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  • When we moved to the Great North woods our four children were 5, 4, 3 and 1. When we bought the big shack of a house it didn't take long to realize that there was a load of renovation in our near future. But, how to do it with a one year old in tow? A number of ideas were discussed and we decided to hire a “mother's helper” for the summer. For some reason, now long forgotten, we decided to see if county social services office could put us in touch with a needy family who had a teenager who would do stay with us for the summer, do light housekeeping, babysit Geoffrey and keep the other three occupied. The salary was not that large but room and board plus the promise of a late summer camping trip wending our way up the Appalachians from Maryland through New York and Canada was dangled as a bonus for all of the hard work that was before us all. Instead of a teen from a poor home we ended up with a foster fifteen year old who had been living on a family farm south of town for a few years. Her name was Cheri and she was a Native American. We were delighted and so was she.

    Time flew by and our trip east was a big success. Cheri attracted a great deal of attention. Her slight accent, coloring and easy smile resulted in many encounters that were usually innocent but, in hindsight a bit racially tinged. White people would approach her and ask to feel her hair or touch her skin and she was always kind enough to agree. Since she usually had at least one of the four platinum haired kids in tow she definitely stood out.

    Once we got home we sat down to settle up our obligations. That is when Cheri announced to us that she was not going home – she was going to live with us. That was something that we hadn't really anticipated and we were really taken aback. We talked it over and decided that it was OK with us as long as it could be arranged. Her social worker readily agreed, and suddenly we found ourselves foster parents, a role for which we had no knowledge and were woefully unprepared. Now we had to deal with monthly social worker visits, school, allowances, friends and … boys!

    At first all was no different than during the summer but problems, mainly with school, being a normal developing teenager, and overt/covert racism, began to creep into everything that we encountered. Suddenly, and without warning, Cheri ran away. We were shocked and horrified. How could she be so selfish, so ungrateful? We responded like we were the ones who were the aggrieved. The police finally picked her up hitchhiking and brought her to the county jail. We were informed that she was at the jail and that we could visit her pending a court hearing on her case.

    When we got to the jail we were in for quite a shock. There were no facilities available for anyone under eighteen years and they had put her into a solitary confinement cell. It was deemed necessary to keep her away from the adult population. We had to talk with her through a hatch in the door; she had freaked out, acted up, and was considered violent. She was extremely depressed and obviously on something because her speech was slurred. We got nowhere with the police and had to wait over the weekend before seeing the social worker and going to court to get her released. By Monday she was a wreck and so were we.

    When we complained about the treatment that Cheri had received we were told that it was the same for anyone below eighteen, especially foster teens. The judge told us that, if we wanted to do something we could always apply to become a temporary foster home; any teens picked up by the police would be brought to us if we would take responsibility for them. Without fully realizing what we were in for we agreed, Cheri was released to us and so began a saga that would last for almost six years with a total of 17 teens. It was a challenging but highly rewarding experience that we shall never forget.

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