Later that week, Jumiya would get caught smoking marijuana in her McMansion. In early October, Jumiya had to go to D.C. for a dentist appointment. Before the appointment, she visited her mother. Her mother cut the meeting short. As soon as Jumiya arrived at the dentist appointment, she ran away. For several days, she stayed with her boyfriend’s family.
She went back to Youth for Tomorrow, but a week later, Jumiya escaped for good. She had almost gotten into a fight and had to be physically restrained. The incident injured her hand, she says, and she was rushed to a nearby emergency room. From there, Jumiya was able to hitch a ride to the nearest Amtrak station and took a train into D.C. She headed straight for her boyfriend’s mother’s house in Congress Heights. (A Youth for Tomorrow spokesperson declined comment.)
Jumiya felt that she was backsliding. She was tired of being lumped in with other angry, confused girls. Residential wasn’t working. She remembered that Labor Day weekend with her aunt. The child-welfare agency had promised that they would work to get her a foster care license. Why were they taking so long? She decided to e-mail her family-court judge:
“I need help. I feel as though I made a lot of improvements to just throw everything away. I am constantly getting bullied in school not physically but verbally. I feel unsafe. I have been in several different altercations (physical & verbal). I have a huge goal and it is to finish high school but the extra conflicts and stress is not helping at all. I talked to my social worker about this conflicts but shes just like talking to a brick wall…
“I want to be close to my family. I can’t go on weekend passes. They won’t allow me to work to kill my free time. I want an emergency hearing to discuss finding me a better placement and to also discuss why it’s taking so long for them to license my aunt so I can live with her.”
Her mother was nowhere near ready to take her. “My house is so quiet now,” she told me while Jumiya was AWOL. “She’s been out of the house for two years...I was tired of her anyway.”
Child-welfare officials would later inform Jumiya of a bitter reality within the child-welfare system: As long as she wasn’t complying at the residential facility, she could not live with her aunt. She would get only two choices: Go back to the RTC or transfer to a mental hospital. She would accept neither.
After a week, Jumiya still needed somewhere to live. She called me to meet up. She, her boyfriend, and I wandered the city—she checked e-mail at MLK Library, shot hoops at an Adams Morgan park, and paced around the fountain at Dupont Circle, blasting hip-hop from her boyfriend’s iPod. When she stumbled on a gay wedding ceremony, she insisted on cheering for the happy couple.
Just before 5 p.m., she dialed her social worker, her fourth since coming into care.
“I know I ran away again,” Jumiya said. “I really need help…I just need help. I’m scared. I’m upset that I don’t have a lot of support right now. I’m getting very tired.”
“Can I call you back?” the social worker cut in. “Hold on a second.”
This story is the first in an occasional series about D.C.'s child-welfare system.