For 14 year old Michael*, hanging out in his backyard during the school day was his way of protecting himself – and his family. But when he accumulated 72 absentee days, an in-home case manager from Turning Points for Children CUA 3 visited his home to find out why.
Unknown to his mother, Michael was spending time in the backyard to avoid bullies at school. When asked why he didn’t tell anyone that he was being bullied, Michael responded, “no one ever asked me.” Michael also justified this secret because he didn’t want his mom to worry.
He felt he was protecting her from any additional weight than what she was already carrying. Michael’s mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, hadn’t worked in over a year because of her declining health and was parenting four children.
She was recently denied social security benefits and was struggling to pay utility bills and real estate taxes she inherited when she took over the home of her deceased mother.
In so many cases, children who see their parents going through a tough time want to be there for them. They become mini parents themselves, school becomes less of a priority, and handling these new emotions is truly foreign.
Some kids worry about what their siblings are going to eat for dinner, they wonder what new situation is going to come up by the end of the day. They may not know how to prioritize their own emotions and feelings. Sometimes, though, a simple question, like “how was your day today?” can change that child’s entire path.
Many things happened that day the case worker showed up to Michael’s house and in the days that followed. But perhaps the most lasting change that took place was for Michael to recognize his own feelings, ask for help when he needed it and open a line of communication with his mother.
The case worker helped Michael find a mentor that worked with him on how to problem solve and then communicate his feelings – a skill that would translate to his ability to avoid conflict and the subsequent fighting that was taking place at school. His commitment to working with his mentor earned him a clean slate when his delinquency charges were dropped.
Beyond the resources that were provided to mom – which included application support for the PHMC Emergency Fund to assist with utility reconnecting fees; establishing an installment plan for her real estate taxes; and helping her reapply for her Social Security Disability benefits – the case worker helped mom build her confidence up again by challenging her to identify her strengths and empowering her to advocate on behalf of her family.
As more and more truancy cases arise, we are reminded that there is often a connection between the child’s absence in school and something going on at home. It is often a cry for help and if we connect them with the right resources, so much more can resolved.
We don’t have to let them slip through the cracks and we don’t have to put the blame on them or their parents. It’s when we dig a little deeper into the emotional story that is playing out at home that we see the real struggle, and the real love, these families have for one another.
* name has been changed