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Raymond is a 12 year old kid who used to live in our neighborhood. He's 12 going on 28. Since I've known him, he's always spoken in a very matter-of-fact tone. He's also somewhat of a pessimist. He's been shuffled around from mother to father to mother to grandmother since he was 5 yrs old. That's enough shuffling to convince anyone that they may be a burden. His parents were divorced and died tragically, at different times and in different circumstances. He and his two older sisters then went to live with their grandmother. This was the situation when we first met Raymond.

From what I could gather, the grandmother was used to living free and unfettered and felt the kids cramped her lifestyle, so she really wasn't thrilled about being stuck with them and I'm pretty sure she let them know that. One day Raymond and one of his sisters got into it and Raymond beamed her over the head with one of those metal c-shaped bike locks. The police were called and the kids were taken away and all farmed out into foster homes. After more than a year, Raymond ran away and showed up at my house 2 weeks ago.

He wouldn't give me his foster parent's phone number but he agreed to let me contact his case worker. I eventually left her 3 messages on her voice mail and one on her supervisor's voice mail. When nobody called me back by Friday, I called the local (small town) police department and gave them the rundown. The guy on the other end took his name and said they didn't have him on any list. He said he could send a patrol car over to pick Raymond up but when I offered to keep him and continue trying to reach the case worker, the guy seemed relieved and agreed.

All of us, the parents of Raymond's neighborhood friends, were mildly outraged that nobody seemed to know or care that this kid was missing. It was almost like I had a lost dog on my hands. Well, he spent Friday night and Saturday celebrating a birthday with the other boys. None of us were concerned too much, especially after I had notified the local police department of his whereabouts.

Finally, Saturday afternoon, the kids all went to another friend's house to make evening plans to go to a church sponsored activity. I was getting ready to go out when the birthday mom called and said the case worker showed up at her door with guns a-blazing. The case worker demanded to know where Raymond was and that we could get in trouble for harboring a runaway and flat out called the one mom a liar when she told her what all I had done to reach someone about Raymond.

I got over there and the case worker was out in the street talking agitatedly on her cell phone. I calmly waited for her to get off the phone while the mom told me that the case worker threatened to put us in front of a judge. So I decided to hop in my truck and go pick Raymond up instead of waiting for this woman to give me her attention. Here's this kid who had just spent 4 days with old friends, who had finally let down his guard enough to express an interest in learning to ride a skateboard, and have fun like any other kid his age. When I picked him up and told him his case worker had come, his whole body sort of collapsed. I told him to buck up a little, not to lose hope and that I'd ask the caseworker about the possibility of him coming to live with us. It didn't help much, though.

By the time I got back the case worker had completely changed her attitude.

Turns out the case worker 1) was on vacation and never thought to check her voice mail, 2) verified that her supervisor hadn't checked her voice mail all week, and 3) verified that the local police had no record of Raymond as a runaway. She barely managed to get out an apology. I told the case worker I did what I thought was right, not expecting that I'd never get a call back. I told her I wasn't comfortable having Raymond hauled off in a police car in front of the kids. Then we asked if there was a chance that Raymond could be placed with me or would there be months of processing to go through. She said that Raymond needed therapy and he had been placed in a foster home where the parents where licensed counselors.

The case worker also said Raymond has a problem with following rules and he didn't like having a privilege taken away as punishment. So I turned to Raymond and said, "You know, none of us much like having to follow rules but most are in place for good reasons." Then I said, "It's all about working within the system." And I winked at him because we had a conversation about that earlier. I told him the best way to get what he wanted was to do what he is asked as quickly and completely as possible, each and every time. If he wanted to work towards a better family situation, he needed to show those in control that he could handle anything they threw at him.

Can you imagine life with a couple of psychology majors bent on making you work out your troubles in order to see the error of your ways? His foster family has 2 adopted kids and Raymond was 1 of 3 foster kids. This is their vocation in life. These people know their stuff, I'm sure, but Raymond is there because it is their job, not because they WANT him because of who he is. He's very smart and has probably decided he is nothing more than their work assignment.

I see Raymond as a kid of unfortunate circumstances who needs a regular home like the rest of his friends. I told the case worker that I knew all about Raymond's history and agreed he did need some therapy. But I also felt that if Raymond were placed with people who already knew and liked him, who actually wanted him and already had a bond with him, he would be much more likely to settle in and just be a boy.

So she said she'd look into the particulars and if things worked out, then she might be able to place Raymond with me in a week. Raymond gave me and the other mom a hug. He shook hands with one of the boys who had watched this whole thing unfold and was crying just a little. We waved goodbye as they drove away, a downcast little face in the window, not even looking back.

Last night the case worker came to my home to interview me and do an inspection. All indications look very good. I came away with a different impression of her in that she expressed an honest concern for Raymond and his future. She mentioned the possibility of someone having permanent guardianship for him, rather than keeping him in the foster care system. I'm really not adverse to the possibility of taking on that responsibility. We'll see how it goes.

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