The house that built Jack

20:43, May 07 2012
Pat Booth
Pat Booth writes a weekly column for Suburban Newspapers.

It began with a policeman at the door.

A caregiver tells her story – and Jack's:

"Fifteen years ago I felt a strong urge to become a caregiver for CYF. I'm not sure why – other than even back then our children were being abused and murdered.

"I couldn't sit by and just carry this huge grief and guilt on my shoulders and not front up to help these innocent victims.

"At the time I was certainly busy enough myself. I had three children between two and 14, I was working and studying part-time. But I knew that I had to do something.

"We hadn't been caregiving for very long when, one winter night, there was a knock on our front door.


"I was surprised to see a police officer standing there – having the police visit our home late at night was not something we were used to.

"Behind him I could just make out the shadow of a youngster of about 14.

"The policeman asked if this boy lived with me? And over the officer's shoulders I could see a very frightened young man looking at me pleading with his eyes for me to say `yes'.

"My instinct was that something was terribly wrong.

"I recognised the boy from having seen him around the local streets and outside a neighbouring college from time to time.

"I told the officer that I did know the boy and yes he was staying with me. The police officer seemed happy enough with this and so left him in my care.

"When Jack – not his real name – came inside he was very scruffy, not dressed warmly for the time of the year, dirty and looked half-starved. I asked him what was up and why he'd told the police he lived with me.

"He told me the story of a single father who spent half of his life drinking and doing drugs and the other half on the computer, of living in a home where he was continually verbally and physically abused.

"Neglected, no food in the house, no clean clothes, just day after day of intolerable neglect and abuse. He was so sad and ashamed of this.

"He spoke of having no security or safety, of being left to do as he pleased, no guidance on life, caring for himself when he should be at school.

"But most of all, no love, no one who gave a damn.

"He was so hungry. I looked in the fridge and the first thing I saw was a big bowl of jelly, fruit salad and icecream. Overjoyed, he sat down and ate like there was no tomorrow.

"That bowl of jelly and icecream was to become very special. Years later he told me it was as if I'd given him the world of love in a bowl.

"Now it's a story I often tell at workshops with other foster parents. It sums up so precisely how these children don't want the world – they just want what many of us would take as being something everyday and insignificant.

"It showed how we can make a difference to these children through the smallest acts of love and kindness.

"Jack stayed with us for nearly a year. He was – and is – a delightful young man. At the time he was under the CYF radar but not actually listed with them.

"I told his father that Jack would like to stay with us for a while and his father didn't care. But he was adamant that he would keep his child support benefit he was getting for him. I was emphatic that wouldn't happen because Jack was entitled to that money for his well-being and care. CYF agreed and put things in place to help me make sure Jack got the money he was entitled to.

"I spent time with his school explaining what had happened. They seemed very relieved. They'd been having so many problems with Jack`s attendance and physical hygiene issues which had become a real problem.

"Jack flourished with us. He loved being part of a family, although he never would eat potato unless in chips.

"He'd also do all the other things teenagers are famous for – like sneaking out on to an upstairs roof for a smoke and telling the younger children they must never tell. I would have been furious then but now it's a story to laugh about. During his stay we also began caring for a wee girl of nine months, a little angel who had been left to spend seven months in a cot, had to learn to hold her own bottle to feed herself or starve and had no developmental skills. She could barely hold her head up and was still like a newborn baby. Jack loved her too.

"After a year we decided to leave the area we were living in. Things were not good and more and more we could see the difficulties of raising a young family in a town with so many social problems.

"Jack, by then coming up to 16, didn't want to follow us. He had another lovely family who were friends of ours and they took him under their wing so he could stay in the town where he had many friends. That family continued with him and still do.

"Jack is 26 now. He's been in a stable relationship with a lovely young lady for five years. He owns his own home and has worked in the same job for 10 years. His commitment and work ethic have been recognised and he's been promoted several times.

"He's a lovely and a well-adjusted member of the community. Jack told me that he will never forget how it felt to realise there were differences in the way people live, that families did care, that they shared a meal at night and sat around a table, laughing and talking about their day.

"That you showered regularly, learnt how to eat healthy food, took pride in yourself and your achievements. And that you knew how it felt for someone to say `goodnight, I love you ... .'

"He knew that was how he wanted his and his family's life to be. He says that one day – when he has enough money – he'll go back to our old home and buy it, that it holds for him the point in his life when somebody gave a damn about him and showed him what it is to love and be loved.

"Thank you, Jack, for also showing us exactly why we, and all of New Zealand, should make what he represented that night on our doorstep our problem and reach out. Love you always.

"PS: That old saying is right: It takes a village to raise a child. We all need to be there for these children in our community.

"We can't sit in our cosy homes and tut tut and complain about this child abuse and neglect if we're not going to show them that we have had enough.

"By taking an interest. By speaking out. And by opening our homes and our hearts to these children."

Western Leader