I’d been working with Jade for several months. She is a really smart girl, though she hasn’t been in school as much as most of her peers. Even in her dark moments, she is authentic, honest, and self-aware, always joking and laughing about her life — no matter how messy it is. Some of that messiness for Jade meant she’s lived a life of being moved from place to place. That’s why in our Survivor Care program in Connecticut, the motto is “we go where you go.” Often this means meeting together in foster homes, schools, or Chipotles — but sometimes we also find ourselves visiting youth in emergency shelters, hospitals, detention centers. Youth in these placements often feel alone and have few, if any people to visit them.
I’d been visiting Jade in one such setting for a week and a half. She’s a witty extrovert, so it was hard for her to be alone with nobody to joke with, no one to talk to. She called me most days just to talk. I came whenever I could, and I tried to smuggle in Reese’s Pieces. (It didn’t work, but Jade said it’s the thought that counts.) I had gotten a cold that weekend and couldn’t come visit her, so we had talked on the phone.
Jade recently came into the Love146’s Survivor Care program in Connecticut. This means we visit with her regularly and are there for her as an advocate, able to offer guidance from a trauma-informed perspective as she navigates a world beyond the one she’s leaving behind. My work at Love146 means I am there for her 24/7, to celebrate, get through the weeks that drag along, go along to doctors appointments and teacher conferences, help out in a crisis, or to just sit beside her when she needs to know there is an adult who cares. Too many kids don’t have that kind of steady presence in their lives. And if something goes really wrong, they bounce from service provider to service provider, maybe couch surfing at friends’ and relatives’ houses in between placements or when they run away. Our goal is to be a constant in the lives of youth like Jade, creating a relationship with an adult they can feel safe with, someone who never judges them, and can help them find a safe path forward.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that these young people can get under your skin and into your heart. Though I can’t tell you all the details of Jade’s story, the essence bears a sad similarity to many of the youth we work with — their lives don’t follow a neat, healthy narrative.
Very rarely is trafficking the first thing to go wrong in their lives. Very rarely do they have OK childhoods with few issues and then suddenly get trafficked. No. Being trafficked and exploited is usually the cherry on top of a huge pile of other trauma.
Taking youth home after they’ve been in a shelter, hospital, or detention center should be a happy occasion. But in this instance, not so much. With strong eyes and the hint of a frown, Jade began to share that the people raising her had said some really hurtful things. One of her deepest desires was just to feel at home somewhere, and ultimately, they made her feel like she was “more than they could handle.” It stung. Her typical coping mechanism of making it funny was nowhere to be found. She sat bravely with those horrible feelings of rejection.
I wanted to cry – but I took a deep breath and I said, “I am so, so sorry, Jade. You don’t deserve that. You know that just because they feel that way now doesn’t mean it will always be that way.” She nodded, silent, and stared out the window. That moment was profound. It was raw emotion — just silence. I felt so much sadness for this sweet girl and hoped she didn’t feel unwanted or unloved.
I hoped she knew how much I cared about her.
Ironically, one thing she wanted to make clear is that she cared about me: She changed the subject and asked, “Are you still feeling sick? I’ve been worried about you! I have tons of cough drops in my bag — here, take one.” I told her I was feeling a lot better. I took the cough drop, and told her when I saw her again in a few days I’d return the favor in Reese’s Pieces.
The author’s name has been withheld & some details have been changed for safety and confidentiality.