little boy lost

It was the first and last time I'd ever had the feeling that this child didn't belong to the woman who was claiming to be his mother. It was 1999, Prince was partying and I was holed up in a large street shelter. And something wasn't right.

Mikey and his mother moved in after claiming to have moved here from Florida. They had no friends or family in the area but the mom said she lived here in the past and wanted to come back home. From the beginning things seemed off - the parent child relationship seemes almost in reverse - Mikey was an incredibly bright six year old, far too old for his years. He spoke almost scripted about his love for his mother and his happiness in general. Mom's behavior was very odd, no photographs were allowed, the child was not allowed to speak with us unless she was there. Other residents started to report other weirdnesses, patterns of questionable interactions and behaviors that further raised suspicions on our part and far too uncomfortable to recollect here. The local school also contacted us - Mikey's mother would stand outside the fence of his school all day and during recess would silently watch him. They also indicated they were unable to get his records from Florida and asked us to assist. She would have preferred to keep him out of school entirely and dragged her feet in getting him enrolled and getting him to school.

We'd found similar issues during our intake process. A birth certificate that did not bear the name she called her son, and a last name different from hers. Things weren't adding up and to be honest, this level of digging wasn't the norm but something simply wasn't right.

After much discussion and a number of weeks his mother provided the Florida information along with a release and I made a few inquiries. It turned out that the school there had suspicions similar to ours in conjunction with a lack of previous records. Once they'd alerted the authorities she'd disappeared and they warned me of the same. I called DSS in Florida who also expressed concerns but lost track of him once a monitoring had occurred. But I learned along the way that she gave up public housing, the equivalent of a gold ticket to Wonka's place in the process. Abandoning a housing voucher is unheard of in my world, another red flag rising.

I then did something I'd never done before or since. I started searching the national databases of missing and exploited children looking for a match. While searching we were conferring with child advocates and other experts in the field. All the while it began to feel dirtier and dirtier, unfair of us to be feeling this way but our concerns for the child were stronger than anything else. And we didn't want her to run again until we'd figured out what to do.

Child Services received various reports and I tried to fill them in on the larger concern and our fear that if they came she'd disappear. They were concerned and agreed but then showed up and met with the mom and the son and said they'd be back the next day as further investigation was required.

In the morning they were both gone. Their room was trashed and they had disappeared. It was a horrifying time because while we had our assumptions no one was guilty. We contacted the police and child services again and while everyone agreed something wasn't right suspicions aren't enough for legal intervention and besides, we'd lost him now. It was too late.

Three years later I am walking through the adult shelter and I see her, battered and older with hair dyed a different color. I approached her and asked about Mikey and she claimed not to know what I was talking about and wouldn't acknowledge she had ever met me before. She didn't have any I.D. this time around and was simply a single homeless woman in need of shelter. We made inquiries to the police but there was little follow up. But there was no denying that it was her.

This was a difficult post to write. Part of me feels I had no right to pursue things as I did and the other feels I didn't do nearly enough. Intuition is not a reliable strategy in all circumstances but sometimes it's all you've got. Those of us on the ground make mistakes and are dealt a difficult hand all the time and there aren't always good or right decisions in times like this. And I will never know what happened to Mikey, whether he's okay or not, thriving or not. I just know that the woman who claimed to be his mother all those years ago claimed to have no idea who he was.