his ear was puffy from the blow it took.
“I remember hiding every time the government people came to the door. I think I thought it was like a game,” he said. Jared recalled how he and his brother would hide until the people at the door left. But one day, the government people came back and brought a detective with them. For Jared, his brother and baby sister, there was no hiding this time. This time, the closed door did not deter his rescue.
Jared remembers being scared, not wanting to leave his home. He desperately wanted to go back in the house for his Power Rangers. That’s when the detective gave him a stuffed “detective” bear. As a preschooler, Jared couldn’t articulate his relief or who was responsible for his rescue, but he tasted it and believed that it was wound up inside that detective and the stuffed bear. Now, nearly 20 years later, Jared recognizes that the detective was just one in a long line of rescuers.
It’s been years since Jared first shared his story with me. But I recently thought of him and his fragile beginning when I met John, a rescuer in a large city who also wears the badge “detective.” John embodies law enforcement: thick, cautious, stoic. When you investigate abuse and severe neglect, when your job description means you will inevitably come across the death of a child – see their lifeless body – the defenses must be thick.
John explained that while many cases are reported each year, there are also many more that are not detected, or are observed but go unreported. “It’s been my experience that a lot of people don’t understand this and they don’t want to become involved, or they just don’t feel like it’s their place,” he said. “Child abuse is very difficult for us to substantiate. For children who can communicate and are familiar with the system, they’re often too afraid to cooperate with law enforcement and [child welfare professionals]. They’re afraid of being removed from their family, afraid of leaving a setting that they feel keeps them secure.”
John’s words made me think of Jared again. For a moment, Jared’s source of security was a detective and a stuffed bear when it should have been his parents.
I recently caught up with Jared, now in his early twenties and living on his own. He has completed his associate degree in criminal justice, and is working full-time to save for the rest of his education. He’s dating a very level-headed girl and asking all the right questions about faith and his future. Jared is a picture of promise and maturity beyond his years. He wears the same wide smile that he wore when I first met him, and he carries the same tender heart in his slender frame.
But many of the children who have stories like Jared don’t necessarily turn out like him. In fact, Jared’s older brother is one of them. All too often, we witness the cyclical force of generational patterns that can bind families to one sad trajectory, but for the grace of God. While we need to continue to rescue children like Jared, we should also be asking how we rescue young parents.
What if Jared’s parents had rescuers early on? What if someone had faithfully gone into Jared’s home week after week, supporting his young parents and modeling good parenting and life skills? Perhaps the rescue attempt would have been less dramatic, but it might have resulted in a bigger rescue – more lives saved and less scarring.
This National Adoption Month, as we’re calling for more families to “rescue the weak and the needy” (Prov. 82:4), let's not overlook the families in our own neighborhood who, like Jared’s young parents, didn’t recognize their own need for rescue until a puffy ear brought someone to the door.
Renee Pettinger is a member of Shepherding the Next Generation, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C.
Publication date: November 19, 2012