I’m in my 18th year of counseling in schools and I can honestly say that this had never happened to me. I came into work one morning this fall, opened my email and had a message from a former student. She came to our school in fourth grade and left at the end of this last school year. Unfortunately, she and her younger sibling were taken from their home due to a parent’s drug abuse and sent to live with relatives. So, here was an email from an 11-year-old to ask if I remembered her and wondering if we could talk. I just stared at it. I did remember giving her my card when she left because I wanted to stay in touch. We had connected throughout the year she was at my school and I was so sad she was leaving! I had a dilemma. What should I do with this email?
I thought about what I’d been learning in my Ethics and Legal Issues class. Step 1: Identify the legal issue. Was it unethical to correspond with this young lady without permission from her adult caregiver? It really came down to Step 2: Gut reaction. What was my instinct telling me? Was I her counselor anymore? No, I was now an adult who had connected with this wonderful little girl. But I wasn’t through. Step 3: Review known facts. Actually, I knew nothing. She sent me a two-sentence message and I had no idea where she lived and who she lived with. Step 4: Consider the values of the stakeholders. My heart told me I needed to stay in touch and do whatever I could to find out more. Where does she go to school? Could I contact the school counselor there? Wouldn’t that make the most sense? Step 5: What options are available? Clearly connecting this child to someone in her area was a viable option. Steps 6 and 7: Make a choice and justify it. Right or wrong, I emailed her back. I had to. She reached out and I had a moral obligation to be there for her and help her find support.
The final step is where we can sometimes second guess ourselves and our gut instincts, looking back in hindsight. It is said that we don’t learn from our experiences, we learn when we reflect on those experiences. I am glad I emailed her. I continue to wait for a reply from the strong, resilient, wise-beyond-her-years little girl who left us through no choice of her own. She left caring adults and friends, and I hope landed in a place where she has a support network of adults who can be her safety net. Until I hear from her, that’s all I can pray for.