Behind the lines of a war on children.
About this series
Today’s stories are the final entries in a four-part, week-long series focusing on child abuse in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Our goal is simple: to increase awareness of the need to report suspected abuse, in the hopes of saving children and families in our community.
Misconceptions about child advocacy have led to the belief by many that child professionals want to rip children from the home, but local providers say their mission is about protecting and building up families, not destroying them.
Abuse survivors tell their stories
By Kevin Robinson
She occasionally stopped to wipe a tear from her eye, but her voice never wavered.
In a quiet corner of a university library, 29-year-old Tranassa White seemed comfortable recounting her troubled childhood. Neglect. Abandonment. Drug abuse. It was all fair game.
For the most part, White had made her peace with the past. Now she just hopes she can help someone else do the same.
“I’m not going to not (tell my story), because someone needs to hear it,”
White was largely abandoned by her mother, becoming the primary caregiver of three younger siblings before reaching her teens.
“My mom was really young (when she got pregnant),” White said. “She was just graduating high school, so my grandmother did what any grandmother would do, she took me in. My mom was living there too, but really my mom wanted to live her life.”
White’s mother did eventually strike out on her own, leaving Tranassa behind.
“I really didn’t struggle until about 7 or 8. That’s when my mom started having more kids. Her absence and having kids was a strain on my grandmother, and led to me having to become an adult…It left me raising kids, because my grandmother worked three jobs, and my mother was out and about.”
White’s youth was steeped in routine and responsibility. She got her siblings up and dressed for school. She got them on and off the school bus in the morning and afternoon. She cooked dinner. She scrubbed pots and pans. She washed and folded clothes. She bathed her sisters and brother. She kept tabs on them from her grandmother’s front porch as they played and she worked.
All this while she herself was still in elementary school.
“Here I am raising someone else’s kids, missing my own childhood…That built up a lot of resentment between my mother and I, because I felt it was unfair she wasn’t there,” White said. “I felt it was unfair she had us, dropped us off at my grandmother’s and she kept going. She lived her life. She did what she wanted to do, and here we are. Sometimes we didn’t know whether we were gonna get eat at night.”
Tranassa’s mother hadn’t completely disappeared. When White was young, her mother would show up in the morning and lay out clothes. As Tranassa got older, her mom’s visits got more scarce. Eventually, they slowed to occasional weekend visits. If White really needed her mother, she could normally track her down at a local hotel or liquor store.
White says now that she is older, she can see her mother had been battling her own demons.
“Her mother left her,” White said. “Her mother gave her up at three months old to who I consider my grandmother. History repeats itself, whether we realize it or not..It was a pattern. Her mom gave her up, so she did what was comfortable to her and that was to leave us…Now as an adult, I can see where she was really hurt during those times. Not knowing the answers to why her mother gave her up. And I’m not saying her mother gave her up and went to another state, she was still here in Pensacola. Still here raising her other children, but she decided to give (my mother) and her two brothers up.”
White’s adoptive grandmother had been the chief constant in both their lives, but a lifetime of labor eventually took its toll on her.
“My grandmother got sick,” White said. “Both her legs amputated. I was getting up in age, 13, hitting puberty, kind of getting into things I didn’t have no business. She thought it was best for me to stay with my dad.”
Children in investigations
Number of children involved in investigations.
- 2010 total: 6081
- 2014 total: 6606
Santa Rosa County
- 2010 total: 2270
- 2014 total: 2174
White’s brothers and sisters, who did not share the same father as Tranassa, ended up in foster care. White, the product of an extramarital affair, suddenly found herself living in an unfamiliar home where she was a constant reminder of infidelity for her father and step-mother. She went from being the effective head of a household, to a youngest child who felt unwanted and was chafing under a new set of rules.
“As an adult, I see both sides now. When I was a child, I only saw it wasn’t my fault that I’m here,” she said.
White said her father had always been a hard worker, but she believes he took on additional work as a way to stay away from home.
“Just to get his attention I would fight, get ‘F’s and ‘D’s,” she said. “I felt like if I was yelled at, that was them showing me affection.”
As White got older, she found herself getting in more serious trouble. “I was in and out of jail, in and out of the streets.”
White was five-and-a-half months pregnant when she began a state prison sentence for battery and possession. Her son was a toddler when she was released, and she was determined not to make the same mistakes her mother and maternal grandmother did. However, she soon realized she didn’t know how not to make them.
“I had never seen different to emulate it…I am meeting this boy at the age of 3, and I don’t know how to be a mom, or be his friend, so I reverted back to the wrong behavior,” White said.
White said her son was angry and out of control, as was she. Routine spankings weren’t working, and when they escalated White eventually ran afoul of the Department of Children and Families. She considers their intervention a blessing now.
“The beginning was kind of rough, and I didn’t think we were going to make it through. I learned to deal with my anxiety and his outbursts…They taught us to communicate. I’m learning how to pick and choose my battles with him.”
The pair are still working on their relationship, but White is confident they are moving in the right direction. She’s also working on herself, having obtained an Associate of Arts from Pensacola State College. She is currently working toward a computer information degree at the University of West Florida.
“My mother and my parents saw me walk across the stage,” she said with a smile. “Out of all my brothers and sisters, I was the only one who graduated college. I was honored to be able to give them that.”
White still keeps in close contact with all her parents, and says she has forgiven her mother and speaks with her daily.
Leaning forward in her wooden library chair, Tranassa often wiped her eyes as she spoke, but her voice never wavered. After all, she was adamant her story needed to be told.
“It’s not for sympathy, or to hold anything against anyone,” she said. “There’s probably a young girl out there who is going through what I did, wondering if she can do it – if she will make it. I want to tell her that she can, and she will.”
PENSACOLA News Journal