Skip Navigation
Clemente Writings

Going Through the System

At the age of nine, the state removed me from my mom. That caused me to make unhealthy decisions, leading to a life addicted to drugs and mental illness. Having the system become involved in my life wasn’t caused by something I did but by something that was done to me. The system failed me. Everyone is not meant to work for social services and because of this, the system needs to find the people that work toward the right treatment: One that responds to each child’s story and humanizes those labeled as “troubled” to offer support and care.

I was called a problem child, defiant, and didn’t want to listen. I didn’t want to follow the rules of the house set by my mother, so she called the Department of Social Services and told them that I was running away. She actually had kicked me out.

The problem is they never listened to me. The truth was my environment was unhealthy. Chaos from drinking and abuse, fighting as well, but what was worse was I was being sexually abused and when I told my mother, she told me to leave. So I left. I’d never live with my mother again. My mom reported me as a runaway and when the police finally located me, I told them and the state that I was kicked out because I was being sexually abused. See, if someone in the system would have listened to me, I could have received the right treatment that I needed, but instead they failed me.

I was treated as a troubled child, when I was actually a victim. Maybe I would have made different decisions. I would have had a chance of stopping the cycle of alcohol, drugs and abuse. Instead, I started developing behavioral issues including running away, skipping school, stealing, doing drugs, drinking, and doing whatever I wanted. Because of that, I started developing more mental health issues. I was filled with anger, and rage, and then depression kicked in. I began getting in trouble with the law. I felt betrayed by the person that birthed me because she was nowhere around. I was lost in the system, not knowing what it was like to have a mother who could care for me.At the age of twelve, the Department of Youth Services, which was for children who break the law, would enter my life. I would end up in detention centers and programs. At fourteen, I ended up in secure treatment and I’d be there until I was eighteen. I ended up really landing myself in a situation that took my freedom away and I became rebellious.  

There needs to be more treatment for trauma and related challenges. Survivors of child abuse, rape, physical, mental, verbal abuse—anything that’s doesn’t sit with an individual needs to be heard when spoken. But I was treated wrong as if I committed a crime when in reality I was a victim. 

There has to be another way of screening individuals allowed to work with our children. Maybe more in depth of background check, questions as to what, why, and how becoming a team member would help children? I do believe that since my childhood there has been some changes but still, according to Childrensright.org, on any given day there are 3.5 million children in foster care. Annually an estimated 1,700 children die in foster care, about four of our children a day, who are pulled from unsafe situations and will never make it back out of the system. According to americanspcc.org, 80% of those that were in the system will end up in jail.

People like me already go into the system with trust issues, feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, anger, and rage. In my case, I ran to the streets and really messed up my life. My feelings and emotions came on so strong so I learned how to numb them. I was so gone in the street, as to the lengths of things I’d to do to get drugs and alcohol. I’d engaged in a lot of illegal activity. Even though I knew I deserved and wanted better, it was too late. I didn’t trust any authority; I was already lost in the streets. Now I know all the ins and outs of hustling. Drugs became a way of life. Active addiction, mental health, and physical pain were all detrimental to me.

I’m forty-two now, I have seven kids, and I’ve had the system involved with each child. Again, with two of my children, the system failed them. Like me, they went through abuse that was supported by professionals. Doctors and sexual abuse therapist confirmed this. Charges were being brought against the system. Coincidentally, four of my children were placed up for adoption when this happened. Two of those children happened to be the ones that were being abused by caretakers. That was another situation where the system has failed. I was in a position where I couldn’t do anything about the situation.       

I’ve met so many different social workers. Some cared, some were using their authority badly, some treated us as just numbers. Others put time into helping us. Regardless, I ended up lost in the system and it would stay that way throughout my life. Like so many of us that have been through the system, I develop the paper trail. Documents about all the places I’ve been. Court dates where I had to appear, the charges I accumulated, the programs and detention centers, which would turn into arrest and jail, and prison. If you read all of this, you would think the worst of me. But that really wasn’t who I was, that’s what the system had made me out to be.

Today, I have a social worker who has her heart in her job. She has taught me things, supported me, encouraged me and praised me. These are the things that I should have received as a child. Not pain, no betrayal, rage, and loneliness. If so, I would probably be in a better place now. I wish all social workers, foster parents, and therapists would be better trained and have their heart in the work of dealing with children. . I never know what my life could have turned out like if I was treated properly in the system. But as of today, I am grateful for the worker that I have. She has helped me overcome situations and for that, I am grateful. She has worked on getting my last child home with me, and her goal being adoption. She’s seen the work that was being done to give my child the life she deserves. I finally found a team of people that have their heart into me and help me help myself. I’m coming up on four years of being sober and my life today is so much better. My mental health is being treated, my drug addiction is being treated. Life is good because I actually have support from people today.


We, Too, Are America is made possible through “Democracy and the Informed Citizen,” an initiative administered by the Federation of State Humanities Council through a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Stay in touch with Mass Humanities

Sign up for our Newsletter