2007-10-22: Placement and Protection

Starring:

Niki_icon.gif Micah_icon.gif Cam_icon.gif

Guest Starring:

Isis

Summary: A woman from Family Services comes to check on Cam to determine where he needs to be.

Date It Happened: October 22nd, 2007

Placement and Protection


Sanders-Dawson-Hawkins Home

Queens, New York City

"Micah, don't leave your backpack in the middle of the room!" Niki shouts these words of motherly instruction with a distinctly tired edge to her voice - even as she hauls said backpack from the living room floor, moving it out of the way, at least, so someone doesn't trip over it. She pushes wisps of blonde hair back away from her face as she stands back up straight, re-tying it all in a loose knot. In comfy tight jeans and a blue wrap shirt, Niki's looking a little weary-eyed. Still, the house looks to be in relatively good upkeep, save for some dishes in the sink and random odds-and-ends lying around. It's a full household. Everyone pitches in. That's the plan, anyway.

Isis is supposed to wear a dour grey suit and be a pale withered old hag who steals children from their homes. She is in reality young, thin, black, with a modest headscarf and comfortable-looking coat and shoes. An oversized, colorful purse is over one shoulder, and she consults the paperwork in her hand, knocking on the door firmly, no mistake.

Cam is in the kitchen, having gotten himself a glass of water. He looks back towards Niki as she shouts to Micah, and then to where he left his own school bag, (one he didn't have until Monday, he came home from school with it), which is at least out of the way. He starts to step out of the kitchen when he hears the knock. Letting one of those that live here full time actually answer, he still looks curious.

"Sorry mom!!" Micah shouts in return. He's already down the hall and in his room. Can you guess what was the first thing he went for was? Laptop! But it's a short lived moment as he hears the knock on the door. Maybe it's dad! So it's out the door and down the hallway.

It's a good thing Niki moved Micah's wayward backpack, because she probably would have been the one to trip over it. She's normally not a clumsy gal, she can actually be pretty graceful, but she's not exactly walking a straight line as she makes her way to the door. It's as if she's trying not to fall asleep standing up. The door has an old-fashioned peephole; after she peeks through it to find the unfamiliar stranger outside, she takes a few seconds to bring her fingertips to one eye in a gesture of tiredness, blink heavily, and generally try to look somewhat presentable. One two three… "Hi," she opens the door and greets the woman with a friendly smile. It's not forced — just tired. And curious, too. "Can I help you?" she asks politely.

"Hi, are you…Niki Sanders?" She puts out her hand. "I'm Isis Thigpen from New York Family Services. I understand you have a young Mr. Reynolds staying with you?" She's very friendly, charming, a white smile, brown eyes lit with energy.
Cam blinks and bites his lip as he hears the 'Family Services' mentioned. For a moment he just stands there, then looks around quickly, eyes moving to windows and to any back door if one exists, searching out an escape route.

Micah makes it into the living room just in time to hear 'Family Services' as well. Oh snap! "Mom? What's going on?" he asks, noticing Cam's reaction, even if just his eyes. If things go bad, he can always let Cam out his bedroom window.

Family Services. Instead of surprise, a flash of relief shows in Niki's expression. Unfamiliar people at her door can mean a lot of things, and even though this Isis lady looks harmless, you never know these days. "Yes, I'm Niki Sanders. And 'Mr. Reynolds' is right inside." She steps aside, holding the door - and leaning on its edge, slightly - as an offer to come in. "It's okay, Micah! We just have a visitor," she calls back over her shoulder reassuringly (or not, as the case may be). To Isis, she says with concern, in a lower voice, "He's a good kid. I don't really want to see him get shipped off to somewhere worse than where he was."

"Well," Isis says somewhat noncommittally and quietly as they enter together, "He was in the hospital without a parent, and at a shelter before that." She puts her purse down on a table and smiles at the two boys. "Hello, you must be Cam? Your nurse at the hospital said you liked to be called Cam…that makes you Micah? I'm Isis. How are the two of you doing?"

Too late to escape, she's seen him. Cam looks back up to the woman and blinks a moment. He wasn't expecting someone… smiling. He nods a little to the question and says, "I'm ok." He glances up to Niki a moment and then looks back to Isis. Nervous, and not nearly as friendly as usual.

Still not entirely convinced, he'll play along though. "I'm fine, ma'am. Thank you." Micah tries to paint the picture of a perfect little boy and family. Maybe they'll let Cam stay then.

"That's why I wanted to make sure he had a place to stay. At least, for a while," Niki explains as she sees Isis in and shuts the door. "He's going to a good school under some kind of program," she adds, choosing to stand very near the boys — behind them, protective. She gives Cam a smile as if to say 'isn't that right?'.

