We Can – And SHOULD – Do Better By Our Children

logo_Austin-American-Statesman-300x36

By Kelly White, CEO, Austin Children’s Shelter

“A 19-year-old youth in our transitional living program tells his counselor he is hearing voices that are telling him to get a gun and hurt people.”

“A recently-widowed 42-year-old father of two is found by his 5-year old – dead. The cause of death is still being investigated and two toddlers have now lost both of their parents within the space of just a few months.”

“Orien Hamilton, a one-year old in State custody after being born with meth in her system, is killed in her foster home – a “kinship” care placement. She is killed by the father of her foster mother’s other children, a man who has repeatedly been investigated for child abuse.”

“A Foster in Austin (a program of the Austin Children’s Shelter) family receives death threats that are later traced to the father of one of their foster children.”

What do all of these incidents have in common? Not much at first glance. They all occurred over the past couple of weeks and all involve some horrific tragedy or near-miss involving children. The two children who lost both their parents have never suffered from abuse or neglect and, in fact, have a wonderful extended family that is stepping in to wrap them up with love. If only the other children were so lucky.

These are just a very few of the stories and lives I have been involved with either directly or peripherally over the past few weeks and I can’t help but think of them together as a whole and what they say about children, families, and the systems designed to help. The lessons for me:

  • A healthy and loving extended family is absolutely best equipped to help with a child when tragedy strikes.
  • But just because someone is family, it doesn’t mean they are best equipped to deal with the health, safety and nurturing of a child. Violence in families is too often a tradition that gets handed down through generations. We should have rigorous systems for assessment, monitoring and support when placing a child in kinship care.
  • There are many caring and right-minded families providing foster care. The family that was receiving death threats could have turned the child back saying, “We didn’t sign on for this.” But they didn’t give up, the child is doing well within their family and they didn’t want to do anything to further disrupt her life.
  • The young man who was hallucinating is receiving needed treatment because his caseworker at Child Protective Services and the Austin Children’s Shelter (ACS). We’ve made sure he has heard from our ACS staff, because at this point, we are, in essence, his “kinship.” After a year of living on our campus, his “permanency” is with the people he trusted to tell when he was afraid of harming someone.
The most important lesson learned is that each child and family is different. Yes, there are enormous problems associated with the Child Protective System in Texas. One of the biggest problems is the sheer size of the system and the nature and volume of the work it is charged with. It is impossible to categorize every situation and assign care based on a check-the-box prioritization. Caseworkers are too often forced by both federal and state regulations to act against their better judgment. They are struggling to do the right thing for all the kids on their staggering caseloads, while living in fear that they will misjudge, and there will be another Orien Hamilton. CPS is an underfunded, overburdened system bound with bureaucracy that mostly gets in the way rather than helping the front-line workers do their jobs. We must do better.ACS was a founding partner, with SafePlace, in the LIFT Alliance specifically because we believe we can and must do better. We believe violence is preventable. We believe that by combining our voices and actions we can eliminate child, sexual and domestic violence and abuse. And we believe that it is past time to focus our time, attention and resources on creating safe communities for all our citizens. Together, as a community, we can become that extended family that wraps its arms around every child in danger of hurt and loss.
Translate »