Saturday, April 9, 2011

What can you do?

My wife broke down Thursday night. And there wasn't a thing I could do about it but put my arms around her and tell her I was so sorry. And no, it wasn't me that brought on the tears and heartache. Just another bureaucrat who is forced to "do the job" and cut the costs instead of doing what may be the best thing for the child.

The little guy is gone. Simple as that and that quick. He was scheduled for a visit with his birth-mom on Friday morning, who has only showed up to ONE of the last SIX visits, and the county, in their infinite wisdom decided that they wanted this little boy just a little closer to home. Apparently an hour's drive is too far for the caseworker. So my wife, who pours her heart into these children, gets a call on Thursday night at 7:00 telling her that after his visit is over Friday morning, he will be going to another home. So make sure you bring all his things.

How do you pack up all of a child's belongings while tears are running down your face? How do you wake him up happy and help him enjoy the morning and do the things that are necessary to make sure he has a good day when your heart is breaking and you know that you will probably never see him again. Sure, he's only been here for three weeks, but how long does it take to invest yourself in a happy, smiling two year old, who already struggles with abandonment issues to the point that he follows you around the house afraid that you're going to disappear when you go into the next room? A little boy who has never been around men for any length of time and who was just starting to let down his guard around me.

We know people, great, qualified people, who have left the foster care system because they couldn't take the heartbreak any longer. People who have decided that they can no longer participate in such a ridiculously broken system. And the system is broken. Don't let anyone tell you any different. The way the foster-care system runs in this country is a joke! And it's supposed to be there to protect and meet the needs of those individuals of society who CANNOT protect themselves. They are the most vulnerable among us. And yet they get pushed around from home to home, never allowed to find a place to settle and establish some sort of root system, forced to deal with school systems that don't want "Those" kids, (and we have heard those exact words coming out of the mouths of school administrators here in our town.)

I have always balked at the message of someone who tries to send me on a guilt trip in order to get their point across. I shy away from those who spout statistics in order to back up their claims. But sometimes we need to hear the sheer enormity of them in order to understand the reality of the situation. Because when you are walking through Wal-Mart, there is no way for you to know that the child who just passed you in the aisle, the child who is clean and well-clothed, who looks to be about 6 years old, is holding the hand of his NINTH foster mother since he was born to a mother who was barely out of grade school herself. When you are eating at that fine restaurant, there is no way for you to know that your waiter, or your busboy, or even the manager of the restaurant, spent their lives going from one foster home to another, being shuffled around because either the foster parent couldn't handle them, or the county wanted them closer, or some judge had decided they needed more visits with their birth parents who beat them, abused them and tormented them at night, so they need to be closer. Or the money is cut from the system. The foster care system is already sucking the hind tit. What more do they want?

The city of Cleveland is one of the poorest cities in the country. Actually, it's number two, second only to Detroit as the poorest city in the country. And that's up from holding the number one position in 2006. And in the midst of this joke of an economy, they have had to reduce their number of caseworkers by HALF! 50%! How would you like to come into work one day and discover that your work load has just DOUBLED! But you still have to get it all done in the same amount of time and for the same money. This is akin to my boss telling me that instead of driving from Ohio to Chicago and back, I have to do it twice, and still do it within the same time frame and for the same amount of money and within the constraints of the law! Are you serious!?

So Cleveland cuts there number of caseworkers in half and yet the owner of the Cavaliers was willing to offer LeBron James an extra $128,000,000 over a six year period to stay in Cleveland and not go elsewhere. That's $21.3 Million a year for the next six years. And that's on top of what he was already making. How many caseworkers would 21 million a year provide for? I'm thinking more than a few. Maybe even all of the ones that were let go. (Actually, it's about 600.)

