Fighting for a family and a future: A foster child’s story

Jarisa Brannon-Davis’s childhood wasn’t filled with trips to the beach, family BBQ’s or birthday slumber parties with her friends. From the moment she entered the world, drug addicted, with a birth weight of just one pound, Jarisa had an uphill battle ahead of her. She was only five years old when the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services removed her from her birth parents after discovering she had been sexually molested by a family member. She and her siblings were now the responsibility of the state of New Jersey, where they resided.

The next three years of her life, Jarisa spent moving from one foster home to another. At eight years old, she ended up in a group home where she met a woman who she immediately connected with.

“Her name was Jelonda,” said Jarisa. “She was so nurturing. She was one of the first adults I encountered that actually cared about me.”

But Yolanda was not able to do much more for Jarisa after she left the group home.

“I asked her if she would adopt me but she told me she couldn’t. I was crushed.”

Just the first of many. Jarisa recalls another temporary home she was placed in during her years in foster care that she pleaded to stay in but was told no.

“It was like every person I became close to, was taken from me. No stability. No permanence. Nobody to fight for me. No hope.”

At age 12 Jarisa was transitioned into what she calls a “big girls group home.”

“It messed up my life. I was way too young to be there. I wanted to fit in so I started drinking and smoking, fighting and lost my virginity.”

But the fighter in Jarisa may be what ended up saving her. Because of her aggressive nature, she was signed up for the police athletic league and recruited for the boxing program. This is when she was first introduced to Sgt. De-Lacy Davis.

“I knew she lik

De-Lacy Davis

De-Lacy Davis

Jarisa and daughter Jayla.

Jarisa and daughter Jayla.

ed to fight so the boxing program gave her an outlet to fight the right way,” said Sgt. Davis. “She had to learn that discipline and hard work was part of the program. You don’t just throw on a pair of gloves and start knocking people out. If I remember correctly. Jarisa was given the “opportunity” to experience what it felt like to be knocked out herself. I am sure that was a humbling experience whether she wanted to admit it at the time or not.”

After testing the water and breaking the rules, Jarisa ended up losing her spot on the boxing team and paid the price through community service hours. Very possibly a blessing in disguise as she was spending more time under Sgt. Davis’ wing.

Months later Jarisa approached Sgt. Davis asking for her “lifebook” back. (A “lifebook” is a tool used to record memories and life events that occur in a foster child’s life prior to placement as well as after they have been placed with a family. The lifebook is meant to follow a child wherever he or she goes to help them retain connections with people who have been important in their lives.)

When Sgt. Davis asked Jarisa why she needed her lifebook back, she informed him that she was up for adoption.

“When she told me that, I said, “you don’t need that book back, I’ll adopt you,” said Davis. “It was like the words just fell out of my mouth.”

Tears started streaming down Jarisa’s face. Tears of joy. She had been wanting to ask Davis to adopt her for the past six months. He had no idea that he just made her dream come true.

“Finally someone I cared about and who cared about me wanted to adopt me,” said Jarisa.

After an 18-month process, at age 14, Jarisa was officially adopted by Sgt. De-Lacy Davis.

“He knew I was in fear of abandonment and had major trust issues. I had to learn how to respect him. It was weird because I finally had someone who loved me but I really didn’t know how to accept it.”

This was not a fairytale ending. It was just the beginning of a new chapter. Jarisa struggled with many other demons on a daily basis. She was diagnosed bipolar and was still trying to deal with the dysfunction of her birth family. She spent three years in family counseling, sex counseling and individual counseling. She received services from different state agencies, had a mentor, a social worker and clinical assistance.

“I knew I had to build a support system around her,” said Sgt. Davis

A very important part of that support system was Sgt. Davis’s mother, Jarisa’s adopted grandmother, Sandra Jean Johnson Davis.

“I always said to her, “Grandma, I wish I would have met you when I was younger. My life would have been different. She was such a strong woman. The most influential person in my life.”

At age 20, heartbreak struck when Jarisa suffered a miscarriage. It was a loss she could not cope with. Jarisa was institutionalized and spent a year at the Essex County Hospital Center, a psychiatric hospital in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. After leaving the hospital, she knew she needed to leave the area and moved to Salisbury, Maryland with her boyfriend. Pregnant again in 2013, Jarisa was determined to find happiness and stability. After the birth of her daughter, a joyous time for most new mothers, a new diagnosis of severe postpartum depression knocked her down once again.

But the fighter in Jarisa along with resources and guidance from the Wicomico County Department of Social Services pulled her through. Jarisa found solace and support at the Beacon House, an intensive group home run by Go Getters, a support organization for adults recovering from substance abuse and/or severe mental illness.

“I was not healthy. I had a restraining order on me that kept me away from my very own daughter. I was not right and I needed help.”

Jarisa says she owes her recovery to two very special women who helped her get back to her daughter.

“When I met Ms. Jefferson from Child Protective Services I was angry,” said Jarisa. “But she was so calm and comforting. She introduced me to the Go Getters program and helped me get visitation with my daughter. Ms. Latia always checked on me and made sure I was doing ok, taking my medications and doing what I needed to do to be back in my daughters’ life.”

Two more strong women in Jarisa’s journey who influenced her life, well-being and future.

Over the years Jarisa learned that her birth mother passed away when she was 13 and she reconnected with her birth father when she was 20. He learned that he was able to get sober, got remarried and became a minister. And he was very proud of her.

As for Sgt. De-Lacy Davis; the man who originally never thought he would have any interest in adopting a child after having a biological daughter of his own, ended up taking in three more children.

“Jarisa was the one who opened the door for others,” said Sgt. Davis.

And now Jarisa is opening her own doors to a brighter future with a home, a job and the time she spends raising her two-year-old daughter, Jayla Jean Grant.

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