Isis says, "Well, let's everybody sit down and I'll explain why I'm here. My job is to check out families and find out if they need help of any kind. I look at things that have happened in the past…" Here she looks at Niki, but does not elaborate in front of the boys, that look just says I know in the most gentle way someone can express it. "…and how things are going now." She smiles at Niki's comment. "I know, and Cam, I'm very impressed. I went and spoke to the shelter coordinator…" And had a much more tightly wound discussion than this one, subject: what 'mandatory reporting law' really means. "…and he said you went to school every day. I talked to your teachers and they said you were working hard." So she's cut off all comfortable means of retreat already. Her voice is reassuring and clear: "I don't want anything that happens to jeopardize that, all right? That's a great achievement for you just to get there, without having your parents around."

Cam glances to Micah, a moment, and then looks back up to Isis. He still carries his water as he moves to sit down, and bites his lip again as she mentions talking to both the shelter and the school. He nods a little to the final statement, but does sit just a little straighter at the praise. "Really?" Then, though, he asks, "What is gonna happen?"

Micah circles around and takes a seat in one of the nearby chairs. Curiosity is just killing him, but he fights the urge to just start asking asking a bazillion questions. "Are you gonna take Cam away?"

Niki catches that knowing look from the Child Services worker and her pleasant demeanour threatens to falter. She clenches her teeth rather hard, blue gaze darkening; she keeps quiet, however, for the same reason Isis does. She backpedals until she can sink down onto the edge of one of the other armchairs nearby, completing the circle. As the boys ask their (valid!) questions, Niki finds herself watching Cam's glass of water almost warily. Don't freeze. Don't freeze.

"I can't make any promises about what's going to happen, boys." Isis says. "He shouldn't be living at a shelter on his own, right, Micah? That's not what shelters are for, they're for people to stay in temporarily while they work something else out. A family setting is a lot better, for school…" She names school first since Cam is clearly invested in it. "…doctor's appointments, you don't want things to go bad with your treatment, right?" she says to Cam. "But for today what I'd like to do is to talk with each of you individually about how things are going. If everyone keeps an open mind about what's possible, hopefully we'll be able to work something out together. But no matter what happens, I have to make sure that everyone is safe before I leave today. Agreed?"

Cam is quiet a moment, looking to Isis as she gives the reasons. He bites his lip and nods a little bit. Especially at the latter. Even he has to admit he'd not have made it long in his treatments without Niki. "I guess." He looks down a moment at the mention of talking to her alone, but then looks back up, nodding again, "'k."

Micah isn't the dullest knife in the drawer. He's intelligent. Enough to know what to say and what /not/ to say if he gets pulled aside alone with the creepy CPS lady. "Yeah! I think he should stay here with us!" Don't get ahead of yourself boy. "I mean, that is if it's ok with my mom."

Niki is paying close attention to the kids for their reactions — hers is subdued, for the time being, and slightly wary. When Micah voices his opinion, she opens her mouth without words for a few seconds and gives a quiet laugh. "Well, I… I definitely want to help him out, and I don't mind him staying here…" There's a 'but' which she's reluctant to say in front of Cam.

Isis grins at Micah's outburst. "It's great that you want to help your friend, but that's for your mom and I to decide in the end, okay? But we'll all talk about it." she says, not reproachfully, but clarifying. It's quite clear to her that Micah is smart enough to understand. "Let's start with a tour, can you boys show me where you sleep?"

Cam brightens at Micah's suggestion, nodding quickly, but then Niki says what she does… and he can seem to sense that 'but', and deflates a little again. He blinks at the request, though, glancing to Micah and back, "Um.. sure." He stands up quickly again. If she wants to know that, maybe he has a chance after all.

"Sure!" Micah grins, jumping up from his chair. "It's just down the hall. My room on the floor." He leads the way down the hall to his room, clearly decorated in the fashion of a boy who loves comics. There's a bundle of blankets at the foot of his bed that looks like someone sleeps there.

Niki pushes up out of the chair to follow, coming to lean against the wall opposite Micah's room with her arms folded over her chest. "We just kinda had to throw something together…"

Isis follows attentively. "You like comic books, huh? Spiderman's my favorite." But she probably just knows him from the movies. She nods to Niki, and doesn't seem appalled by the blanket arrangement. "Wow, you've got a lot of books here, Micah…where do you go to school?"
Cam blinks, looking up to Isis in surprise as she says that. "Mine too, and Iceman from the X-Men." He steps by where he's been sleeping as she talks to Micah, listening curiously. He's relaxing a little now, at least.

"Spiderman's ok. I prefer Iron Man or 9th Wonder." Micah nods, as the number of books in his room is mentioned. It's not all that much, but that's by his standards. For a moment he rattles on about his school, classes, friends. Etc. "If Cam stays, maybe we can get bunk beds so he won't have to sleep on the floor." There's hope in his voice, and a look waiting to see if it's considered by his mom.