Depending on what study you look at, there are between 800,000 and 500,000 children in the foster care system within the United States, with approximately 115,000 of them waiting for a family to adopt them. Personally, I think those numbers are way too low. But let’s take the lower numbers to be conservative. 500,000 children. Taken from their families, usually because they are living in an abusive or neglectful situation. The town I live in only has 11,000 people in it total. The town I work in claims about 50,000 people. What about where you live? How many people are there? See, this is the problem. We don’t think of these children as people. They tend to be abstract numbers. Names on a page. I think every child’s file should have a minimum of ten different pictures of that child attached to it in order to remind those who work for them that they are real people who have real feelings, who suffer real pain and trauma.

According to the 2010 census Oklahoma City has 579999 people in the entire city, men women and children. Tampa, Florida-335709. Atlanta, Georgia-420003. See my point? These are entire cities. For there to be 500,000 children in the US who cannot live with their family is horrific. No two ways about it. And for there to be more children than twice the number of citizens of Mansfield, OH to be waiting and wanting to be adopted, who have no hope of going home to their original family is atrocious.

And as for my government employees, by which I mean the President and ALL the members of Congress to fight and whine and cry and throw their temper tantrums because they can’t come to an agreement to operate our government in a fiscally responsible manner, and then to have the gall to let us know this Saturday morning that they worked late into the night and pat themselves on the back for finally coming to an agreement and thereby not force our government to shut down? Shame on you, Mr. President. Shame one you, John Boehner. Shame on you, Harry Reid. Shame on all you Republican and Democrat members of Congress alike. Don’t blow your own horn and be proud of what you did. You nearly screwed it up for everyone with your tantrums and whining and it’s not over yet. And the children continue to wonder when, if ever, they will be allowed to call some place home.

So you ask me, what can I do about this mess, John? First of all, take care of the children that you have in your home. Provide for them, love them, and meet their needs. Then find a way to help one, just ONE of these children that are stuck in the “system”. Be a foster parent. Be a Big Brother or Big Sister. Be a mentor. Or, maybe even go so far as to provide a Permanent home for one of them. Sure, they have struggles and behavioral problems. Who wouldn’t? Let someone yank you from your family, no matter how abusive they are, and tell me you’re not going to have a hard time dealing with it.

Secondly, if you see another family in your community struggling with raising the kids that they have, don’t let the first thing you do be to call children’s services. Let the FIRST thing you do be to go to them and see what you can do to help. Maybe that single mom just doesn’t have enough time in the day to get everything done. Maybe her job doesn’t pay her enough to keep the electric on and put gas in the car and keep the heat on and put food on the table. It’s expensive to live in this country. Maybe that couple has never had anyone show them what being a parent is really all about. Remember, we don’t get a training manual for this. Maybe the child with Autism or Developmental Delay or ADHD is just more than they know how to handle. Maybe they just need someone to help them along for a little while and point them in the right direction to get the services that they need, or even to take the child off their hands for a few hours and give them some rest.

Really, it’s not that hard to love on someone, even if it’s just for a little while. And children can use all the love they can get. So put yourself out there. Go out on a limb and risk having your heart broken. You’re an adult…probably…and I think you can handle it. Probably much more than one of these kids can.

Can you tell I'm angry? Can you tell this important to me? And I make no apologies for it.

My wife woke up this morning…crying and sad and with a broken heart. But she woke up. And it wasn’t the end of the world. And I’m sure, knowing her the way I do, that she will do it all again. Some other child somewhere along the way will benefit from her love and compassion. She can't help herself.

There are a lot more smiles than there are tears when children are involved. And even the tears are worth it all.


DIANE said...

A very thought provoking subject, and well written. God bless you and your family for what you do to help those that need it most.

Mom said...

I share your anger and frustration. The system is too broken to care for the kids.
Your love for needy kids is inspiring. You really are Strong John.

kchenry said...

John, my heart breaks for you, Shelia, and for that poor little boy. I don't believe there could be a more loving home than yours to nurture and care for children. Thank you for having the courage to open your hearts and home to those who need it the most!