On November 1, 1999, I was taken down to Queens Family Court on a P.I.N.S. (persons in need of supervision) case. I was accompanied by my mother and my three younger siblings. When we arrived, I still didn’t know what was going on. All my mother had told me that morning was to get up and get dressed.
At first we sat in a little room. The room was so small it felt like it should only fit 10 people, but there were a lot more people than that crammed in there. Being in that room made me feel like a pigeon in a cage. (Pigeons aren’t made to be in cages.)
I can’t remember what I was thinking or feeling, or why I thought I was even there, but I know I didn’t expect what was coming.
After about an hour, an old lady with big glasses called my name. My mother told the other kids to stay while I followed them down the hall. My mother went into a room with the lady while I waited outside. Then my mother came out and I went in.
The lady asked me if I wanted to go home.
“Yes,” I said.
Well, we’ll see what the judge says,” she said. She had me fill out papers. “Write your name here, sign there,” she said.
The woman didn’t explain much to me about the papers. She just explained that my mother saw me as a problem child and she no longer wanted me in the home.
I was so mad, I didn’t even feel like reading the papers. I just signed the bottom line. I still don’t know what I signed that day.
Suddenly, my whole life had changed, and I didn’t have the chance to say a thing about it. The process just ran ahead smoothly. No objections. No time to read. Just do what the woman says. I was only thinking, “Everything is happening so fast.” I wanted to shout and I wanted to cry, “Why the hell am I here?” But instead, I said nothing.
I was so angry. I felt my mother had betrayed me. She always taught me to deal with my problems, but she was the first one to get rid of hers. For about an hour, I sat there. I wanted to go home. Or, I thought, it might be more soothing to crawl into a corner and die.
My mother took out the P.I.N.S. on me because she claimed I was running away and causing problems at home. Really there was a lot more going on. I was being abused at home and when I told my mother, she said that it was my fault.
So I began to run from my problems. I was running away for probably a year. No one did anything, so I just kept on running. Eventually, I ran right into the system.
That first day in the courthouse, my mother said what she wanted, while for several hours I had no say whatsoever. After I signed the papers, I was finally given a chance to speak to my lawyer. I told him about the abuse at home, and then he got a social worker and I told it over again.
The lawyer and social worker listened to me and believed me, which was good. But I felt upset, because I had spent a lot of time hiding what had happened. There in court, though, I felt like I’d better tell them. (Other kids might not have told. It isn’t easy to talk about things like that.)
And even though I got to tell my side of the story, I felt like it was too late. I thought they should have talked to me before the P.I.N.S. was put on me, because from the beginning, my lawyer told me that, no matter what I said, I wouldn’t be able to go home that day. So even though I was given a chance to speak, I still felt like I was a criminal getting locked up.
In general I think that P.I.N.S. petitions are stupid. Kids get sent away to group homes where they usually have more freedom than they did at home. But it’s not just going into the system that’s the problem, because sometimes that is for the best. I, myself, don’t regret being in the system. Now I don’t have to deal with abuse.
But getting a P.I.N.S. taken out on you makes you feel like garbage, plain and simple. You feel like your parents don’t want you. If your parents don’t want you, and the system doesn’t give you the help you need, then who will?
Besides, when you get a P.I.N.S. taken out on you, it feels so unfair. Lots of times the situation is a lot more complicated than that you’re a bad kid (that you’re a person in need of supervision). Often it’s your entire family that really needs help. But when they take a P.I.N.S. out on you, it makes you feel like you’re the only one to blame.
In the end, because the court did investigate and find out what was really going on in my home, things turned out better for me. The judges and lawyers began to look out for my best interests. After a number of months and court appearances, the P.I.N.S. was taken off me and my file was changed.
But I think that the courts ought to give you your lawyer before they put the P.I.N.S. on you. I think they should talk to kids before any papers are signed. Since having a P.I.N.S. taken out on you makes you feel like a criminal, I think they should treat it more like a criminal case–and investigate before any decisions are made. Having a P.I.N.S. on you affects how you feel, inside, and how you feel about being in the system.
Of course, each case is different. Sometimes there are kids who are seriously in need of supervision. Sometimes they’re acting out because of stuff adults in their lives have done, and it’s the adults who most need to change. The way things work now, though, P.I.N.S. petitions take kids, who might be the victims, and make them feel like the criminals–before there’s ever a proper investigation.
A version of this article originally appeared in Foster Care Youth United September/October 2000.
Alene Taylor is a writer for Foster Care Youth United and a public speaker for Voices of Youth; she currently lives in foster care and plans to attend college next fall.