CHILD ADVOCATES of Northeast Oklahoma

At first, Debbie was extremely angry and hurt that her child had been taken from her and that she was suspected of hurting him. Debbie shared, “I had nothing to do with my son getting hurt. I was at work. I felt like I got punished for a really long time.” And, of course, Debbie couldn’t believe that David had anything to do with hurting Adam either.

However, David’s story of what actually happened unraveled. At first, he said that he was giving Adam a bath in the bathtub, and when he went to pick him up, Adam was wet and slippery. He said he dropped him and Adam hit his head on the bathtub.

Then he said that Adam was acting kind of funny, so David shook the baby a little bit to help him “snap out of it”. It wasn’t until a few days after Adam was discharged from the hospital that David’s mother, the paternal grandmother, convinced David to admit what he had done.

It was several years before Debbie learned that David had been using methamphetamine and had been coming down from a meth high at the time of Adam’s injury.  She had no idea that David was using drugs and David was not tested for drug use during their DHS case.

While Debbie didn’t see the warning signs of drug abuse, she later realized that there had been a number of indicators that she failed to recognize.  David was awake all the time.  It wasn’t just that he stayed up half the night, he would often stay up for 3 or 4 days with only 5- to 10-minute catnaps on the couch.

There were other signs, too.  David’s behavior changed.  He became very secretive did not want to be around their friends.  Also, David often got home from work only to turn around and leave for short periods of time.  Debbie was naïve and suspected that he might be cheating on her.  She never suspected drugs.

The baby spent two weeks in the pediatric ICU, almost a week on life support.  His life would never be the same again as he had incurred permanent brain damage.

When Adam finally was released from the hospital, he was placed with his maternal grandmother and grandfather as he was still in DHS custody.  Debbie was allowed supervised visits with her child.  Debbie shared, “I got to hold him for the first time right around Thanksgiving that year and got to change a yucky diaper, which was the most exciting thing ever.  You don’t realize that you take all those things for granted.”

At the time of Adam’s injury, Debbie and David had been together for a little over a year.  Once Debbie learned that David was suspected of hurting Adam, she immediately cut ties with him.  She shared that from that point on, her only focus was Adam.  By mid-December, Adam was returned to Debbie and she finally could take him home.  However, the outlook for Adam’s recovery was bleak.  Debbie was given the dire news that Adam probably would never be able to walk or talk.

Part II – The CASA Volunteer

The judge on the juvenile-deprived case assigned Sandra Rains to serve as the CASA volunteer for baby Adam throughout the court proceedings.

At the time the incident occurred, both parents were under suspicion for injuring Adam. The Department of Human Services (DHS) workers suspected Debbie of the crime since she was adamant about defending David, the child’s father. At first, DHS suspected that the parents were working together on their story about what happened to the child. However, David finally confessed what he had done. David had been using methamphetamine and was coming down from a meth high when he shook Adam.

Sandra said when she first met Debbie, she sensed that she was not the responsible party. What Sandra saw was an innocent young girl who had fallen in love with a man, had a child with him, and had entrusted him to care for their baby that fateful day.

Sandra soon learned from Debbie that there had been other smaller incidents in the home that had been attributed to mere accidents, like a bruise on the arm caused by something falling. Sandra explained, “I think Debbie didn’t want to believe the worst about this person that she loved and had a child with, so she was just believing what he was telling her, but it was ongoing…repetitive.”

So, when Adam was seriously injured in November that year, Debbie again believed that this, too, had been an accident. It wasn’t until David finally admitted what he had done that Debbie faced the truth. Debbie didn’t think anyone could or would hurt her child, especially his father.

Once David admitted to shaking Adam, Sandra saw Debbie become a “super” advocate for her son. Sandra stated, “Everything that we put before her for her to do, she did. She never questioned it. She jumped through hoops. She was working full-time, she was going to school, she had a lot on her plate, and she still managed to work through her plan.”

The primary mission of a CASA volunteer is to advocate for the child, so Sandra’s focus was to protect Adam from his father. She stated, “I didn’t want David around him period. So, in my reports, I was really underscoring that CASA does not think that any kind of interaction between the father and the child is good for the child.”

However, Debbie’s mother approached Sandra in court one day to ask Sandra not to stipulate in her reports that David could not see Adam. At first, Sandra did not understand why she would ever want her grandson near the man who had nearly killed him. When she explained that Debbie wanted David to see what he had done to Adam, Sandra began to see things from a different perspective. Debbie wanted him to see the 30-50 seizures that occurred each day and to fully experience all his baby was going through because of the severe injuries he had inflicted.

At that point, Sandra changed her report to allow visitation, but she remained determined that all visitation would be supervised. Sandra shared, “So then it became, for me, that I had to be at all of those visits. I had to be in that room and I had to protect that child. I had to see for myself, to make sure Adam was okay. I knew DHS was there supervising, but I had to be there, just for Adam.”

Sandra admits that she was a bit overwhelmed by the case. Sandra stated, “During visits with Adam, he would have seizures. To see a little 3-month-old baby just start seizing and you didn’t know if he is going to survive it. It was hard, it was really hard.”

While CASA training is wonderful and provides CASA volunteers with a solid basis for helping children who have been abused or neglected, Sandra didn’t feel prepared for all the questions that the family had about SBS and Adam’s future.

She explained, “I didn’t know what to recommend for this baby. I didn’t know what his future was going to be like. Really, nobody did. And I didn’t know how to help his mom and his grandmother through this, because they would ask me, ‘What are the statistics? What is your knowledge of children with these types of injuries? What does their future look like?’ And I couldn’t answer that for them.”

