Sometimes the end of a story is just the beginning of another. Or rather, an ending that continues with twists and turns leaving the reader wondering and waiting for a final resolution for the protagonist. And so goes the life of Esther. The dark salvation that was given to her following her arrest left little comfort for either Esther or her concerned family members.
Esther’s foray through the juvenile justice system, social services and foster care programs was typical of other victims’ experiences. Well meaning state employees were either too busy to care about the intricacies of her case or too inexperienced to help much. Even Esther’s legal advocate for DSS was disengaged with the crimes that led to the state’s intervention. She was just another case that needed to be swept off of someone’s desk.
Soon after the investigation began into Esther’s story, her adoptive mother was arrested and charged with felony child abuse and released on bail. At long last it seemed like Esther could see an end to the nightmare she had been living for the past few years.
Esther was soon released from the jurisdiction of the court after a thorough investigation by law enforcement and social services. But rather than finding temporary housing for Esther in a nearby county she was shipped off to a city near the coast- an 8 hour round trip drive that Esther needed to take every other week if she wanted to attend a 1 hour visitation with her adoptive family. This presented a burden for Esther, who began attending school in a strange town and for the family members who made their own long-distance trek every couple of weeks to ensure that Esther could interact with loved ones.
When Esther’s concerned adoptive family members held law enforcement and caseworkers to task over her care, they often received excuses that seemed trivial to the situation.
- We don’t have the resources to follow up on that evidence.
- We tried to interview Esther’s mom but she didn’t answer the door.
- Esther’s grandmother has video evidence of the abuse but won’t give it to us, so there is nothing we can do.
- Esther’s case worker has never appeared before a judge before so she’s not prepared for this.
Eventually Esther’s adoptive family members accepted the true reason the state was dragging their feet on so many issues: Esther’s adoptive mother had been a guardian ad litem in the same county where the crimes took place and were now being investigated. The abuse allegations were a black eye on local and state employees, going all the way to the governor’s office. Nobody really wanted to become involved with a case that made so many teams look bad.
The next few months were monotonous and sterile. Meetings with Esther’s adoptive mother’s attorneys and state attorneys. Interviews with law enforcement. Signing of depositions. Esther’s concerned family members sitting in separate courtrooms attending hearings. Emotional closed-door conversations about how Esther’s adoptive mother was manipulating DSS and not complying with court requirements. Fighting among Esther’s adoptive family members over what crimes should have been reported years ago and why the people around her didn’t love her enough to report them.
This process through the system wasn’t different than that any other child would experience. The exception was who the child was and the nature of the abuse that took place. Esther was just a statistic- a notation on a stack of papers that were in urgent need of being filed.
The minutiae of Esther’s case is unimportant relative to its disposition. Esther’s adoptive mother plead guilty to misdemeanor child abuse, ensuring that she will never again be able to hold a position where she can hurt a child while in an official capacity. The felony child abuse charges would not hold after family members who observed the abuse refused to cooperate with DSS. After a grueling 1 ½ years, Esther’s case was closed and she began to settle into her foster mother’s mobile home, along with a number of other foster children who also lived there.
. . . . .
It has now been 3 years since the secrets of Esther’s abuse began to be exposed. Although a legal resolution has taken place, the emotional repercussions still resonate throughout her adoptive family. The members are split among three groups. Some defend their own behavior and motivation for abusing Esther. Some observed the abuse but never reported it, and now wish to move on and focus on more positive things. And some loved Esther, supported her throughout her legal ordeal and did everything they could to ensure that the state treated her as well or better than any child who needed the same protection.
The house where Esther was abused looks the same on the outside, but the inside is completely different. Esther’s adoptive mother and her siblings have moved to a quiet place in the country, far from the judgmental eyes of the community. The home is now inhabited by other relatives who have already forgotten about the evil that took place, and they refuse to speak of it as they spend their days working in the family owned educational products business. Doors that were missing have now been replaced so that the current residents can have the privacy they need and deserve.
Esther’s fresh start hasn’t gone nearly as well. She began running away from her foster mother soon after her case was disposed. Her most recent episode led to her being discovered in the company of “sex traffickers”, who she chooses to associate with more than her foster family.
Esther’s journey into adulthood started with a search for comfort in the arms of strangers who are willing to pay for her companionship. When her adoptive family are able to connect with her on occasion, they can only see glimpses of the sweet disposition and innocence that masked the pain she endured during her emotional and physical nightmare.
As the Christmas season begins to get busier with parties and family and merriment, remember Esther. She doesn’t have her own hashtag or supporters who fight for resolution and justice. But she does have hope that someday her story will be able to make a difference in the life of another child.