There is an urgent, and when I say urgent, I truly mean urgent situation before us.
Have you ever wondered why social ills like homelessness or, say, sex trafficking garner so much national and international attention? — as they should, because these are insidious problems that need to be addressed.
But have you ever wondered why foster care, a term that you’ve heard before, doesn’t garner the same interest?
The fact is, there are half a million children in the foster care system and so many more right now that, because of COVID-19, and because many of these children are locked up with their abusers, with no mandates reporters to help get them into a safe place — this COVID-19 pandemic is directly affecting these children in ways our country has never seen before.
COVID-19 is having a dramatic effect on so many of us. But I can tell you a child is different. A child is different because a chlld is not developed, emotionally, not developed in terms of their brains, their neurology.
They are the most vulnerable of all people.
But children in foster care? They are different than the “normal” child. They have been neglected. They have been abused sexually, physically, and on top of that, they have been abandoned.
They have been taken away from their biological parents.
And, and guess what? Courts are closed; these kids cannot be reunified with their parents. The guidelines in place for these biological parents to get their children back are not in effect anymore.
Many of these children are hurting in ways they have never been hurt before.
I have a specific call to action. RFK works in 44 states. In hundreds of counties we have chapters, we work alongside government agencies with these children. We have close to 20,000 volunteers.
What we are doing right now is we are finding creative, innovative ways to mobilize our volunteers, to help social workers to meet these children in different ways.
Reports of child abuse have dropped dramatically. Reports have dropped, and that is because there are no mandated reporters today. The teachers, the coaches, the pediatricians — the eyes, the eagle eyes that have looked out for these children for decades — aren’t seeing them anymore.
So what we have is a true epidemic.
Just one quick statistic. Incidents of sexual abuse, visitors to the national sexual assault hotline, over half of them in the last 60 days, were minors. And of those who called, 79% of the minors who called said they were living with their perpetrator. And there are no mandated reporters to help them.
There is hope. We’re mobilized across the nation and in 12 countries to meet the needs of these vulnerable children who are experiencing neglect, abuse, and abandonment, in so many cases.
Do this. Go to RFK.org right now, if you would. Register for our email list. We are not going to spam you and we won’t sell your information. But we will give you information because you want to know about this — because I’m sure that you care.
The second thing is follow us on Instagram. Follow us on Facebook.
May is foster care awareness month. I decided to write about children in foster care, every day this month.
I am tired. I’m laying in bed. I’ve been on Zoom calls all day.
This is my post for the day, the fourth day. My first post has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook.
RFK is developing a national response to COVID-19. Particularly, we aim to support social workers in the hundreds of counties where we work. They are absolutely overwhelmed. And when they are overwhelmed, guess who received even more neglect?
They need us.
Children are separated from their biological parents because the courts are closed.
They need us.
Someone messaged me a few days ago and asked how I’m “holding up.” If I get discouraged or feel hopeless.
Yes, I do. I’m am exhausted. I broke down and cried during a staff meeting today. I’m the CEO. I’m supposed to be strong and in control.
But these children are being neglected and abused in ways they never have. They are dying and being raped. They are dying and being raped.
I can’t stop. We can’t stop.
Go to RFK.org and join our mailing list. Follow us on social media.
Because things break. Then they need fixing. They go wrong. Then they need to be made right.
A crooked painting. Flat tire. Drop your phone and the screen shatters. Things get crooked and punctured and cracked. Then we straighten, repair, fix.
Same thing with our bodies. Broken femur. High blood pressure. A new virus. So get a cast, change your diet and exercise, (hopefully) find a vaccine.
The word justice is simply that – the idea of fixing or bringing rectitude to a thing that is broken. Making something right.
Social justice is fixing or brining justice to a social issue. After a hurricane, we bring food and medical supplies to victims. After September 11, 2001, we rushed to ground zero to bring physical relief.
Much philanthropy consists of people caring for people — feeding the hungry, giving clothes to the naked, helping the sick in body, advocating on behalf of the marginalized.
If you study the life of Jesus, bringing social justice to the poor, sick, oppressed, outsider — this is the great legacy of true religion, caring for widows and orphans, including speaking-up on their behalf to their oppressors.
A kind of social justice consumes my heart daily: social justice toward children.
Of course, children are always innocent and vulnerable, always. Those in foster care — our modern-day orphans — suffer perhaps the worst kind of injustice. It wasn’t a bomb or an earthquake or famine that caused their horror – it was their parent.
Neglect, abuse, then abandonment, from the one who was supposed to love, protect, nurture.
It is National Foster Care Awareness Month. I am writing a post each day of May. I wrote on the first and second.
During Covid-19, these children are suffering like never before. Incidents of death due to child abuse are escalating at alarming rates. In a March 24th piece in The Atlantic titled The Kids Aren’t All Right, the social injustice is made clear:
“For children who spend time in multiple households, rely on outside figures for guidance or mentoring..prolonged social-distancing measures will mean profound separation from some people who provide care.”
I looked over and noticed José, alone. The 11-year-old was one of the five boys that slept in our cabin.
Coming toward him I shout, “José, let’s swim.”
In an eerie sound of terror — with fear in those shaken brown eyes and the grimaced contortion of his lips — he screamed, “NOOOOO!”
Almost in a shriek, “Get away from me!”
Immediately, I stop.
Please don’t touch me.
Twenty thousand RFK volunteers spread across the country and world, all trained not just to identify those symptoms in children in foster care, but more importantly, how to respond. Trust-based relational intervention (TBRI):
I remembered the basics:
Stay calm: no matter what.
See the need: behind the behavior.
Meet the need: find a way.
Don’t quit: if not you, then who?
Backing away slowly. “Hey no problem, Jose. Your game looks fun.”
“Yeh, yeh, yeh yeah Paul but please don’t come close to me again. I don’t want to learn how to swim. Please don’t make me.”
“No problem buddy, I just liked your alone game. Dunking yourself over and over. By yourself. So cool! I want to do that, by myself, just like you.”
“Will you teach me how, José?”
“Well. Um, okay, but you have to go over there.”
I slowly walk five feet to his right.
“That’s too close, further! And you can’t come closer or teach me to swim, or touch me!”
(Please don’t touch me.)
“I just want to do your dunking game.”
I grasp the coping. I assume the position. I submerge myself.
Then up down up down, like an oil rig. Up and down and up and down. At a summer camp. For a child in foster care. In a pool. In the shallowed end — Jose and me — holding onto the coping. I wore no goggles.
Last month, the United Nations reported, “[h]undreds of millions of children around the world will likely face increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing—including mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, social exclusion and separation from caregivers—because of actions taken to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The chilling symptoms of child abuse.
The next day, I earned Jose’s trust. I said we should play “follow the leader.” Eventually, he let go of the coping as we walked along the side. Then I showed him how to walk from one end to the other. Then I showed him how to put his face in the water while walking, bending over forward. Then I showed him how to jump forward like a torpedo.
The process took two days. On the third, day, 11-year-old José swam.
An hour later, I felt these electric-like freezing cold tingles throughout my body – up and down up and down. This ebullient José — how to find words to convey the contrast in his confidence? —he sprinted through the cafeteria, announcing to dozens of children, “I know how to swim!”
Today, I wonder about José. I wonder if his father was released from prison. The father that “Got a new tattoo across his face.” The father he called “very rough.”
Is COVID-19 forcing José to stay in a home, alone, with that “rough” father?