Friday, January 25, 2013

Your Children Need You

The death of two-year-old Damarcus Jackson allegedly at the hands of his biological father has sparked three independent investigations regarding a juvenile court decision to reunify the former foster child with his biological family.
These three investigations may or may not give us a glimpse into the decision-making process that placed Damarcus squarely in the hands of the man who allegedly killed him. When the investigations are concluded, what will be different? Will the system apply whatever it might learn from these investigations? What will be gained?
Every time a foster child or reunified child dies as a result of abuse we do this. We get outraged. We cry for the lost life and the child who suffered horrifically despite the child welfare system’s involvement. Think three-year-old Marcus Fiesel who was brutally murdered by his foster parents after they pinned his arms behind his back, bound him, and left him in a hot closet where he died of hyperthermia. Think two-year-old Californian Vyctorya Sandoval who was reunified with biological family despite the protests of veteran system workers and died of abuse on Easter in 2011. Think Florida’s ten-year-old Nubia Barahona who was adopted and later killed by foster parents despite multiple red flags raised throughout the span of her short childhood. Think seven-year-old Gabriel Myers, a Florida foster child who hung himself in the shower of his foster home.
These cases devastate us for a little while. We demand accountability. We demand change. In response, investigations are initiated and promises made and then we are back to business as usual. Until the next child dies. Then we start the outrage and demands all over again.
It must change. Not just the system itself, but the mindset that these children are not our collective responsibility. Foster kids are under the custody and control of the government.  They belong to the system as opposed to a loving family. As taxpayers, foster children belong to all of us.  Therefore, their needs and our understanding of those needs and commitment to meeting them should be among our highest priorities. They deserve more than a few weeks of our attention and outrage when something goes wrong.
Infants and toddlers like Damarcus are the fastest growing group of kids coming into foster care.  he deck is stacked against them from the start. They’ve experienced trauma at a time of rapid brain growth which can have life-long impacts on their cognitive, social-emotional, and behavioral development. They are more likely to be abused and neglected than older children.  They are thrust into an overloaded child welfare system that sometimes works and sometimes fails.
However, foster care is necessary and often life-saving. Eighty percent of all homicide child victims are under age four.  Eighty percent of those kids are killed by their parents.

This is a community problem demanding a community response in addition to a government response. We cannot expect the system to fix itself. We have to step in if we have any hope of improving outcomes for vulnerable children. Get educated about the complex issues facing the child welfare system and the children and families it is designed to serve. Get Involved. Give your time. Use your voice. 

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