Thursday, December 30, 2010

Make It a Happy New Year!

The sun had set into cold, dark skies on the night I had a fading suntan and a bright, shiny new diamond on my finger. My week long honeymoon had ended and days later, I was swallowed up into my Children's Services job as if I had never even left it.

On this particular night in 1995, I was thrilled to get a parking spot right outside the doors of my office in downtown Cincinnati. Snow covered the ground and it was freezing. Panhandlers dotted the city blocks surrounding the Children's Services building. I had three reasons for not wanting to walk far in the cold, dark, and sometimes scary streets. Their names were Alan (age 5), Marissa (age 4), and Christopher (12 months). They were inside the building finishing a supervised visit with their biological mother when I arrived to take them back to their foster home just before dinnertime.

After hugs and kisses from their very mentally ill mother, Alan put his coat on and turned to help Marissa with hers while I bundled the baby. Alan was forever looking out for Marissa and it both warmed and saddened my heart.

"Alan, thanks for helping. I'll tell you what. I'll do zippers, gloves, and hats, OK?" He nodded and smiled. "It's cold out, but we don't have far to walk. My car is right outside the front door." Good thing, I thought, as I remembered I had a car seat to carry out as well.

I grabbed the car seat and let the straps dangle over one arm while I put the baby on my hip and reached out to hold Marissa's hand. Alan held her other one. We took the elevator to the first floor.

A well-dressed crowd of Children's Services higher-ups, politicians, and local leaders stood in the center of the newly renovated building, preparing for its dedication. A security guard approached me.

"You'll have to exit the back of the building," he told me. I just stared at him. The large building took up an entire city block. It was cold and dark and I had three kids and a car seat with me. The back exit involved a dark alley and a much further walk.

"I can see my car from right here. It is right out front. They haven't even started yet. These people are just milling around. They won't even notice if we squeak through. My car is right there." I pointed out the front window. He was unmoved.

"Sorry," he replied. "Orders are orders. All employees must leave through the back entrance. No exceptions." Meanwhile, Alan and Marissa just held hands and stared up at me. I took a deep breath as I re-adjusted the baby in my arms and headed out the back door.

We walked around the building as the wind from the Ohio River kicked up and snow blew around us. "I'm cold," Marissa said with a red nose and piercing blue eyes. Alan held up his two hands as he climbed into my backseat when we finally arrived. "It's OK," he said. "Miss Holly did gloves." Marissa held her hands up too as she inspected them and thought this over.

"That's right, buddy. I did gloves. The car will be warm in just a minute," I said as I started getting them all situated. "Who wants to listen to Barney on the way home?" The big, purple dinosaur was their favorite.

"Me!" came shouts in unison from the backseat. I slid behind the wheel in time to see two news crews arrive to cover the event going on inside the building. But I knew I had the real story in my backseat.

I will be married 16 years next month. What has changed for foster kids during this time? Everything and nothing. Too often, they are still the untold story, the ones shuffled to the back of the society and cast aside when it is convenient.

But the arrival of 2011 gives us a fresh start and another chance to learn more about these precious children who live in every community across our nation. Maybe this will be the year we get it right when it comes to taking responsibility for these kids.

Get educated. Get involved. Spread the word. Make a new year's resolution to do something, however little, to help a foster child, family, or non-profit agency that serves them.

Make it a happy new year for a child who is frequently cast aside.

Monday, December 13, 2010

From Horror to Hope

Trevor* was three-years-old when the relatives who planned to adopt him changed their minds and abandoned him in the emergency room of a local hospital. Three years later, Trevor's adoptive parents sent pictures of a little boy grinning from ear to ear and getting onto a school bus for his first day of kindergarten.

Rhonda* was a drug-addicted mother on the verge of permanently losing custody of her seven-year-old daughter, Mikki*. Ronda got sober and went on to become an addictions counselor. Mikki, formerly in foster care, on medication for depression, and failing first grade was reunited with her mom. Today she is eleven-years-old, on the honor roll, and sings in the church choir.

