April, 2018 – Child Abuse Prevention Month
Former Hibiscus Child Returns to Share Message of Hope
When Chloe Henry came to the Hibiscus Children’s Shelter at ten years old, she couldn’t have imagined that she would never return home or live with her family again. She and her brother had been removed from their mom due to child neglect. Eventually, her mom’s parental rights were terminated and Chloe and her brother were officially foster care children in Florida’s Child Welfare System until they aged out at 18 years old.
Chloe, who is now 31-years old, endured the trauma of abuse and being removed from her home over 20 years ago, but she still remembers the hurts and disappointments she experienced. But, instead of letting these negative circumstances overwhelm her and cause her to become a bitter adult, she has turned her difficulties into a positive message for foster youth that she openly shares. Her story is one that countless foster care children can relate to.
Chloe’s journey began with an initial placement in a local foster home before being placed at the Hibiscus Shelter in Jensen Beach. She expressed that her mom was a loving and caring mom, but struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. During these times, Chloe stayed with relatives and friends, and in her words, “learned that monsters are not scary looking like you think, but sometimes come in the form of people who say they love you”. She lived at the Shelter for one year before being placed in a few different foster homes, and then returned to the Shelter for another year and a half. Chloe was filled with anger, hurt, and trauma as the result of physical, mental, and sexual abuse and neglect.
“When I was first removed, I did not want to be there at the Shelter. I refused to find the good in it. I told them it was like I was in jail and can’t do anything I want to. I just chose to see the bad in everything. I was angry, scared and overwhelmed. I really behaved poorly and made bad choices, but it was because I was hurt inside and I didn’t trust anyone. But, after a little while, it started sinking in that the staff and volunteers were good and cared about me. I knew this was a safe place and that the staff loved me – they never gave up on me no matter what I did or said to them. I wish I could go back in time and say thank you to the staff and volunteers for never giving up on me”.
After her initial fears and worries were put at ease, Chloe shared that her time at the Shelter was one of the best times in her life. “We did lots of activities, arts and crafts, rode horses, and did things that I never had the chance to do before. The community was very generous to the kids. My favorite activity was the Soap Box Derby, I loved it! I won the local competition and then had the opportunity to go to the National Championships in Ohio. What a great experience.”
When Chloe returned to the Shelter for the second time, she felt the love and concern the staff and volunteers had for her. “They were happy to see me again. Not happy that I was in the Shelter, but to see me personally. That meant a lot to me.”
Chloe’s story has many facets. Not only has she dealt with heartache, disappointment, abuse and betrayal, she’s also learned how to forgive and move forward in life. “At first, I was angry at my mom, I only saw it from my eyes as a young girl and I was only able to process my view and how it affected me and my brother. About three years after being removed from my mom, I found out that she used drugs. I had no idea she had substance abuse issues and also, mental health issues. As I was learning more about her, I didn’t feel so angry anymore. I was beginning to understand that she had a difficult time, but it did make me very sad. I wish I would have known when I was a kid, but I understand that they want to protect kids”.
Twenty years later, Chloe has two young daughters and works at a local restaurant. She has a positive message she wants to share with children. “My passion is to use my trauma to say, I’ve been there, I do know how you feel. But if you always dwell on the bad, then there’s no joy in life and it takes a toll on you. Always look for the positives”. Chloe also said, “At the Shelter, I tended to stick up for kids that needed it. I still do that today, and teach my girls to stick up for others who need it”. Chloe is a role model for positively working through and overcoming difficult challenges and obstacles in life.
A few years ago, Chloe returned to Hibiscus Children’s Center for a third time. But this time, it was as a strong young woman carrying a very special message for the children living in Hibiscus’ residential facilities. She visited the Shelter and the teens living at the Village in Vero Beach to tell them, “Don’t let your current circumstances dictate your future. It’s okay to be hurt inside, it’s normal, but don’t turn it outward into anger. Don’t pretend to not be sad, you should be as you have been hurt. But use it to overcome the situation and look for the positives”. The children and teens were thrilled to meet someone who had walked in their shoes before and someone who understood exactly what they were feeling.
Another part of Chloe’s message is that some kids do better, like herself, in facilities similar to the Shelter and the Village, a group home. From Chloe’s experience, “I felt safer in numbers. There were many opportunities for enjoying activities and fun. The staff seems well trained to care for our type of problems and issues. That training is critical to help abused kids“. When Chloe left the Shelter at age 12, the Hibiscus Village had not been built yet. Chloe said, “If the Village had been around, I might not have gone from foster home to foster home until I turned 18”.
Throughout Chloe’s journey, there were special people who made a difference in her life. One of those is a foster mom, Sally Smith, who she lovingly calls ‘ma’. Chloe lived with Sally a few times over the years and currently has stayed with her. As a kid, she knew that she had to follow rules and behave when she lived with Sally, but she also knew that she was safe, received lots of love and care, and knew that her foster mom was looking out for her welfare. “She stood up for me, she would fight for the kids, I knew she loved us”, Chloe shared with a smile. Sally is a local teacher and still a vital part of Chloe’s life, and she added, “my girls love her too!”
Even though Chloe’s birth mom had her parental rights terminated, she still maintained a relationship over the years with her. Sally would help Chloe see her mom occasionally, who now lives out of state.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Hibiscus Children’s Center is privileged to have Chloe share her positive and inspiring story with our children and youth, and with the community. She is a remarkable young woman and an incredible role model. Chloe’s message to the community is that everyone can help. “I can’t stress enough that if everyone would be willing to speak up for those without a voice, it would put a significant dent in the number of children being abused”.
Since opening its doors in 1985, Hibiscus Children’s Center has provided over 325,000 nights of safety to abused children through its residential programs and provides mental health counseling to help children heal from the trauma of physical, mental, sexual and emotional abuse. If you would like more information about how to get involved and help change the life of an abused child, please contact us at 772-340-5750.