Through the assistance of DHS, Sandra attended a two-day DHS training on abusive head trauma and Shaken Baby Syndrome. She said, “I learned so much. I remember coming back from that and feeling a little bit better about what’s out there – the services, what to be looking for, and how to help this family and this child.”

Debbie is quick to say how blessed she was to have Sandra Rains as her CASA volunteer. Debbie says, “She is still one of my favorite people in this world. She has no idea how much she means to me and how much she helped me through this.”

This story began eight years ago. Today, Debbie and Adam still are dealing with the effects of his injuries, but readers will be amazed to see how far they have come.

Part III – The Story Today

Adam is the victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), but what does that mean? According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, more than 1,300 cases of SBS are reported in the United States each year. It is the leading cause of physical child abuse deaths, as approximately 25 percent of SBS victims die. And, if they do survive, 80 percent of the victims suffer lifelong disabilities.

At the time of his injury, Adam was classified as near death and was not expected to survive. Once he left the hospital, he was the victim of 30 to 50 seizures a day. Debbie shared, “As a mom that is very, very hard to sit there and watch your child have seizure after seizure and not be able to do anything for it.”

Debbie continued, “We went from being a family to nothing in literally a matter of minutes. I didn’t get to process everything because the first couple of years of Adam’s life, it was non-stop doctor appointments.” Today, Debbie and Adam see specialists every six months to a year.

At the time of Adam’s injury, this 20-year-old mother was dealing with the special needs of her baby on top of going to school full-time plus trying to work. She says, “I didn’t get the chance to process everything and I was very bitter. And that didn’t do anything besides hurt me. It hurt me because I was the one that had all this hate built up inside of me.”

Through the ensuing years, Debbie also has had to deal with the emotional trauma that she has experienced, not only with raising a severely injured child, but also the hurt of being a suspect in the case, and the guilt of leaving her child with someone who would harm him.

Many people would not be able to overcome this kind of trauma, but Debbie and Adam have. She attributes their success to two important factors. First, she credits the support they received from family and friends, Adam’s doctors and therapists, and Adam’s school friends. The other major factor was that no one ever gave up on Adam or Debbie.

Debbie shared about the first time they saw the neurologist to learn about the full extent of Adam’s brain damage. She stated, “I looked at him and I asked, ‘Is he still going to be able to play baseball one day?’ And his neurologist looked at me and smiled with tears in his eyes and said, ‘He can do anything that you want him to do.’” And that has become this mother’s mantra – to do anything Adam wants to do.

So, what is life like today for Debbie and Adam? Definitely, they have beaten the odds. Debbie finished school in 2014 and went into social work. She chose this profession because she wants to help other people like her and to work to protect children.
Today, Adam is a very active 8-year-old. Debbie shared, “We went through so much, as far as medical and being told that he would never walk or talk. He plays baseball; while he doesn’t run the fastest and he isn’t the best athlete, that kid gives it his all.”
She continued, “We’ve been very fortunate. His baseball coaches are very, very supportive of him. This year he hit almost every single time he got up to bat. He just has to find his way of doing it.”

While Adam is developmentally delayed, he’s socially advanced. Debbie put him into Head Start at an early age as she felt it would be in his best interest to be around other kids and to start learning at an early age.

Debbie stated, “He loves people; he really doesn’t meet a stranger. When you see him, you can’t help but fall in love with him. And I’m not just saying it because he’s my kid; I’ve had other people tell me, even when they don’t know his story. There’s just something about this kid that you just can’t help but love him.”

“As a mom, I wouldn’t trade him for anything in this world,” she continued. “There’s nothing about him that I would trade. If I could take away all the pain that he has been through, I would do that in a heartbeat. But at the same time, he wouldn’t be who he is.”
Debbie explains, “I’ve figured out that I can’t make him ‘a normal child’. He’s not a normal child and he’s not ever going to be a normal child, but he’s my normal and he is who he is and that’s our life and we go with it on a day-by-day basis.”

David, Adam’s father, was found guilty of child abuse by injury and sentenced to a term in prison. Debbie knows that David was under the influence of the demons of methamphetamine at the time of Adam’s injury. She stated, “People make horrible choices, and this is something he can never take back, but at the same time, I know the good that was in him.”

“I haven’t fully forgiven him, she continued, “and I don’t know that I ever will fully forgive him, but it’s coming in bits and pieces.”

A lot of support and healing have occurred over the last eight years, but the journey continues. While Adam will deal for the rest of his life with the damage caused to him by a father on drugs, he is a happy young boy who is surrounded by a lot of love. The love he receives from his mother, family, and friends continues to help him grow and flourish as he accomplishes more than anyone ever believed could be possible.

Debbie shared, “This is just our life and it has been since Adam was 3 months old. We struggle with things daily, but Adam overcomes them when he figures out his way of doing it.”

Sandra, his CASA volunteer, will tell you that Debbie and Adam have beaten the odds. She states, “I think one of the biggest attributes that we don’t see in a lot of other cases is the support system that Debbie has. She had a huge support system in her family as well as very supportive friends. If Debbie hadn’t had that, I don’t know if things would have turned out the way they have.”

“In the true sense of the word, Adam is a miracle,” Sandra continued. “Every little milestone that he achieves beats the odds.”

There are many children, like Adam, who are crying out to have someone help them by being their “voice” while in the judicial system.  Read more about how YOU can become a CASA volunteer and make a real difference in the life of an abused and neglected child.  (LINK)