Eighteen-month-old Josh* was in the backseat of his mother's car when she drove drunk and crashed into a concrete barrier. He was grossly neglected and physically delayed to the point his pediatrician suggested he may never walk. Josh, now four, went sled riding last week, giggling all the way down a hill and climbing back up with his foster brothers and sisters. His foster parents, along with physical therapists and others, have lavished devotion, professional skill, and ton of love onto this little boy. It shows in his wide grin, eyes that sparkle, and his healthy body that can do everything other preschoolers can do.

CASAs, foster parents, social workers, therapists, and countless others build the bridges between horror and hope for hurting children. They give the gift of new life every single day, despite how difficult and devastating it can be. They know the cost of standing in the gap for children who need safety and protection is a small price to pay for the reward of a job well done and a child saved.

Only two small words can begin to suffice when I think about what these people offer to children and to our world: thank you.

If you want to learn more about how you can help a foster child, visit for ideas on getting educated or getting involved.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Marcus Fiesel, Lessons Learned: A Five-Year Retrospective Review

It has been nearly five years since three-year-old Marcus Fiesel was murdered by his foster parents. It feels like yesterday when I listened to Hamilton County Prosecutor, Joe Deters, speak at a press conference detailing the horrific manner in which Marcus died. The toddler was wrapped up like a mummy with his arms pinned behind him and held bound by a blanket and packing tape. He died a slow, torturous death, stuffed into a hot closet and left there alone while his foster family went out of town. My heart shattered. I wasn't the only one devastated by his death.

We, as a community, were outraged. We demanded answers. We demanded justice. We demanded change for the vulnerable children still in foster care who needed out help. But in five years, we've moved on. Have our foster children? How have they fared since Marcus' death shook the system, and the rest of us, to the core?

On Thursday, November 18, UC Clermont College will host a symposium on what system leaders and child advocates have learned since Marcus' death and what has changed. We will discuss the gaps discovered when authorities retraced the steps leading to Marcus' placement in the foster home of Liz and David Carroll. We will talk about changes in law and changes in policies governing the care and oversight of foster kids.

More importantly, we'll talk and listen to each other as passionate people who want to work together to improve the system for all our foster children. College students and community members will join us as we put our best thinking forward. We hope you will too.

Marcus Fiesel, Lessons Learned: A Five-Year Retrospective Review
UC Clermont College, Kreuger Auditorium
Thursday, November 18
2-4 PM, book signing and reception immediately following
Questions? or

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Got Peeps?

Just last week someone asked me if I collected anything. "As a matter of fact, I do," I answered. "I collect friends." I've never been one to clutter up my life with a bunch of stuff. I'd much rather be surrounded with friends and family who daily engage in the give and take of life. The relationships I cultivate and tend are central to the deep satisfaction I experience in life. I need my peeps and they need me.

Think about it. Anything of any value that has ever stood the test of time was the direct result of a relationship. Healthy relationships with the people in our lives build, nurture, and sustain us. The absence of such relationships leaves us vulnerable and compromised. This is especially true for children who are growing and learning about our world and how it works.

I've long thought that basic needs for children should include food, water, shelter, and a healthy, loving relationship with at least one competent adult. Science tells us so.

When making decisions about the lives of children, too many professionals fail to consider this important fact. Childhoods are destroyed and futures compromised as a result. Sometimes we are more focused on parental rights or those of blood-related relatives than we are on the non-negotiable needs of children.

Consider the case of two-year-old Vanessa. Her birth mother consented to her adoption upon Vanessa's birth. For whatever reason, her birth father was not involved in the adoption decision. He should have been, and it is wrong that he wasn't. But it is more wrong to return a toddler whose entire world revolves around the loving care her adoptive mother has given her. It is more wrong to take away the center of Vanessa's world and thrust her across the country into the arms of a stranger who has been convicted of multiple domestic violence charges and is not parenting any of his other children. Too often, we rip children from the loving embraces of people who have mothered and fathered them in the truest sense of the word and put kids with strangers who happen to share their biology. Where is the science that supports this?

