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December 2, 2007 permalink
The only stories favorable to children's aid come from insiders, or persons never having had personal contact. The story below seems to be an uplifting story of a man helped by children's aid, but really comes from an insider. We have still never heard a non-employee tell of a favorable personal experience with children's aid.
CAS helped Grimes turn his world around
By Tim Whitnell, Special to the Beaver, Nov 30, 2007
Phil Grimes says he's the exception to the rule when it comes to success stories about children removed from their home due to parental neglect or abuse and placed into a group home setting.
He's been the victim of ill treatment at his own home as a youngster, bounced around various foster and group homes, lived on his own as a teenager and heard similar stories from others over the years, but he hit a breaking point when a recent story went public that put the Halton Children's Aid Society (CAS) in a bad light.
The 34-year-old Burlington resident, at one time a ward of the Halton CAS for 14 consecutive years, feels the organization has been maligned once too often.
He decided to go public with his own haunting history and eventual redemption, with the help of the CAS, after sensing the organization was under fire.
He says he had heard enough criticism after seeing a story in The Oakville Beaver about CAS client files -- loaded with sensitive information about clients -- being inadvertently left at a private home by a visiting CAS worker.
The family in possession of the confidential files took the faux pas public and the CAS felt some heat from the fallout.
"It always brings out the ugly face of the community," Grimes said of such situations involving the CAS.
The Halton CAS currently has a clientele of about 220, newborns to age 21, some deemed temporary wards who are still at home with their parents with CAS oversight and others who are full Crown wards and placed in either foster or group homes.
"I could give you 30-40 success stories," said Grimes.
His own at times harrowing story is one of them.
"I have three siblings and when I was six we were placed in CAS care," in north Halton. "At that time they didn't take four in one (foster) family so we went separate ways. I was with my younger brother for a while, but he had different needs," Grimes said, explaining that they too ended up in separate homes not long after.
"My dad would come home drunk (occasionally) and think he was the Incredible Hulk and throw me and him (younger brother) around the room. Dad would pick me up by the ears and hold me against the wall. The house was very dirty and we had scabies," a skin disease caused by mites, he recalled.
"At six years old I would have Coke and cereal for dinner. My dad would be passed out and we'd go get groceries."
He admits they stole items from stores on occasion.
"It was always a survival tactic," he said.
As for his mother, Grimes said she was basically absent during the confrontations.
"I think a lot of times she just left the house because she couldn't handle it, or didn't want to.... I had an alcoholic father and my mom had four kids by the age of 21. There was a 15-year age difference between them."
Possibly the worst family incident was one that Grimes said was never reported to the CAS.
He recalled a time when his parents got into separate vehicles and drove at each other on purpose. One of Grimes' older sisters tried to stand between them and was hit and hurt.
"If CAS didn't step in, I think one of us would have been killed."
Grimes kicked around several foster homes in Halton.
He swears he was a good kid who encountered unfortunate luck such as a few of his foster families eventually having their own babies and not being able or willing to continue looking after him.
"I was not a bad kid. I always had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I still just go, go, but I'm not on (medication). I was always fiddling in school; I was just an energetic kind of kid," he said.
By the age of 14 Grimes had been in at least half a dozen foster homes and said he told CAS officials he wanted to try a group home.
It was a mistake, in hindsight.
"I'm telling you, you don't want to live in a group home. It's just a bunch of crazies. I was in a group home in Oakville with six kids between 12-16. You get a lot of manipulation. We had cops there every week because someone had stolen a bike or run away."
He said the group home staff did the best they could, but he decided he needed out of there.
"You're lucky if two out of 10 who come out of there are well adjusted. Fostering is the (better) way to go. I've kept in contact with some of the guys and they're doing well, too. Some have gone on to jail. I've seen a few guys in downtown Hamilton." He said he's not sure if they were okay, homeless or jobless.
Unable to endure group home life anymore, Grimes said he made the unusual request to CAS to let him live on his own. He said he eventually rented a unit on his own on Kerr Street in Oakville at the age of 15. He was supported by minimal provincial government assistance payments.
"When you move out on your own you find out who your friends are," he said.
From there, things have mostly worked out well for Grimes.
He graduated from Sheridan College after studying law and security; he also attended McMaster University.
Grimes was under the care of the CAS until age 21.
He said young adults can continue to remain with a CAS under a special extended care and maintenance agreement if they attend college or university.
While the CAS continues to monitor your personal progress, the provincial government will give you monthly funding.
Grimes now runs his own financial planning business, has been on the Halton CAS volunteer board of directors for eight years and is past president of the Halton CAS Foundation.
He's been married for 10 years to Denise, an Oakville native whom he met at a summer camp for CAS kids where both of them were camp counsellors. They have two children, Abigail, 1, and Maddi, 4.
Denise marvels at how far her husband has come since his troubled youth.
"We are from totally different backgrounds," she said, noting she grew up in a stable home. She has three sisters and has parents who have been married 40 years.
"He came from an abusive background, a family torn apart. Most kids in that situation wouldn't do well."
Said Phil, "I'd give everything up to go back to what she had," he said of his wife's childhood. "There were times at Christmas with no presents. A lot of my drive (to succeed) has come from when I was in the gutter a few times," he said.
"He made the right choices and had an amazing support worker," Denise observed.
The saving grace for Grimes for much of his turbulent adolescence and young adult life was Halton CAS employee Cynthia Thomas.
"Cynthia is like my mom. I was with her from age 9-21. She was my case worker."
Speaking of his mother, Diane, Grimes said she is 55 and living in Kentucky. His father, Richard, died last year.
"She's remarried, but I don't have any contact with her," he said of his biological mom, even though he says she comes up here occasionally to see one of her daughters; Grimes' brother has gone to the U.S. to visit her.
The last time he talked to his mother was more than three years ago, on the phone. The last time they saw each other was at Grimes' wedding about 10 years ago.
"We've tried," he said of connecting with his mom. "She's very emotional. We would call on her birthday and she wouldn't call on mine. In the last 20 years I've seen her three times. It isn't that I blame her. I've said, 'Let the past be the past and move on.'"
Grimes noted all his siblings, older sisters Kathleen and Christine and younger brother Chris, have turned out well. One older sister lives in Georgetown and has three kids.
The other sister lives in Nova Scotia and has two children. His brother works fulltime and has a girlfriend.
They all keep in contact.
The executive director of the Halton CAS Foundation, the fundraising arm of the organization, has nothing but praise for the way Grimes handled his tumultuous upbringing and the things he's doing now to help others going through similar struggles.
"I've known Phil for a long, long time and he truly is a success story, showing such determination in getting his life on track and with his business," said Tina Blatchford.
"He's an ambassador for us. He talks the talk and walks the walk and volunteers with our youth group. He's a real mentor and a real hero to the kids."
Source: Niagara this Week