Isis likes talking to kids, she's comfortable with them, deals with them on their level. Once she's got them going, she listens. "Okay. I'm going to use the restroom…" They passed it in the hall, "You can get back to what you were doing, and I'm going to talk to Niki in the kitchen, all right? Then I'll talk to each of you." She seems to trust that Cam won't run, or, at least, that if he does run, she knows where he's going and can pick him up there.

Cam grins at Micah's suggestion, "That'd be cool." He looks back up to Isis then and nods quickly to that, saying, "Ok." When she first got here? He might have run. Later, he might try too. For the moment he seems alright with waiting to see what happens.

Micah grins at Cam's enthusiasm. Maybe this'll turn out for the better. Maybe Cam can stop living out of…wherever he was living at. Not to sure about that. As Isis mentions her intentions, Micah nods. "Come on Cam. We can go play Zombie Fright Night on the XBox."

When Isis disappears into the bathroom, Niki eyes the door. She knows this routine. This isn't the first time she's dealt with Child Protective Services, though these circumstances are certainly a little … different. A look of realization comes over her face — briefly panic-eyed, she hesitates in the hallway. Thinking. Fretting. But to Micah and Cam she has a reassuring smile on her way into the kitchen, where she sits and waits expectantly.

Isis comes into the kitchen a moment later, and after a glance through the door to be sure the boys aren't listening in, she starts putting pill bottles on the table. "Okay, Niki." Isis says. "Nice CPS lady time is over, you are in need of some straight talk and I am in need of some straight answers." Prescription after prescription, and in the midst of it that unmarked bottle. She doesn't seem to think that it's unusual in any way, or any more problematic than the rest of the pills. In a way, maybe it isn't. "I looked at your record. The only reason Micah wasn't removed back in Nevada is because they weren't able to find you in time. So let's take something /off/ the table. You are not going to run. Cam is not going to run. Micah is not going to run. His father is not going to run. Nobody is going to get out of this situation by packing everyone up and moving on. That will not happen." Her voice lacks steel, but it does sound authoritative. She seats herself opposite Niki. "More straight talk: things are going good for you. Micah's in school, doing great. Looking around, things seem to be all right. I don't expect to learn any different when I interview the boys. You reached out to a child that needed your help desperately and stood by him longer than most. That shows you have enough stability in your life to be able to show strong compassion and love. I know there have been times in your life when you couldn't do that." She lifts her chin a little. "But this." The pills. "I need an answer for this."

Cam looks at Niki a moment, in her moment of panic, but he doesn't seem to figure out what it's about before she's smiling and gone, and Micah's offering that greatest of distractions: X-box. He grins, "Sure," and follows Micah to the game machine.

Micah turns on the TV, and then fires up the XBox. The logo, as well as boot up music chimes and then is shortly replaced by a montage of scenes of people mowing down zombies. "It's pretty easy. Just kill the zombies." he says, passing the second controller over to Cam.

Niki doesn't say a word to interrupt the CPS woman. She regards Isis levelly from across the table — almost levelly, that is. She flinches ever-so-slightly at the pill bottles that are drawn out, and her expression turns hard. Her desire to take all the bottles and hide them all away has her more on edge. "There's not much to explain," she lies, an defensive tone to her voice. "They're prescription." Mostly. "And I don't plan on running anywhere."

Cam grins and takes the controller, and says, "Awesome." He's a little iffy on gameplay, once the game starts. Never having played the game before and his injured shoulder limiting his movements, he can't play as well as the practiced Micah. Still, good reflexes and experience with many many different games helps.

"Here….lemme fix a few things." Micah grins, pausing the game for a second and changing some of the options. Turn on auto-lock. Turn down the difficulty. "There, that'll make it a little easier. Won't have to move so much." See? He has compassion. A quick glance is stole towards the kitchen, but he can't really see much so turns back to the game just in time to blast the second wave of zombies.

Cam grins as he tries playing after the changes, "Yeah, that's lots better, thanks!" And then he goes quiet, except the occasional laugh or small cheer, as he gets into the game.

Isis says, calmingly, but unflinchingly, "I can see they're prescription, Niki. It's the amount of prescriptions. What they are. The different prescriptions, the different doctors, this one isn't even labelled. If you need all of them, then you're looking at a serious problem coming at you like a truck - and you've been in your line of work long enough to know people that have gotten hit. You've got to start coping with it now. Micah's life with you - this good, solid life you've built from nothing - is on the line. Be straight with me. What's going on in this house?"