Children need people who can love, support, and provide for them, as well as offer consistency and stability. And once a child is securely attached to such an adult and is thriving, the train has left the station. Why derail it? The rest of us need to get onboard.

The Got Milk? Campaign was successful at doing a body good. Maybe a Got Peeps? Campaign will do our babies good.

Monday, August 23, 2010

WANTED: Loving Caregiver for Abused Baby Girl

Requirements: Must be a licensed foster parent. Love, structured routine, bedtime stories, hugs, and kisses desperately needed but not mandatory.

Immediate Availability.

How many of you would sign up if you came across an ad like this? How many of you would say yes if I stopped you in the parking lot at Target as you buckled your own kids safely into their car or booster seats? If I came to you and said, “Look, there is a ten-month-old baby girl sitting in the county children’s services office with caseworkers while they look for a home for her. She was exposed to cocaine, and not just prenatal. She has to go somewhere. Tonight. She can’t sleep or be raised in an ugly gray cubicle with ancient computer equipment. She needs YOU. Can you take her?”

How many of you would say yes? How many of you would think about it, go home, and talk to your spouse? How many of you would cruise the Internet for information on how to become a foster parent? How many of you would swallow down the fear that catches in your throat and trust that you can give a precious child a chance at a childhood? Your arms are the ones needed to comfort and console a baby who was dropped into this world without safe arms waiting to catch and protect her.

Go. Now. Google. Talk about it. Figure it out. Then sign yourselves up. Because children under age five make up the fastest growing group of kids in foster care. They are more likely to be abused in foster care than older children and more likely to stay in foster care longer. They desperately need you.

Please (and thank you).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Remembering Marcus Fiesel on his Birthday

Birthdays in the lives of children are important and often celebrated. As the mother of three children, I’ve organized and agonized over a number of birthdays and the parties that routinely accompany them. But when it’s all said and done, what seems to be most important to my kids on their birthday is the feeling of being special. They want to hear stories about day they were born along with stories of being babies and toddlers. They need to know their arrival in this world mattered. They want to be loved and to belong.

All children share these longings. Unfortunately, not all children are celebrated and find a place of belonging with people who love them unconditionally. Three-year-old
Marcus Fiesel was one such child. He was removed from the care of his biological mother at age 2 for reasons of abuse and neglect. He was returned to her and removed again. At the time of his third birthday he was living with his foster parents. They killed him six weeks later.

Today would have been Marcus’ 7th birthday.

As the story of Marcus’ brutal death at the hands of his foster parents unfolded, people were outraged that a child under the custody of the government-run foster care system could be tortured and killed by those who were entrusted to care for him. We demanded answers and improvements in the very foster care system central to his suffering.

Things have changed in the three years since Marcus died. The foster care system of 2006 is much different than the foster care system of 2010. In many ways, it is worse.

Today, the government system charged with overseeing the care of foster children faces crippling budget cuts due to our current economic crisis. Due to layoffs at Children’s Services agencies across the nation, there is less supervision of caseworkers and fewer support staff. In Hamilton County, there is little money left for relatives who step up to care for children whose parents have failed them. Adoptions subsidies are reduced, and post-adoption services for children have been eliminated.

Marcus’ story shone light on a system that betrayed him. While many foster parents are loving and well intentioned, not all of them are. While many caseworkers are caring and competent, too many are overburdened, burned-out, and occasionally reckless. While the court system is designed to protect the best interests of these children, laws that govern them tie judge’s hands.

The answers to these problems do not lie in the current system. The solutions lie in the community. Thousands of volunteers responded to the park to search for Marcus when he was reported missing. Marcus’ death marked the end of his life but the beginning of a wake-up call to his community. But have we fallen asleep again?

Today, Marcus isn’t here to blow out candles on a birthday cake or to receive gifts. Instead, we can give the gifts of our time, our passion, and our promise that we as a community will no longer ignore the problems facing our most vulnerable children.

