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.

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