"My line of…" Niki looks past the woman into the living room where the kids play videogames — focusing there, instead, for several steely moments without answering. Then, "I know what it looks like." Like she's taking too many drugs? Addicted to meds? The blonde juts her chin out, on the defensive as she tries to get her point across - without explaining too much. "This is me coping. I have it under control." Failed mantra number eighty-seven, or maybe there's truth in it. She certainly sounds resolute.

Isis says, switching her voice to encouraging, comforting: "I can see you're coping. You're more than coping, you're doing good things for Micah and Cam. And that's great. But…" Here it comes. "I want to offer you some preventive services. Voluntary. We'll get your meds worked out, have you down to paying only one doctor - set up some counselling to address some of the issues. You haven't had any since you…" A pause. She reformulates the end of the sentence: "… left Nevada, right? An assessment and some services to help keep things strong, to /help/ you and Micah. Think it over while I talk to the boys. Denial is not going to help you now, Niki. It never helped you. It's just going to put more bottles on this table from more doctors."

Micah is having just as much fun. As is evident by the wide cheesy grin on his face. All he's had to play with for the longest time is mom. And dad (when he's around). But this, is playing with someone his own age. Someone who can adapt just as quickly as he can. "Watch out behind you!" Micah's character spins and lands two rounds to the head of a zombie sneaking up on Cam's character.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Under the table, Niki's fingers curl tightly against the denim on her thigh. The encouraging, comforting words do little when there's so much Isis doesn't know — that Niki can't explain. So she sits it out. "I'll go to whatever I have to, for Micah," she says. "But I'm fine," she adds, trying out an encouraging smile of her own. She leaves out an answer to the 'since Nevada?' question, however — or maybe that was it. Enough about her! "Be honest. What do you think's gonna happen to Cam?"

Isis gets to her feet and says, "Nobody will ever approve placing another child permanently with someone with your background, speaking bluntly. But Cam's at high risk for running away, he's highly autonomous, he is used to functioning on his own. He's going to get in power struggles with any placement he's in. He even told his school his parents were dead. If he's happy here, and if you can keep him here a little longer, and I determine everything is fine here, I'd like to ask you to consider temporarily allowing him to stay while we run a foster family match process. It might take four to six weeks, and giving him a haven here to blow off steam, maintain a friendship with someone he has something in common with…" More than she knows. "…that could be a big help to him, for you and Micah to be a resource family for him. If you can't, I understand, you've done much more for him than anyone could ask a mother in your situation to do." She quirks a little half-smile, reassuring. "I'll even be the bad guy if need be."

Cam spins his character around, hitting the button to shoot but Micah's already got it. "Awesome shots! Thanks." He spins back to the zombies he was shooting at before, shooting at them quickly now that they're in close.

"You're welcome." Micah grins. "They get sneaky sometimes." His own character spins and picks off a zombie that was closing in on him. "Like that." What about that one coming up from behind you, Micah?

Niki smiles warmly, gently creasing her tired eyes. "It's not like I can turn him away. And," she gives an easy, one-shouldered shrug, "He's no trouble. Micah really seems to like having him around. We'll do whatever we can to help him out. Thank you."

Isis says, "Thank me when this is all over." But she's smiling. She moves into the room behind the two boys and watches their videogame with them for a little while, without interrupting, letting them be absorbed in it, seeing how they interact with each other. "All right," she says after a moment. "Cam, let's talk in the bedroom?" So Niki can put the evidence away.

Cam spins back again and shoots at the zombie behind Micah, "Watch out!" He seems to get along with Micah like they've been friends forever. Then though, Isis is asking to talk to him. Biting his lip, he nods and stands up, following her.

Micah watches as Isis stands and summons Cam. "I'll keep it paused. We can continue it later." he says, setting his own controller down and falling backwards into the plushness of the sofa. Two down, one to go. He'll likely be called on next. At least maybe he can make the most of it while waiting. "Mom? Do we have any cookies left?"

Niki sweeps the telltale bottles off the able into her hands. Before she hides the evidence, as it were, she takes a minute to lean with her back pressed flat against the refrigerator and close her eyes — which is, of course, when Micah appears out of nowhere. You'd think he's taking lessons from his father. "No, you guys ate them all, remember?"

Isis interviews Cam closely, and Micah too, but weirdly, 'do you have superpowers' doesn't come up. Probably the incidence is low enough in New York's 30,000-odd fostered kids that they just deal with it on a case-by-case basis. No abuse. No neglect. And that really makes things easier - she's talking about ways to help things get better without starting them in a hole. She doesn't brook lying, and seems to have an uncannily good sense for that, but she's willing in the end to temporarily place Cam with Niki. There's even a state document that she gives Niki saying so. No corporal punishment. No religious objections to medical treatment. Other than that, he can stay - for now.

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