This just could be the best birthday present little Marcus ever received: his legacy that we will take care of Cincinnati’s foster children. What a great gift to give our community and our foster children in honor of a little boy remembered more for how he died than how he lived.

Happy Birthday, little buddy. May you live on in our commitment to ensuring safe, stable, and loving homes for all of our children.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Throw Our Foster Kids a Line

I’m sitting at my favorite Panera, drinking Light Roast Coffee. I can’t help but overhear a conversation at the table next to me. Three men are discussing the oil spill and the need to divert their summer vacation plans. I watched news coverage of the catastrophe last week with my out-of-town sisters who were visiting while our kids all played outside in the summer evening. The footage of ocean animals covered in slick, dark crud, desperately trying to shake their feathers clean, was upsetting to watch.

As usual, my mind turned to foster children. I thought about how they are awash in a sea of helplessness, struggling to shake free from the trauma and tragedy of the childhoods they never had. When they are turned to shore at age eighteen, emancipated, I think they feel relieved to be out of the ocean. However, that sandy shore is far from solid ground.

Sarah bounced around between foster homes, group homes, and locked mental health centers from the time she was six until she was eighteen. A ward of the state with no hope of returning to her mentally ill, drug-addicted mother and no hope of finding a forever family to adopt her, Sarah counted the days until she could be on her own, free of county caseworkers and the oversight of a juvenile court magistrate. I became Sarah's GAL when she was 14. I was forever advocating for services for her while encouraging her to finish her high school education while she was forever running away. It was too little, too late.

On the day she turned eighteen she called me. “I ain’t trying to diss you Ms. Holly, cuz you real nice and all, but I’m through with you people. I’m moving on.” I begged her not to walk away, to let the system people at least help make sure she had stable housing. “I’m done.” Since she was clear about this decision and there was no changing her mind, I asked her to let me take her out to lunch to celebrate her birthday. The next day we sat at a restaurant in Northern Kentucky overlooking the Cincinnati skyline. She was amazed at how pretty it was. “You mean that’s the city I’ve been living in?” she asked, incredulously. She spent years on the streets of Cincinnati, sleeping wherever she could find a couch, running from system people. Unable to step back and see the forest for the trees, she couldn’t see how staying in the system voluntarily and accepting help with housing and education was a good choice. She was itching to make all of her adult decisions on her own. She was out of the ocean of foster care, covered with a heavy coat of abandonment, trauma, abuse, and neglect. To think she could shake it off all on her own was ludicrous. I knew that but she didn’t. And what I thought didn’t matter.

Thousands of America’s abused and neglected children adrift in the sea of foster care are plucked by skilled and devoted hands that bring them to a safe harbor. Unfortunately, thousands more are not.

Across the country people are watching the oil spill and pondering the effects of this disaster. Many are helping where they can.

Likewise, many people are reaching out a hand to foster children and pulling them to safety. But they can’t do it on their own and desperately need more hands on deck.

Please consider how you can
throw our foster kids a line.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Can Little Fleas Biting Take Down a Big Dog?

"So often we think we have got to make a difference and be a big dog. Let us just try to be little fleas biting. Enough fleas biting strategically can make a big dog very uncomfortable.” ~Marian Wright Edelman, Founder of the Children's Defense Fund

It was a warm April evening in 2007 when I went to meet five-year-old Joey*. He had been in foster care for only one night when I had sat through a court hearing listening to the facts of his case. I came home from court, had dinner with Ed and the kids and then headed out to see Joey. I just couldn’t rest until I laid eyes on him and the foster home where he had been placed.

My book, Invisible Kids: Marcus Fiesel’s Legacy, begins with the conversation Joey and I had that April night. Somewhere between the words rushing out of his mouth and the fear in his eyes, something inside of me shifted. I was the same Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) I had been for nearly a decade, but in the flash of a second, between his words, my commitment to him and kids like him took a radically different turn.

