Richard’s Story

  • February 16th, 2023
  • By Pathway Caring for Children

From the words of Pathway Founder, Jim Bridges and his experiences while working as a county caseworker.

While Pathway began in 1973, the seeds for its existence were planted about five years before, when I was a foster care caseworker in this county. Let me tell you the story of that origin.  

A fellow caseworker and I drove to a home we’d never been to, with a sheriff’s deputy following closely behind. When we arrived and entered the home, we had to inform the parents that we were taking their children into foster care. The deputy’s presence made everyone aware that this was a serious situation.  

Imagine, if you will, the emotions in that room. Anger. Hurt. Frustration. Hostility. Fear. In the midst of it all, my colleague and I gathered the children, loaded their possessions in garbage bags, and took them to our cars. We then had to take them each to different foster homes, where we left them in the care of people they had never before seen. I recall the look of terror on their little faces. In fact, it’s something I can never forget. 

The experience of being taken from their families and placed in other homes created intense emotions that led to behavioral problems from the children. What happened a few weeks later, then, came as no real surprise.  

“Get him out of here!” the foster parent shouted at the other end of the telephone. “I can’t stand it any more.” One of the little boys had destroyed the living room couch and threatened the foster mother. So I drove out to the home, packed the child’s possessions in another garbage bag, and took him to yet another foster family that he had never seen before. The cycle had begun all over again.  

It wasn’t long before I realized that I was constantly putting children on a foster care merry-go-round, moving them from foster home to foster home, over and over again. It was only making things worse.  

There has to be a better way, I told myself. And that thought was the beginning of Pathway Caring for Children. 

After I left that agency, I was allowed to visit a child who had been on my caseload. I had been Richard’s caseworker while he was in foster homes and two different children’s homes before being sent to this state correctional institution.  

As I drove to the correctional institution, I recalled the events of his life that led up to this time. Long before I was assigned to Richard’s case, he had begun his journey from foster home to foster home, and I helped to continue that process.  

Richard’s most serious offense was running away from the various homes in which he was placed. It wasn’t hard to find him, for he always went back to his father’s home.  

Eventually, we placed Richard in the county children’s home, a decrepit and worn-out facility that should have been abandoned long ago. When he ran away from there, we placed him in a private treatment center in Pennsylvania. 

And when he ran away from there, we went to juvenile court, where he was declared a delinquent and sent to the institution where I visited him. There, Richard retreated more and more into a dark, inner world from which he has never returned.  

Why would he not, since the real world in which you and I live had been so unfriendly to him?  

Some silent voice within me compelled my visit to Richard in that correctional institution in 1971. I was no longer his caseworker, but I needed to see what we had done to this child, by failing to give him a family in which he could grow up.  

Now, Richard sat across the table from me in the small, barren cinder block room at that correctional institution.  

As we talked, he shifted back and forth from begging me for candy and cigarettes to hallucinating about the blood and the bugs on the walls around us. 

That experience, that relationship with Richard was the nucleus of the vision for Pathway—to provide foster homes and group homes where foster children, emotionally and behaviorally troubled, could be a part of families committed to live through their problems with them.  

When I left Richard behind in the cinder block visitation room in that correctional institution, I vowed that I would do everything I could to prevent other foster children from living like nomads, moving from foster home to foster home.