Protecting the Born

May is Foster Care Awareness Month, in case you didn’t know there was such a thing. Why, you ask, do we need an entire month devoted to foster care awareness? Here are a few of numbers from my home state that will suffice for my answer:

State of Oklahoma, 2011

8,110: Children confirmed as being abused or neglected

7,970: Children in foster care (that number is now up to about 8,300)

4,500: Approximate number of foster homes available

We’re all clicking numbers off our tongue these days. My friends who label themselves as pro-life will tell you that  over 1.2 million fetuses are aborted each year in the U.S. In Oklahoma, the number is between 5,500 and 6,000. I have friends who attend pro-life rallies and hold placards on street corners with the statistics printed on them. Images of fetuses are also printed on these placards, as well as facts about the development of the child: at 16 weeks the body is fully formed, the fingers and toes have fingerprints and nails. The last time I wrote about this, I heard from some of my friends who are passionately anti-abortion and the conversation seemed to be tilting slightly toward argumentative: your numbers versus my numbers. “We’re all on the same side here,” I wanted to say. If we’re going to be passionate about children, let’s be equally passionate about those who have exited the womb. I also recoil at the horrors of the what abortion does to a fully formed fetus, however, I’d like to add some stories to the conversation pulled straight from my hometown newspaper:

On March 25th, a toddler was found dead in a car that had been stopped for erratic driving in Tulsa. Zamontay Green, 19 months old, had been dead for hours and abused over a period of time, court records show. He had subdural hemorrhage, abdominal trauma, broken ribs, multiple bruises – including loop marks around his legs, which indicates he had been whipped with a type of rope. Jazmin Williams and Mica Shoate, both 22, have been charged with child-abuse murder, permitting child abuse, and child neglect. They were taking care of the boy while his mother was staying in Arkansas, records show.

Felicia Dawn Potter, 21, was charged with child neglect on March 19 on accusations that she exposed a 2-year-old girl in her care to unsafe and unsanitary living conditions. Court filings allege she exposed the child to “marijuana, human vomit, human feces, used tampons and/or rotting trash and food.”

If you want to read a smattering of other tales that will turn your stomach, you can find them here.  Every story of abuse involves the same children that we would speak up for loudly and passionately while they were still inside the womb. Here is why I have a problem with the “sanctity of life” conversation: I think our passions often wane the moment the child is born. Somehow, once we’ve successfully convinced a woman not to have an abortion, then it becomes her responsibility to make it work from there — even if she’s single, uneducated, unemployed, and without a healthy family or community structure in place to help give support. So, who suffers in this scenario? Children, of course.

Where are the passionate activists who will charge Capitol Hill on behalf of children — now born — who are victims of child abuse? Who holds up placards for children who languish in state custody? Where are those who will march around to decry the lack of foster homes for children who, through no fault of their own, have no home? “That’s not my responsibility,” is the unspoken justification that most of us hold out. “It isn’t my problem that mothers use drugs or allow their boyfriends to abuse their children.” “If these people can’t take care of their children, they shouldn’t have them.”

Well, it’s too late. In the U.S., there are over 400,000 children who are in state custody. Some of them await adoption, many are being bounced from one foster care home to another, and far too many are living in shelters waiting for adequate and safe foster homes to be found for them. In fiscal year 2011, our underpaid and overworked DHS employees took 9,344 calls alleging abuse or neglect of a child in Tulsa County alone and completed 3,096 investigations. 1,023 of those cases were confirmed abuse or neglect. Wait, let me restate: 1,023 children were confirmed to be abused or neglected. That’s in one county in this state. Multiply that across this great nation and you have a crisis of tragedy involving the most vulnerable among us.

When DHS workers are called to a home to remove the child from an abusive or unsafe situation, they give the child a black trash bag and let them pack a few things before they take them to a shelter to await a foster care placement. A trash bag. Last Saturday, a group of people who are generally appalled by all of this gathered at our city’s child welfare shelter, The Laura Dester Shelter. We brought suitcases to donate because we understand that the state DHS is underfunded and can’t supply them for the children. And then we walked around the shelter and carried our suitcases to represent that we want to speak out for these children who cannot speak for themselves. The event is called Walk a Mile In My Shoes, and every person who participated believes deeply in the sanctity of life.

So here is the challenge: Can we believe in the sanctity of every life? The born child. The single mother. The deadbeat dad. Are there only certain lives that are precious to God? Or is every life — whether we deem it worthy or not — a life that God wants to save? And if God believes that life is worthy of saving, then perhaps I should too. By the way, next year when we attend Walk a Mile, I’m carrying a placard.

About Lisa Tresch, Contributor

Lisa Tresch is editor of Mia magazine, a quarterly storytelling journal for women. Lisa graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a B.A. in Journalism. She worked as a City Desk reporter and features writer for the Tulsa World before launching a freelance writing and editing business. In 2009, she entered the world of magazine publishing as a partner in The Leslie Group, and began editing Mia in 2009. She keeps a tenuous balance of competing passions: writing, editing, blogging, photography, advocating for orphans, and coordinating social media for a non-profit. Some of these things she does better than others, but she is most passionate about her role as the mother of three amazing children and the wife of her college sweetheart.

Comments

  1. so good!!! thank you for writing this article.

  2. Thank you!

  3. I couldn’t agree more and hope this article stirs people to action on behalf of these hurting kids.

  4. Lisa:
    Great article! You make a great point and I couldn’t agree more. These kids deserve a chance and it’s time we stepped up and were a part of the solution.

  5. I cannot stop thinking about this and want to do a bag drive where I live (Atlanta). Could I possible email you with some questions about how you organized your in OK? Thanks so much, allisonclaire84@yahoo:disqus .com. I would really appreciate some start up direction:)