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Tucson, Arizona : A Borrowed Home, Inside Child Protective Services...
A Borrowed Home
Inside Child Protective Services
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 06.01.2007
Story by Ruwaida Alansary
My name is Ruwaida Alansary, but people call me Roxy. I was born in
Saudi Arabia in 1988 and my parents divorced in 1995. My father
remarried in 1996 and moved my stepmother and me to the United States in
January 2001 in search of education and a chance at a relationship with
our ailing grandmother. Even though my mother battled for custody of us,
the lack of civil rights in Saudi Arabia for women eventually won; she
moved back to Egypt to be with her family, and I found myself enrolled
in a seventh-grade class in Tucson.
At the beginning of ninth grade, in August 2003, I was separated from
family once again. Amid allegations of abuse, the Arizona Department of
Economic Security's Child Protective Services took me into its custody
and I moved into the first of seven locations I would come to call
"home" over the next three years. When the state took me into its
custody, I thought it was to work things out. Instead, I found myself
living with drug addicts, gang members and juvenile sex offenders.
* * *
In a swamped courtroom at the Pima County Juvenile Court Center, CPS
hearings can take as little as a half-hour.
After I was taken away, my father was left to navigate the labyrinth of
courtrooms, lawyers and caseworkers. I, on the other hand, found myself
in the hands of complete strangers. My first placement was with a
conservative Christian foster family.
I remember one of my first nights at that foster home. I was so hungry —
the last thing I had eaten that day was a bowl of instant oatmeal for
breakfast. The family and I were all waiting at the dinner table for L,
my foster mother, to join us. We were having pork chops and mashed
potatoes. But I was raised not to eat pork, as it's against the Muslim
religion. Determined not to make a fuss, I grabbed a fork, dove into the
potatoes and filled my plate. As the foster family began feasting, L sat
"Hey Roxy, can you take off your scarf while we're at the dinner table?"
I touched the black cotton hijab I was wearing that day. The room was
silent, awkward. Everything turned red and all I could hear was my heart
beating faster and faster until finally I got up and left the dinner
table, avoiding showing anyone the anger and embarrassment on my face.
As a devout Muslim, I had worn a scarf nearly every day of my life since
I was a little girl. For me, the scarf was a constant reminder of my
religion, the one constant in my life that was keeping me strong. Being
asked to take it off was like a slap in the face.
After that night, L's racism only snowballed: snide comments, avoidance,
blame. I felt like she took advantage of my need to please: I wanted to
be comfortable, I wanted to help around the house. But she never trusted
me. Even though I told my caseworker I was uncomfortable, and I knew CPS
was looking for a new placement for me, I was still impatient. I began
to think about escape.
A few weeks after the dinner-table incident, I stuffed as many clothes
as I could into two duffel bags and ran away from L's house. I spent the
day roaming around Downtown, exhausted and hungry. At sunset, I stopped
at the snake bridge near Broadway and Euclid. The cold air blew and the
sky was purple and the mountains were huge. It was all so beautiful. The
view made me want to live forever. For the first time in years, I felt free.
When I woke up the next day, it was cold outside and I was shivering. I
covered myself up in my blanket and walked to the Islamic Center of
Tucson near the University of Arizona, where I knew I could find warmth
without discrimination. When I got there I felt an immediate sense of
closeness with these strangers. They fed me rice and lamb and they
listened to me. They treated me with respect. I didn't tell them I was
on the run.
* * *
My second placement, in the fall of 2003, was in a group home. I lived
with 10 girls who struggled with severe emotional disturbances and other
disorders. While we all needed and wanted the attention of a parent,
only two staff members were on duty at a time. I know they wanted to
help, but they were often distracted by the daily logistics of keeping a
household running. As a result, we were frequently left to fend for
ourselves. In the nearly two years I lived in that group home more than
140 girls came through. Many of them ran away when they saw how they
were going to live and some of the people they were going to live with.
Some days, I came home after school to change for my job as a fastfood
cashier only to find the front door locked: staff members were
frequently off site running errands, like going to the grocery store and
taking kids to doctor appointments. I'd have to wait outside until a
staff member returned to unlock the door. One staff member used to sit
outside and talk on the phone for hours at a time. The girls would use
her long conversations as an opportunity to get stoned and sneak boys in
through the back window. That group home was the first place I ever saw
cocaine and crystal meth. In fact, I saw more drugs inside that group
home than I ever have in my outside daily life.
On good days, I remember coming home from work and spending hours
chatting with the group home staff about my day. Sometimes the staff
actually knew what to say to make me feel better, but many times I felt
I was surrounded by a bunch of strangers who didn't seem to have much
interest in what I was going through.
I kept myself as busy as I possibly could with school, work and
extracurricular activities like JROTC and swimming. I worked 35 hours a
week and went to school seven hours a day. Sometimes, I kept myself so
busy with work that I wouldn't get home until 1 or 2 in the morning. I
was only 14.
On those late nights, if I got lucky, someone would have left dinner for
me in the fridge. But often, there was nothing to eat but ramen noodles.
I'd grab a package and heat it up in the microwave. Sometimes I'd even
add cheese to it! The staff never told me how unhealthy that was and as
the days passed in the group home, I gained a lot of weight. I was
I remember getting ready for school one day when one of my housemates
asked me if she could do her makeup while I took a shower. I didn't see
any problem with this, but our shower door was clear, so I hung a towel
up so she couldn't see me. But after a few minutes, I noticed her
staring at me. A couple of weeks later, I was cleaning out the group
home van when I found her chart. She was a registered juvenile sex offender.
* * *
According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, the goal of
Child Protective Services is to "help families by strengthening the
ability of parents, guardians or custodians to provide good child care.
