My son Ben will be seven years old next month. After two weeks of a very loose tooth, it's finally under his pillow while he awaits the arrival of the legendary fairy. For at least a week, his cousins, aunts and uncles asked him when he would finally part with this tooth that's been hanging by a thread. There was even a bribe of five dollars from Ed's brother, who thought it would be best to get it out as opposed to the devastation of losing it at some random time. No such luck.
But last night out it came. There were high fives in the air all around the pool as the uncles manned the grill and the cousins swam.
Another little boy named Gabriel Myers turned seven-years-old last January. I wonder if he ever had a loose tooth? Did anyone notice if he did? Did he ever hear about the tooth fairy? Did he ever experience Sunday dinner with a family?
Gabriel Myers was a Florida foster child. Child welfare professionals were alerted to his arrival shortly after his birth. He was two days old when his mom was crushing up pills and snorting them in the hospital where he was born. Six years later, he and his dog were found in the back of his mother's car in 2008. She was passed out on drugs in the front seat. He likely lost his dog when he was placed in a foster home.
He bounced around in between relatives and foster homes until April 15, 2009. On that day, he was sitting in the lunchroom at school alone with his head bent down. A therapist walked toward him and he grabbed her hand. "My tummy hurts. I want to go home."
What home did he mean? His foster home? His grandparents home? His aunt and uncle? His former foster home?
We will never know what home he meant, although it is pretty clear from his child welfare file that he never had the kind of home where his extensive emotional and behavioral needs could be managed. He had been physically and sexually abused and was on multiple medications.
On April 16, 2009 seven-year-old Gabriel hanged himself with an extendable showerhead in the bathroom of his foster home. At age seven, Gabriel was done with this world and his life. You can read all about his journey in foster care Here.
In Florida, child welfare professionals and others are doing everything they can to review his case, look to see if and where blame lies, set new policies and laws and all the other things we do when children die in foster care.
But it is not enough and it will never be enough until average moms and dads, aunts, uncles and cousins embrace these foster children who are traumatized and so very needing and vulnerable.
As hard as it will be, please take 15 minutes and read the attachment detailing Gabriel's life and death. Take a step into the world of this little boy with the hurt tummy who wanted to go home. Think about the 500,000 children in foster care who desperately need all the support, advocacy and love they can possibly get. When you're done reading, drop me a line or two with your comments.
And if you are lucky enough to have a tooth-fairy-believing little one in your life, hold him a little closer and know that you make his world better and his future brighter if you join the ranks of people across our nation who have vowed to improve the lives of foster children.