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.