Playing the Role of “Child”

June 6, 2017

When her mother was picked up on prostitution and possession charges, 11-year-old Danni* was living with her in a bare single-bedroom apartment. The only food in the home was some Pop-Tarts Danni had tucked away (just in case) from the last visit to grandma and grandpa’s house. Danni’s ill-fitting clothes all reeked of cat urine. Six months earlier though, Danni and her mom were homeless and living on the streets, and before that, on some stranger’s couch.

In spite of the fact that she was a bright girl who enjoyed school, Danni’s grades were poor. She often missed school because they didn’t own an alarm clock or because mom was “sick” and Danni would stay home to take care of her.

Danni’s mom had a long history of mental health issues, mainly depression. She felt good when she used heroin and cocaine, she felt embarrassed and disappointed when she was sober. She wanted to be able to take care of Danni and to stop stealing from her family to make ends meet, which is why she turned to prostitution. It supported her habit, enabled her to provide for her daughter, and sometimes afforded the two of them a roof.

When Danni’s mother went to jail, Danni went to live with grandma and grandpa, who had cared for Danni in the past during her mom’s stints at rehab facilities. They knew their daughter (Danni’s mother) struggled with addiction, but they were surprised to learn about the homelessness and prostitution and more than happy to provide a safe, stable home for Danni. While Danni was happy to be staying with her grandparents, she worried about her mom. Her biggest fear was the very real possibility that her mom may die without Danni there to protect her and care for her, a burden no child should shoulder.

KidsVoice arranged transportation for Danni to and from the school she had been attending, to maintain some comfort from the familiarity of the teachers and her friends.  When it was clear that mom was making no progress toward the sobriety and stability requirements KidsVoice set for her to achieve before Danni could return home, rather than continuing to keep Danni in limbo while she waited indefinitely for her mom’s full recovery, KidsVoice requested that Danni receive a permanent placement.

Because KidsVoice knew the bond that Danni had with her mother, KidsVoice knew that legally separating the two of them would create unnecessary emotional turmoil for the entire family, especially Danni. Instead, KidsVoice asked that Danni’s grandparents be granted Permanent Legal Custody to keep this family as intact as was safe for Danni. With this change, Danni is able to continue to live with her grandparents without adjusting her relationship to her mother, who visits on a weekly basis. Even though her mother is unable to provide Danni with the security and permanence necessary to be her primary caregiver, the two can still continue to be a part of one another’s life while Danni’s daily physical needs are met by remaining in her grandparents’ care.

At school, Danni has created a “skit club” with friends. They create and perform plays, all in practice for the breakout role that will make Danni a movie star, her dream job. She’s a happy, healthy girl who is finally receiving the stability and support she needs to focus on school and to enjoy being a kid. Her grades have improved along with her attendance and she’s looking forward to middle school next year. Most importantly, Danni is being taken care of, rather than playing the role of the caretaker.


*This child’s name has been changed to protect their identity and maintain client confidentiality. KidsVoice does not disclose the names of its clients.