I didn’t know exactly how I would do it, but I was determined to educate people about the tragedies facing foster children with the hope of empowering them to get involved. Foster child Marcus Fiesel’s death proved the government could fatally fail children. Joey’s fear demanded that I do something so that solutions could emerge. That evening at the kitchen table, my commitment to writing this book was solidified.

I wrote Invisible Kids by taking it one idea and one sentence at a time. The thought of writing a book was too overwhelming for me. I just told myself I had to write a paragraph. A year later, the manuscript was finished. I discuss this process in a podcast I did with Women Writing for a Change just after the book was released. Check it out HERE.

Joey had no way of knowing that he pushed me into writing Invisible Kids. In his childhood innocence and suffering, he refused to allow me to sit quiet any longer. He enabled me to see that I had an important message to bring to the world.

I’m extremely grateful for the countless people who have read my book and have been moved to action. I receive your emails and hear how you have made a difference for a child and I know that Marcus Fiesel’s death means something and we are bringing good from it. I also know that little Joey had an important contribution to foster care when he moved me to write about him and others.

Every significant accomplishment begins with a thought backed by a commitment to do the piece in front of us that we can do. Invisible Kids ends with a dozen ways to make a difference: some are big and some are small. All are doable. We don’t have to solve the foster care crisis overnight. We don’t have to find the one big answer to the problems facing our vulnerable children. We just have to do one small thing at a time, kind of like a flea biting a big dog.

*Joey’s name was changed to protect his identity.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Esme's Light Shines On

Three times today I was annoyed at my kids for leaving the bathroom light on. Each time when I went to hit the switch to turn it off, I discovered it wasn’t on to begin with. The sun is finally shining after weeks of cold and ugly gray skies. I had gotten so accustomed to the gray that I had forgotten about brighter days when the sun streams through windows and casts light on every nook and cranny of my house, even the bathroom.

Although the sun is finally out after a long hiatus, gray clouds hang over my head today. Four children lost their mother this week after she was shot and killed by her sometimes boyfriend. Her three-week-old baby dropped from her arms as she fell to her death. For the past week, my thoughts have never strayed far from the family of Esme Kenney, a thirteen-year-old who went out for a jog on the first sunny spring-like day of 2009 when she met a nightmare named Anthony Kirkland. He (allegedly) murdered her. His trial began last week.

Just like Marcus Fiesel’s photo, I vividly remember seeing Esme’s picture flash across the TV news on the night of March 7, 2009. On the cusp of becoming a woman, she seemed childlike yet kind and wise beyond her years. There was a gentleness and sensitivity that radiated from her photo. My family and I prayed for her and her family that night. Two days later I went to mid-day mass to pray for her family as they digested the most horrible news anyone could receive about a precious child so loved.

Esme’s parents, Tom and Lisa Siders-Kenney, have every right to slam the door on life and live in hatred and excruciating pain. They must experience those days. Instead, just two weeks after Esme's death, Tom and Lisa issued a statement urging kindness. Read it here.

Something stronger than death is emerging in the countless good things that have been accomplished in the year since Esme died. The myriad of good deeds stretches across the globe but is held together by common themes of hope, courage, and tremendous love. A full list detailing the impact of Esme’s tragic death can be found here. It is amazing and powerful.

I’ve learned important truths while watching the story of Esme’s lasting impact on our world unfold over the past year. I’ve witnessed how an unspeakable act of violence can become the fertile ground of new growth, if passionate and courageous gardeners like Tom and Lisa tend it and a flock of loving family, friends, and strangers lend a hand. Tom and Lisa are teaching us that anything is possible when we work together. They are showing us the power of choosing life over death. They are reshaping our world with goodness and love.

