Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege to be a part of a group of people in places of leadership in residential childcare facilities. We met with State officials to explore better ways of responding to the capacity crisis for children needing placement and protection in Texas. State officials hosting the meeting set the tone of mutually focusing to find workable solutions to better serve the need. It was one of the more productive and hopeful meetings I’ve attended in many years. The common denominator between State officials and the non-profit sector was one of genuine interest in serving children from hard places and recognizing the importance of working together.
Prior to the meeting, I had lunch with a friend who strategically selected the participants invited to the meeting. He mentioned in passing that the agency where he serves is accepting placement of a sibling group of seven special needs children today. Wow! I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Christmas time is really a difficult time to integrate new children into placement. On top of that, how do you negotiate seven special needs children all at the same time? For that matter, does the agency really have a comprehensive understanding of the complexity of all the issues they’ll be facing?
I didn’t ask my friend the question because two things are certain. To begin with, their agency said “Yes” to placement because they know that most agencies including the ones where I work don’t have the financial resources or available space to professionally address the unmet needs of children with those levels of disability. They also said “Yes” because they have a history of responding to child welfare crisis, moving mountains, orchestrating high level treatment teams including world renowned experts and giving the task everything within their power to meet the needs and orchestrate a level of calm and felt safety for children.
My friend didn’t share specific details about the children for whom they’ll be providing care by the end of today, but it didn’t take me long to initiate a Google search and find the horrific story involving seven special needs children. The grouping of children included five boys and two girls between the ages of fourteen-to-sixteen.
Actually the photo of the room where seven special needs adolescent age children were held captive gave me a sick sensation in the pit of my stomach. Throw in the fact the one of the children was a child with down’s syndrome and another was blind and you immediately get the sense that things are not well. Some of the children including those two are nonverbal. The adoptive family group of seven malnourished teenagers locked in a filthy, bug-infested room that smelled of human waste isn’t the kind of story you expect to find.
According to media coverage, none of the neighbors knew there were children living in the house. The children were never permitted to go outside and were regularly locked in a 5 x 8 closet with a deadbolt. None of the children ever attended school. Reportedly, their foster mother adopted all of the children as infants. An eighth child was also adopted at the age of seven, but he died at the age of eleven.
So how does something of this magnitude go unnoticed? Shouldn’t folks receiving adoption subsidies for special needs children have to provide some kind of verification related to provision of educational or medical services? Actually, their aren’t any requirements of adoptive parents once the adoption is finalized in court.
The media coverage I viewed surrounding those seven special needs children defy imagination. It highlights the fact that not everyone expressing a willingness to care for children is motivated by meeting their needs. If you want to put yourself in a negative frame of mind, do your own Google search about these children from Fort Bend County.
To escape the sense of gloom I found myself feeling after reading about the mistreatment, I shifted my thoughts to my friend whose agency is accepting these children into care today. They will surround each child with the nurture, support, guidance, health care, diet and a host of professional staff who will come alongside and do everything possible to provide support and a sense of well-being.
I also thought about the large group of child care professionals who were present at the meeting yesterday afternoon to talk about being proactive and moving toward doing a better job of filling the gap in meeting the needs of children who have been abused and neglected.
The foster/adoptive mother who has been responsible for a lifetime of neglect and harm for the seven children she adopted is simply a sad reminder that not everyone wanting children has the child’s best interest at heart. Fortunately most people do.
In addition, in today’s child welfare community, we have a better understanding of child development and the negative impact of early childhood trauma than we’ve ever had before. Consequently, we’ve got more tools in the toolbox to get it right. We have come light years from where we started.
I think one of the reasons I get so energized by information related to research and trauma informed care is the recognition that kids from hard places have a better chance today than at any time in history. It is not rocket science, but it is an approach of working with children out of nurturing relationships that help foster a sense of felt safety and calm for children who have historically haven’t had that piece.
All My Best!