The topic of foster care was the subject of Our America with Lisa Ling on OWN last week. The show focused on Los Angeles but the circumstances, scenarios and families could have been anywhere in the US. Ling reported that there are half a million foster kids in this country and an estimated 24,000 of them age out of the system at 18 every year.
Heartbreaking. Tragic. Sad. Yes. Yes. Yes. We need solutions. Clearly.
We see these children on good days and on their worst days. I arrived at a shelter late one night and watched a mother chasing police who had taken her little girl away for reasons I was not privy to. The toddler was crying and trying to wrangle free from an officer's arms while her mother was screaming and running towards them as fast as she could. I couldn't imagine what had transpired. But I could feel their pain and it was unbearable. The officer succeeded in getting through the shelter's door with the little girl and locking the mother out. She banged and pounded on the giant door but no one answered, no one let her in. She collapsed against the door, wailing and waiting. That memory -- less than 30 seconds -- stays with me, seared into my mind.
That was a very bad day.
Good days are filled with a respite for these children, some time away from their pain to feel joy, to laugh, and to giggle over special gifts just for them. On good days we see a steady stream of smiling little faces coming in the door. We hear them announce their favorite food when it's their turn going around a circle. We are patient when they scramble to get ready for reading time with volunteers. We are mesmerized at the pure delight on their faces when they're choosing books they can keep and putting stickers with their names inside them. Of course trying on their new pajamas makes it an especially good day!
We see bad days and good days, and we hear about hopeful days from people working toward a solution. Just today we received this note from a county attorney working to re-unite families. He is asking us to send him books and pajamas a couple of times a year:
"You should see the children's faces when they receive these books if they happen to be in court. Each book represents a time period, however short, that a child's parent was able to abstain from drugs and alcohol for these children. It's a gift for them to share together as they are battling addiction and its effects."
We need solutions and they are coming from people like this, good people within the foster care system. Day by day they are working to shed light on the issues and problems they see, and they are paving the way for families to heal and re-start their lives. Let's not be blinded by the maze of blame. Let's not shut our eyes to avoid dealing with these problems. Let's all look for solutions -- they are coming and we must see our way clearly for the children.