Today is the first anniversary of Esme’s death. Tomorrow Esme’s mom will stand in a courtroom and testify against the man who took the life of her beloved girl. The gray clouds hanging over my head today pale in comparison to the darkness that must be raging in the hearts of Esme’s family. Even so, I pray that the light of Esme’s life radiates around them, envelopes them, and caresses them with her love and her presence. Her light, like the sun, is undeniable and brilliant. Even though it is sometimes hard to see and feel, it is always here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

From Foster Care to Filmmaker: An Incredible Story

Family dinner rules the Schlaack house every night. Ed and I make dinner with the kids a priority and although we aren’t always successful, we get it right most evenings. Recently one night at the dinner table I told the kids I had made a new friend that day. One of the greatest benefits of writing Invisible Kids is that it has brought wonderful people into my life that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

I met Crisinda when Crossroads Church ordered my book in bulk. Crossroads is looking to form a community group around issues relating to foster children, and my book gave them good insight into the system and the needs of foster children. Crisinda then introduced me to Selena, a former foster child turned filmmaker who produced a documentary about her mother’s addiction to crack cocaine and her journey from foster care to college and beyond. Keep in mind that less than 1% of foster children graduate from college.

Selena and I met for coffee recently after trading several emails. I set aside two hours for our time together and it wasn’t enough. I wanted to know everything about her and how she managed to transcend her early life experience to become such a success. Her successes are many: among them her kindness and her desire to use her life experience to help others. She has every reason to use her childhood of abuse and neglect as a reason to be bitter and angry. She has every reason to close the door on those painful chapters of her life and not look back.

If you are lucky enough to meet her, she might tell you about her very early memories of her parents before drugs took hold of them. She might reminisce about the happy times she had as a little girl with a younger sister and a mother who sang a song about FAMILY (Father And Mother and I Love You).

She might let you know what it is like to live without food, electricity, or running water because your parents have taken every last cent to feed their cocaine addictions. Maybe she’ll talk about how she became the primary caregiver of her six-year-old sister at age 10 because her own mother was strung out on crack. She entered foster care at age 14 after attending 12 different schools. Maybe she will explain how hard it was to adjust to anything while experiencing such chaos.

Selena will likely mention the foster mother who loved her or the caseworker who took her to freshman orientation at Wright State University. She will be the first to say that these important relationships sustained her and allowed her to grow.

Since she tells her story so beautifully in her film, I won’t tell it here. I couldn’t begin to do it justice. Instead, I encourage you to view it. It is powerful and hopeful.

I wonder if Selena’s success had something to do with the fact that her parents were able to provide for her and her sister when they were very young, before cocaine destroyed their family. I wonder if a solid foundation of love and nurturing were built in the early years and if they were able to sustain her when life started falling apart.

I don’t know for sure, but I do know that our relationships with other people profoundly shape us. They are the cornerstones of our lives. Relationships are key to our growth and development not just in our early years, but also throughout all our years.

When I told my kids I made a new friend, they asked when they were going to get to meet the famous filmmaker. I smiled and told them the fact that Selena made a film wasn’t even the coolest part about her. One look into her kind eyes and a sense of her quiet strength tells her whole story. This is the kind of woman who uses her life to make the world a better place. Who could ask for a better friend?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haitian Orphans and American Orphans

I was among the first to get caught up in a rumor last week that a plane carrying 300 Haitian orphans was headed for Indianapolis and families were needed to care for them. It was a feel good idea, just what the doctor ordered after days of being bombarded with horrific images from Haiti. After watching video footage of bodies littering the streets of Port-au-Prince and seeing traumatized orphans wondering aimlessly amid the piles of rubble, the thought of bringing those precious children to a safe place with clean drinking water was thrilling.

Hundreds of other people thought so too. Within 12 hours, one church reported receiving more than 1500 inquires from families interested in adopting these children.
CLICK HERE for more details.

Although the orphans did not arrive, a load of questions did instead.

Why are so many people willing to open their hearts and homes to Haitian orphans but no one is lining up to take in the
126,967 American foster children who have been freed for adoption but unable to find permanent homes?

Why does Hillary Clinton call a
meeting with the heads of the US State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the Haitian orphan crisis, yet the foster care crisis plays out every day in the lives of our forgotten children? Our government vowed to cut through the red tape and expedite adoption of previously identified Haitian orphans to waiting American families. We should do this. Absolutely. But can we also at least vow to cut through the red tape in our foster care system too? Please?

