Let society see what happens to children

Christmas is for kids. So lets talk about kids.  Not the happy ones gathered around your tree or holiday table but the ones we’d prefer not to think about right now. The ones state officials have been talking about the last few weeks. The ones society tries, and often fails, to help and protect.

Maybe this isn’t what you want to read right before Christmas, especially if you’re feeling a little guilty about going overboard to get your kids everything on their list.  But the poignancy of remembering those kids staring at an institutional tree in an institutional setting whose only presents will have tags reading “10 year old boy” should sharpen your appreciation of how lucky you and your children really are.

The latest discussion in state circles is to ease up on the confidentiality surrounding children’s proceedings.  Part of me wants to jump up on a chair and scream “Yes! Yes!” to that idea. Another part of me cringes as I picture the faces of the kids I deal with and their probable reaction to seeing details of their troubled childhoods amidst violence and abuse making front-page headlines.

Even if the children’s names are protected, they’ll know it’s out there for all to see. Anyone with a pre-teen or teen who would prefer you walk ten steps behind them with a bag over your head when out in public, can understand how these children would react to a public airing of their private difficulties.

But it needs to be done for a lot of very good reasons.  For starts, no government agency should be allowed to operate under such a veil of secrecy, let alone an agency charged with handling children’s futures.  Ultimately, their futures are our futures and we will pay the price later for every secret we keep now.

We need to know not only how the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) makes their decisions but how well they make them.  Having standards for foster parents and adoptions are only one part of the story. How those standards are, in fact, enacted can often be a whole different story. And funding for sufficient positions to uphold those standards is another important part of the story.

I had a friend comment to me that she was appalled to find out that the state would provide over $3000 worth of monthly subsidies to the family who adopted and then abused five children in the Valley with no oversight at all.  I’m guessing the adoption subsidy is something that sticks in a lot of people’s craws.  Most people figure if you adopt kids, they are yours and you take care of them.

I agree in theory that if the government gives you money to do something, it has some right to expect an accounting of that money.  In fact, I would love to see some large corporations in this country account for the money they’ve gotten from the government before we start hitting on adoptive parents.

When it comes to the basic idea of the subsidy itself, the sad reality is that so many kids up for adoption in the state system come to us so damaged already, and with so many special needs, that they are virtually unadoptable if the state doesn’t continue to provide money for their special services. 

Often the adoptive parents were originally the foster parents. They received money every month from the state that acknowledged the special needs of the kids they had in their home or the state directly paid for the programs to address those needs. I have worked with kids who have ended up in long-term foster care instead of being adopted because the foster parents couldn’t afford treatment for those kids without that help.

My friend also expressed amazement at the idea that five kids in the same family could need special services subsidies.  I had a GAL case in which one woman gave birth to over six FAS children.  One child is so badly damaged that he/she will probably live in state institutions for the rest of his/her life. (Gee, those state confidentiality laws make for awkward sentences too). So, it not only happens, it happens a lot.

Meanwhile, as you watch your kids opening their presents and hold your child’s hand while giving a prayer of thanksgiving around the dinner table, say a special prayer for those kids opening anonymous gifts donated by warm-hearted people who don’t even know their names.  They deserve better than the world has given them so far.