Its primary objective is to keep children safely within their own
families." Even though I know the state's care was well-intentioned, I
often wished I was never involved with Child Protective Services, that I
had just been allowed to stay in my dad's home.
* * *
By 16 I was begging my caseworkers to allow me to return to my dad's
house. But unfortunately, I had entered a system that didn't let go
easily. Each time I asked to go "on pass" (to get my caseworker's
approval to spend the night at a friend's or even just go to a movie),
the request took weeks to be approved. It was like living with a parent
who was only available from 9 to 5.
After obeying group home policies for two years without defying a single
rule, the institutionalized lifestyle got to me. I was sick of asking
permission about every aspect of my day: from what I could eat to when I
could watch TV. I ran away for the second time. My gut told me I'd be OK
— I knew things would get better. For two months I lived with whoever I
could, worked and paid rent. But ultimately, I wasn't happy.
My caseworker found out where I was working by running my Social
Security number and sent the Tucson Police Department to my employer.
The first time TPD showed up on my shift at the Lucky Wishbone, I was on
my lunch break. The cop approached me and asked me if my name was Roxy
Alansary. I was tempted to lie. Even though I didn't, I was arrested for
being a runaway and was handcuffed in front of my co-workers. It was
humiliating, until the staff began singing "Bad Boys" from the TV show
"Cops." We all started laughing and even the cop cracked a smile.
That wasn't the only time they sang that song to me, though. After I got
arrested the first time, my caseworker placed me in a shelter. I ran
away again. Then she placed me again. And I left again. Over the next
year, I ran away at least 10 times, sometimes from the same place more
During this period, I missed a year of school. I hated myself for this,
but if I were to attend school while on the run, I knew caseworkers or
cops would be waiting in the hallway to take me away and place me under
their care yet again. If I had gone to school, the cycle of running away
wouldn't end for me until I finally hit the legal age of 18.
In November of 2005 I managed to lease my own house with the help of a
friend. A couple of months after I moved in, I received a phone call
informing me that CPS had held a court hearing involving my case — and
that I was dismissed back into my father's care. My father did not
attend the hearing. When I called him to confirm the news, he was
completely unaware that he had just won his daughter back.
* * *
I'm now 18, still living on my own, and finishing up high school. I wish
I could say none of this happened to me, but I can't change the past and
I accept that my past forces me to make better decisions in my life
today; what happened to me is only a fraction of my life. I like to
pretend I can play the guitar. I spend a lot of my free time writing and
I have a supportive group of friends who love and respect me. I host an
improv sketch comedy show on Access Tucson that keeps me thinking
creatively. I talk to my dad from time to time.
But I no longer wear my hijab.
For the three years I was involved with CPS, I was always running:
running to find an ideal home, running to find an ideal family
environment. But all that running and finding were really just ways to
escape the one institution, the one social service that was supposed to
Beyond all the drugs and the creepy roommates, I know that CPS put a lot
of effort into my case: they pushed me to pursue an education, they
found private therapists who could deal with my case. But CPS workers
are overworked and underpaid. The result is that children in the care of
CPS don't receive sufficient emotional support — they don't have enough
one-on-one time with responsible, caring adults.
If the state of Arizona doesn't invest more money and effort into the
child welfare system, kids will continue to be treated as cases rather
than individuals. I don't expect the government to provide every child
put in its care a perfect life. But the reality of growing up in
Arizona's foster care system is so ugly that many people — legislators,
taxpayers and maybe even CPS — are simply overwhelmed by the problems.
Every child deserves to be wanted and loved, but CPS needs more time and
money in order to improve the quality of their care. Adolescence and
childhood should be enjoyable and carefree, not a living nightmare.
Meanwhile, for children in the custody of CPS, the day they return to a
safe family environment seems so far away. These kids strive to find
structure, support and a measure of peace. This is my story.
CURRENTLY CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES VIOLATES MORE CIVIL RIGHTS ON A
DAILY BASIS THEN ALL OTHER AGENCIES COMBINED INCLUDING THE NATIONAL
SECURITY AGENCY/CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY WIRETAPPING PROGRAM....
CPS Does not protect children...
It is sickening how many children are subject to abuse, neglect and even
killed at the hands of Child Protective Services.
every parent should read this .pdf from
connecticut dcf watch...
Number of Cases per 100,000 children in the US
These numbers come from The National Center on
Child Abuse and Neglect in Washington. (NCCAN)
Recent numbers have increased significantly for CPS
*Perpetrators of Maltreatment*
Physical Abuse CPS 160, Parents 59
Sexual Abuse CPS 112, Parents 13
Neglect CPS 410, Parents 241
Medical Neglect CPS 14 Parents 12
Fatalities CPS 6.4, Parents 1.5
Imagine that, 6.4 children die at the hands of the very agencies that
are supposed to protect them and only 1.5 at the hands of parents per
100,000 children. CPS perpetrates more abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse
and kills more children then parents in the United States. If the
citizens of this country hold CPS to the same standards that they hold
parents too. No judge should ever put another child in the hands of ANY
government agency because CPS nationwide is guilty of more harm and
death than any human being combined. CPS nationwide is guilty of more
human rights violations and deaths of children then the homes from which
they were removed. When are the judges going to wake up and see that
they are sending children to their death and a life of abuse when
children are removed from safe homes based on the mere opinion of a
bunch of social workers.
BE SURE TO FIND OUT WHERE YOUR CANDIDATES STANDS ON THE ISSUE OF
REFORMING OR ABOLISHING CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES ("MAKE YOUR CANDIDATES
TAKE A STAND ON THIS ISSUE.") THEN REMEMBER TO VOTE ACCORDINGLY IF THEY
ARE "FAMILY UNFRIENDLY" IN THE NEXT ELECTION...
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