Why do celebrities come together to help raise
$57 million dollars in one night but they can’t come together and use their influence and resources to help any one of the 91,278 babies that are victims of abuse or neglect in this great country of ours?

Just because I ask these questions does not mean I don’t want to save the Haitian orphans as much as the 1500 people who inquired about adopting them. I do. My arms ache to hold one of them and I would love to save them and give them a good home with laughter, love, an education and yes, clean drinking water.

Maybe we don't have a shortage of open arms and homes with people willing to raise and love vulnerable, defenseless children. Maybe we just have a shortage of people willing to tolerate the government bureaucracy with comes with every foster child. Maybe this should be a wake up call to the people in leadership positions in the foster care. We have plenty of willing families. Now how do we work with them?

If you have any ideas on why we have 126,967 legal orphans and how we can help them find permanency with a family that will love them, please, pass them on. I don’t have answers to my questions, but maybe you do.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Safe Families for Children

Amanda* is twenty-three years old and a product of the foster care system. She drifted through foster homes and group homes for years until she was emancipated at the age of 18. Her parents are both deceased, as is the father of her two little girls, ages 2 and 1. Amanda is on her own today, without the support of any extended family or friends.

Most kids who age out of the foster care system don't do so well on their own. Amanda's older brother was found shot dead just months after he aged out of the system. Her younger brother was incarcerated within a year of his emancipation and is in prison today. Many former foster children suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at rates twice as high as US war veterans. Less than half have a high school diploma and many are homeless within months of being on their own. For more sobering statistics on kids who age out of the system, CLICK HERE.

Compared to her brothers, Amanda is a success story. She earned her high school diploma while in foster care and has managed to meet her own basic needs, as well as those of her infant and toddler. But every day is a challenge, and the challenges are mounting to the point where Amanda wonders if she can face another day.

Amanda is currently homeless and without a job. She is also significantly depressed. This makes parenting her children nearly impossible.

The shaky ground on which she has been treading is slowly crumbling and she is desperately clinging to the hands of each of her babies, terrified of losing them to the very foster care system that raised her and turned her loose. Even so, she can't do it anymore. Is there a way out this nightmare?

If she lived in Indianapolis there would be. Or Chicago, Orlando, Jacksonville, or a handful of other cities across the United States. What do all these cities have in common? They are home to a program called Safe Families for Children, a program born out of the brilliant vision of it's founder, Dr. David Anderson. I first read about Safe Families in the New York Times last May.

Dr. Anderson is from Chicago. Like you and I, he watched news accounts of story after story in which a child died of abuse at the hands of a parent. These stories moved him to search for a better response and a way for parents to get help before they abuse or neglect their children.

In 2003, Safe Families for Children was started with a handful of volunteers. Biological parents facing problems such as homelessness, illness, or incarceration have an option of placing their children briefly with volunteer families who agree to care for and support children. Biological parents retain custody and volunteer families are not compensated for their services. The goal is always to provide respite and support to children and families like Amanda and her little ones.

The beauty of this model is that it is a community or family responding to those most in need of stability. Foster care is necessary and life-saving, but the Safe Families model helps families and children before blatant abuse or neglect occurs.

Because there is no exchange of custody and no reimbursement involved, everyone stays focused on resolving the issues that led to the need for placement. Being a volunteer family is a great alternative for people who've often considered fostering but have been overwhelmed by the lengthy process of licensure. Safe Families complete background checks, references, and homestudies, but the required training is all online. It is also short-term in nature, a perfect fit for families who are unsure they have what it takes to be a foster parent with placements that can last indefinitely.

I wish with all my heart that Amanda had Safe Families here in Cincinnati to turn to during this crisis. It would give her children the stability and safety they need while she focuses on getting her feet back on solid ground.

If you are intriqued by the idea of bringing this brilliant, caring alternative to Cincinnati's families in crisis, comment on this blog or email me at Maybe if we all work together we can find a way to make this a reality for our most precious resources: our children, our families, and our communities.

Thanks for reading and for caring!