Shedding Light on Forgotten Children

The last image I have of my mother is her sitting in a low chair, pregnant, with long straggly hair below her shoulders. I am maybe 9 years old, and she is crying to me. She is apologizing to me, she is promising me a new life, and then she is rambling nervously. Her eyes are mine, her hands even have the same texture. But she is so vastly different from my soft-hearted nature, she is starkly calculating and unnerved.

Even in my fear of her, I pitied her obvious weakness. We sat in a cell of some type that day, being watched by two social workers and a cop. I did not speak a word but felt hot tears nearly cut my skin as I tried to decipher my own feelings of hatred and fear. I saw her one time after that day and never again.

It is the stark image of her face, strained and nearly helpless, and the sound of someone kicking in a basement door that follows me sometimes. The smell of the musty air, the light being dim from a broken window, the cry of a boy beside me. And confusion. Mass confusion. Thankfully decades later, these memories are dull and they appear infrequently. They are sometimes jarred by someone’s touch, and other times, by my writing, my motherhood, and personal explorations.

This past week journalist Lisa Ling  gave viewers of the OWN network a harrowing look at the foster care system in Los Angeles in her documentary, “Children of the System.” The stories in the documentary re-opened old wounds, when  I was placed in foster care after being abused as a young girl.  In my advocacy writing, just as in my  parenting and all intimate aspects of my life, I do sometimes tread on thin ice.

The documentary, as it should, touched on nerves long numbed by time. I have learned to navigate these moments fairly well by now but when they appear they are fierce.

Ling gave a three-dimensional look at  social workers handling thousands of calls weekly of abuse, abandonment, and neglect.  She followed the story of several children in care, mothers fighting to regain custody, and a system swimming in controversy in the largest foster care system in America.

Los Angeles has more than 20,000 children in care. Like most other urban systems, the DFS often has no place for displaced children to go. Ling follows children sleeping in cots in offices, in temporary shelters as open prey to abusers, children sleeping in jail cells. This is one of Americas biggest tragedies.  We have no magic wand.

From sibling separation, to children riding the wave of abuse and isolation, and to the never-ending court battles; the documentary painted a clear picture of the fear, pain and cyclical nature of early abuse.

Anyone who has not viewed the documentary, should; it unravels the stratification of a complex system, so deeply rooted in the heart of hundreds of thousands of American children. There is not a more important domestic issue at hand than protecting the innocence of these gifts and giving them a chance to be part of a better world.

I will revisit the documentary myself as I put my child to sleep tonight, and take comfort in the echoes of the past being very far in the past.  I hope Ling’s hard work propels a young foster child to close his/her eyes knowing that peace and security is a possibility, even if it is far off.

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11 thoughts on “Shedding Light on Forgotten Children”

  1. Your bravery is so inspiring, and I admire your openness and willingness to bare you own wounds so that others may heal or become aware! Thank you for always opening my eyes and shedding light on a social tragedy that exists in America.

  2. It is out of our own struggles and trials that we gain the inner strength needed to reach out and touch the hearts of those who are hurting. But it takes great courage to be willing to exercise that strength and not let it atrophy into self pity… You are doing a great job exercising!!! Cheers!

  3. Your story touched my heart saying two things. The difficult journey one child faced that should have never been and the strength to overcome and be the voice for the voiceless. Thank you for opening your life and your story to help us all become more aware of those who are lost in the system and hopefully one day, encourage many to open their home and give that child the love they need.

  4. Thank you. I appreciate your comments and respect the work you do to help families struggling. Protecting children is the only way to ensure a better society. Thank you again for your support!

  5. You are right in your response. If we don’t help the parents, then the children are the ones that will be hurt in the end. I will be focusing on foster children in the near future so I may be touching base with you and getting your expertise on this topic. Although adoptees and foster children share similar complexities, there is also a difference and I don’t want to ignore that part of the issue.

  6. I agree. There are similarities, however foster children tend to shuffle in temporary homes until they are “un adoptable.” They are also often returned to abusive parents, as generally the system intends to return them to biological family. There is a dynamic esp. with being caught in legal red tape and bounced between biological families and temporary homes. I always welcome discussing issues that benefit any child. The attachment and abusive elements in most foster children’s lives is so precarious. It is a system that is finally becoming more public. I look forward to discussions !

  7. This was a tough one to read. I find your courage inspiring and it makes me so grateful for the family life I had as a child. thank you for sharing

  8. Thank you for sharing! Foster children have been on my mind since I saw something on TV that addressed the issue of aging out of the system and how so many of the foster families refuse to take care of the children anymore because they’re not getting paid. I never realized that this could occur. How many parents kick their kids out the minute they turn 18? Take care and God bless! 🙂

  9. Philly, you sure are touching more and more followers! You deserve this! You have overcome so much, and it is a pleasure for me to sit back as one of your followers and admirers, to see you shine the way you do!

    Don’t ever take the way you touch people’s lives for granted! Continue to express yourself through your advocacy, poetry, and cooking. You are such an inspiration, and I think you’re pretty darn special! 🙂

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