And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! Matthew 18:5-7 (NIV)
While I have a job to be envied working with our community’s historical organizations, teaching about our past, restoring and saving old buildings, there is a part of it that I didn’t ask to have. I also supervise two volunteer programs working with delinquent and neglected children. Generally, I pick and chose how much I want to be involved in those programs because some talented people who have the training and stomach for that work skillfully manage the responsibilities. However, one of those people is out on an extended sick leave which means these days, I am smack dab in the middle of the child welfare system. As a historian, I collect stories about the past, some inspire; some not so as both heroism and stupidity unfold through my studies. In the foster care system, there are also some stories of heroism, but more of ignorance and some of just plain meanness. This week, I talked to an eight year old boy whose mom left him in charge of his little sisters, six, five, three and one, while she went out “clubbing.” It was only because of a concerned neighbor that authorities arrived to take that responsibility off his young shoulders. I met a nineteen year old girl, raised in foster care since she was three because her own mother abandoned her to live with her grandfather who also left her with his girlfriend who did not want to raise someone else’s daughter. So, when this girl in a young woman’s body left foster care, she immediately became pregnant. When the baby was born, she gave her away to complete strangers she met on the street. What else did she know to do? I read of a teenager who ran away from home because her own mother tried to force her into prostitution. Then, there were the moms and dads too busy with their drug addictions to even go visit their children in foster care. The stories are horrific, many worse than what I can print here. Whenever I read a name, see a birth date, I wonder. Is there anyone out there who celebrates this child’s birthday? Who can tell the story of why their name was chosen? It comforts me to know that there is Someone Who does. As with any good story, there are a few heroes. The aunt who is raising not only her nieces and nephews, but the children of her brother’s girlfriend that are not even related to her. The grandmother who turned in her own daughter to protect her grandchildren. The caseworkers who go the extra mile. The guardian ad litems who purchase school supplies out of their own pocket. The mentors who listen and provide role models. A society is judged by the way that it treats its most precious assets. Our country, no matter how high and mighty we think we are, is sorely lacking, and I fear we will never recover from the harm done to this generation of children.