Before enduring child abuse and entering foster care, Nathan Ross felt he had a decent life. For the first 10 years of his life, Nathan and his four siblings lived with their mother in Kansas City. Although there were struggles, Nathan had his family. For him, that was enough.
The Risk Factors
Nathan’s biological mother had five children by her mid-20s. She was a single parent with a low income and little to no support. As a result, she wrestled with mental health challenges. When Nathan gained access to his case file as an adult, he discovered that child welfare had conducted more than 10 child abuse and neglect investigations when he was with his mother.
As their mother’s mental health deteriorated, Nathan and his four siblings became targets for physical abuse. Physical abuse evolved into psychological abuse, including starvation and being pitted against each other. Nathan’s biological mother forced him to enact the punishments she wanted for the other children since he was the oldest boy.
Overlooked Red Flags
The whole time that Nathan and his siblings endured abuse and neglect, they interacted with their community. Nathan attended school, but he missed enough days without explanation for it to be a red flag.
When Nathan was in school, he was the class clown. He struggled to focus on materials, and he did not do well on tests. Because his mother would withhold food as a form of abuse, Nathan spent a lot of time at school trying to get food from others. He worked to build their food supply at home in case they would have to survive without food for a long time.
Many people in the community missed the red flags merely because they were not looking.
When Abuse Turned Fatal
Child welfare remained involved in Nathan’s life throughout his childhood. In the beginning, Nathan did not fully understand why child welfare professionals kept coming in and out of his home. But as he aged, he became aware of what they were asking and why they were asking. By the age of 10, he was consciously deciding not to answer the investigators’ questions out of fear of what might happen.
All Nathan wanted was to get back to the life they had in the past. He wanted his mother to get help but worried about how the repercussions would impact his family.
In 1999, two of Nathan’s brothers died from abuse at the hands of their mother.
A couple of months prior, a child abuse hotline investigator had been in the house. “She didn’t even realize that when she was walking through and doing her check of the home that my brothers were downstairs locked up in the basement,” Nathan recalls. The investigator closed out the case. The two children died shortly thereafter.
Entering Foster Care After Abuse
Nathan and his two surviving siblings entered foster care after the death of their two brothers, which was caused by abuse and neglect. “When I came into care, there was a lot of animosity and anger towards all adults, all systems,” Nathan explains. He was 10 years old when he entered foster care. Nathan decided he would not build relationships with anyone involved in the foster care system. “To me, everyone had failed,” he asserts.
While in foster care, Nathan and his siblings were blessed with an incredible support team. News of their child abuse case had spread beyond Kansas City and gained national traction. Due to the high-profile nature of their abuse case, the children had excellent tutors, mentors, therapists, and other professionals to help them as they began to process the trauma they had endured. Their foster parents provided a safe home, consistent meals, and structure that led Nathan to feel a sense of normalcy for the first time in a while.
But then things changed again.
A Shift Towards Adoption
After spending two years with their foster family, Nathan and his siblings moved. Child welfare had found an adoptive home for them. In the foster home, Nathan had been healing and processing. But when he was told he had to move, he felt himself regress.
“I felt manipulated,” he reveals. He felt that no one cared about him and that the adults in his life just wanted him to follow along with the decisions they made for him.
Nathan entered his adoptive home with the same perspective as when he entered his foster home. He did not want to connect with anyone. He figured that soon enough, he would be grown and could be on his own.
What made matters worse was the size of his adoptive family. In the foster home, Nathan and his siblings were the only children in the house. But the adoptive family was large. On the one hand, Nathan figured it would be easy for him to remain invisible since so many other children lived there. But on the other hand, the size of the family was shocking.
Nathan remembers constantly calling his case worker and therapist, asking to move. The adoptive family was doing nothing wrong, but Nathan struggled to adjust to the new structure.
After six months in the home, they were adopted.
An Unexpected Career Path
Nathan viewed his adoption as a restart. He was transracially adopted, so there were parts of his story that he could not hide. But Nathan never wanted people to feel sorry for him or see him as a victim. On the rare occasions he did talk about his story, he only mentioned that his biological mother could not take care of him.
In college, Nathan received his first speaking opportunity. The most appealing aspect for him as a college student was that he would be paid. He accepted, thinking, “How hard can it be?”
This experience changed everything.
“I didn’t realize how much I had been repressing over those years and how much came out,” he confesses. He also realized his story’s impact on child welfare professionals. People could hear his story and think about how they could adjust their practices to protect more children. Nathan liked impacting the child welfare system that way.
In the years that followed, Nathan found that sharing his story of abuse and neglect was crucial for changing the foster care system. He became increasingly involved in child welfare.
Speaking Up to Make a Difference
Now, Nathan works as a child welfare consultant, where he has the power to influence the policies that impact children in situations like the one he experienced. He is also a licensed therapist with a focus on trauma. He works with children, teens, young adults, and families who are walking journeys similar to his own. His own experiences make him an expert in helping others heal from trauma.
HOW TO REPORT SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE OR NEGLECT
If you suspect child abuse or neglect, it is crucial to report it. Nationally you can call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Each state also has its own reporting hotline, which you can find with a simple internet search. If at any point you witness a child in a life-threatening situation, call 911 immediately.