Neveah was 5 years old. Her life was chaotic and tumultuous. Her 25 year old mother was addicted to drugs. Her 26 year old father decided he was too young for fatherhood and left when she was born. Mom waittressed at a restaurant and “did hair” on the side. They moved from apartment to apartment because her mom couldn’t keep up the rent. She finally ended up sleeping on the sofa bed of a friend: another user. One morning, Neveah woke up next to her mother. But her mother never woke up. She had O.D.ed on heroin.
Before I go on, put yourself into that innocent child’s mindset.
All of her relatives: grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles lived in Texas. She could not be placed with them until they had been vetted through an ICPC homestudy that would take months to return. And frankly, at that point no relatives had even expressed an interest in getting the young child. So, Neveah entered the foster home of Bob and Betty Aberson.
A quiet little girl, Neveah was complacent and delightful. She made friends with the kids in the neighborhood and at school. She loved to help Mrs. Aberson set the table and always said Grace before meals. Yes, she was just a perfect little angel.
During the day.
At night, however, she transformed into something else. She would scream, cry, fight her foster parents when they tried to put her to bed. Often, this lasted well into midnight or beyond. Eventually, she would fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion. When she awoke the following day, she would not leave her bedroom until the foster mom came and got her. Then, her countenance changed and she emerged into the light of day as if nothing had happened the night before.
After 3 months, the Aberson called her social worker Kelsey and told her that they couldn’t keep Neveah any longer. They had tried but the other 3 foster children in the home were being affected by the night terrors and the chaos and were starting to act out as well.
Kelsey listened to the frustrations of the foster mother, allowing her to vent about the difficult situation. She knew not to judge the foster parent’s decision but to just listen and support them. But she also knew that a move would have disastrous results for Neveah. Kelsey had two visits already planned for the afternoon, so she asked the Abersons if she could drop by around 7pm. They agreed and Kelsey texted her husband that she would be home late. Again.
I want to point out that social workers are often juggling too many cases, dealing with mounds of paperwork and following up on other crises. Kelseys load was no different. She, too, had 22 other children that needed attention. And some social workers might have just arranged for Neveah to be picked up by a case aid and placed in another home. It was an easy solution to a very complex problem.
Or is it?
But instead, Kelsey went the extra mile. She chose the more difficult path.
The origin of the phrase “go the extra mile” actually came from the Sermon on the Mount. In that passage, the crowd was challenged to do better, be better, love better, advocate for peace etc. The passage in question is: if your brother compels you to carry his pack one mile; carry it two.
Hence the phrase: go the extra mile.
In a society that has become largely egocentric, there are still some that do what they must to help those who cannot help themselves. I read a sign once that said
Interested people do what they can…
Committed people do whatever it takes.
Fortunately, there are many committed people who, like Kelsey would Not be willing to allow a child to suffer another loss without going the extra mile. Kelsey decided to partner with the foster parent so that they could keep Neveah in their home.
In all things, not just social work. it would be simpler and more efficient to accomplish the checklist (the to-do list) and clock out. And for some businesses, that meticulous adherence to structure and routine has been essential for profitability and growth. But when dealing with human capital, the stakes are much higher. Human beings are messy. Human beings are complex. Try as you might, you can just not force them to fit into pre-conceived molds. It is far more challenging to work with individuals…individually.
Going the extra mile means going “outside the box and the checklist”. It means taking the time to get beneath the mask and discovering the true face of the issue. It takes time; it takes persistence; and it takes patience. But when you choose the simpler path (in the case of traumatized children) the outcomes may be far worse.
In the case of Nevesh, Kelsey knew the night terrors were related to the death of her mother and the shock of finding her. Neveah’s counselor had related the act of going to bed as a trigger for her “fight-flight-freeze” response. In a recent workshop on trauma, Kelsey learned of some physical ways the foster mother could help Neveah at night. She got permission to purchase a cocoon hammock and at the visit with the foster parent asked them to try mounting it in Neveah’s room. She explained to them that Neveah’s obvious trigger was the bed. She seemed to associate getting in the bed with her mother’s death. Kelsey asked them to try changing Neveah’s sleeping routine. She suggested that they allow Kelsey to start the night in the cocoon hammock. The swaddling nature of it would provide reassuring pressure to Neveah and perhaps diminish the anxiety while the novelty of sleeping in a hammock could counter the bed trigger. Once fully asleep, they could transfer her to the bed. The Abersons agreed to try it.
One week later, Ms. Aberson called Kelsey to let her know that Neveah’s nightly outbursts had diminished greatly, as they followed her suggestions. Ms. Aberson informed Kelsey that she started researching trauma in children and had added a lavender infuser and some sensory pillows to Neveah’s room. There were still some trying nights, but knowing the reason helped them to push through. She thanked Kelsey for not giving up on Neveah or on them.
In the above scenario, it was not just Kelsey who went the extra mile. The foster parents put in a lot of persistent, patient work with that child. Instead of giving up, they agreed to pick up the pack and walk one more mile.
Interestingly, as I prepared to blog this week . I witnessed this phenomena again.
Last night, I worked with a manager on an emergency situation. Another child who, through her own trauma and mental health found herself alone with no one willing to care for her. Over the course of 5 and a half hours, I witnessed a field worker, her supervisor and even the manager working together to help this older child. These staff members stayed at the office until almost 1am. All for one very distraught teenager, who had lost her way, burned all of her bridges, and had come face to face with that knowledge and realization. Three staff, not willing to give up on this child, did what it took to ensure that she had a safe place to stay, with people who would reassure her of her worth.
Some would say, what a waste of staff resources!
I said with profound gratitude and appreciation of their sacrifice… “Thank you all for going the extra mile”.