Nine-year old Eddy* was afraid his mother wasn’t safe at home — or anywhere else. She had recently left her physically and verbally abusive husband, moving to a new apartment with Eddy and his younger brother. Eddy knew his father had a gun and felt obligated to protect his mom, even if it meant staying home from school.
Eddy’s need to watch over his mom created constant struggles around school attendance; he often simply refused to go. His mother had to drive him, and Eddy frequently wouldn’t get out of the car. When he did go, he quickly retreated to the corner of his classroom, pulling his hood over his head. His mom would be called to bring him home, causing her to repeatedly miss work. Things became so bad that Eddy’s mom had to quit her job to stay home with him, leaving the family without an income.
Nobody could figure out why Eddy was behaving this way. Did something happen at school to make him afraid, was he being bullied? His mother, the school staff and even his friends tried to help, but when questions were asked, Eddy answered them all with silence.
After Eddy missed almost every day of the first two months of third grade, his school reached out to Safe at Home (SAH) for help. The Home for Little Wanderers’ program assigned two of its clinicians to work with the troubled boy and his overwhelmed mother. The team met with Eddy and his mom for intensive therapy several hours a week, both at home and in school. They would arrive at Eddy’s apartment at 6:30 a.m. to coax him into getting ready for school, accompany him to school and then stay — sometimes for hours. They provided emotional support to his mother and connected her to resources like the food pantry.
By creating a “safe space,” the team gradually helped Eddy share his feelings. After a month of work, Eddy finally revealed his fears. “I want my dad in my life, but I’m also afraid of what he is going to do to my mom.”
The SAH team realized Eddy needed a day placement in a special education setting to get the care necessary to overcome his fears and work through his traumatic past. They advocated on his behalf with the school district liaison and secured a 45-day assessment program for him.
The first week at the new school was tough for Eddy and his mom. Eddy reacted to the transition by kicking and screaming as his mother walked away; she felt as though she was abandoning him. The new school setting was well-equipped to deal with Eddy’s behavior though, and the SAH team was just down the hall, waiting to help his mom cope.
Slowly, things began to turn around, but Eddy still needed more time. The SAH team, in collaboration with the special education school, worked to get funding from his school district to extend Eddy’s placement until the end of the academic year. Once Eddy realized he was staying, he began to bond with his new classmates, making it easier to go to school. He also began to worry less about his mom’s safety.
After a month and a half at the new school, Eddy was willingly staying in class, and by two months, was excited to go to school. Eventually, he started taking the bus and began to play outside with kids in the neighborhood, something he never did when first moving into their new apartment. He felt comfortable leaving his mother alone and she was able to start applying for jobs.
Soon after Safe at Home stopped working with the family, Eddy celebrated his 10th birthday and invited the SAH team to his party. It was rewarding to see how Eddy had transformed from his mother’s silent, frightened protector into a smiling happy boy, playing and acting like a kid again.