Our Share Why You Care series about why Texas children should be a focus, during this critical time before elections and the next legislative session, continues. Next up is our Child Welfare Policy Associate Ashley Harris, who writes about the people affected by child abuse and neglect and why their stories need to be told.
"Where there's breath, there's hope." - Tonier Cain
Child abuse and neglect can leave what feels like lost hope in its wake, especially if the child welfare system fails to provide the stability and support Texans need to heal. We know the statistics: 7 out of every 1,000 children will be removed from their home due to abuse and neglect.
But the people affected by this trauma are more than just numbers. They are real families, children, mothers, fathers, young adults, foster parents, and workers in nonprofit organizations and Child Protective Services (CPS). Each child and parent in the system is unique, but their struggles are much the same.
- Melanie,* a mother of two, struggled with addiction to crystal meth--an addiction shared with her 14-year-old daughter. This led to her daughter's placement in foster care. After more than three years of working with her caseworker, Melanie was able to reunite with her daughter a few days before her child's 18th birthday. She now celebrates years of recovery from substance abuse and a daughter who graduated from high school, joined the military, and is now traveling the world.
- C.J, a 21-year-old high school graduate and recipient of a full college scholarship, is currently homeless. C.J. has done everything right. He is employed and has no criminal history. Despite this success, he is now homeless because he was unable to secure a co-signer for his lease renewal. On moving day, there was nowhere to go. Fearing a night at the local shelter and unable to find an available motel room, he found himself on a kind stranger's couch for one night. He continues to struggle to find long-term housing.
- Lisa, 19, graduated from high school and was the star resident of the independent living program where she spent her last few years before aging out of foster care. At 18, she got her own apartment, but quickly found herself in need of help, despite her best efforts to find stability on her own. Pregnant and living in a weekly motel, she will soon become a mom without having support from any parent, relative, or other significant person in her life.
I know these folks, because I was their CPS caseworker before I worked at Texans Care for Children. I saw firsthand the consequences of child abuse and neglect and the impact that the fragile foster care system has on youth and families. Today, these individuals inspire my work to improve the lives of children and families affected by abuse and neglect through advocacy at the policy level. I work each day to make sure there is a system of healing, recovery, and hope for Melanie, C.J., Lisa, and the hundreds of other youth and families I supported during my time at CPS.
As an advocate, I more clearly see how foundational cracks in CPS get created when our state leaders fail to invest in or be strategic about the system--and how that leads to chaotic and unpromising experiences for some parents, children, young adults, and direct-delivery staff involved with CPS. Policymakers have real choices to make, but a choice not to provide adequate support needed to secure hope and healing for the Texans harmed by abuse and neglect has to be avoided. I am moved each day to ensure these Texans' voices are heard and never forgotten. They need a champion and, at Texans Care for Children, we work each day to be the champion for that child, parent, young adult, and CPS caseworker.
Texas is a great state with the capacity to provide a CPS system of support and hope. With each new day, and with each breath, I hope, and I remain encouraged that our leaders will choose to stand up for our vulnerable families and kids. It is a choice to secure a future where youth like C.J. and Lisa can thrive outside of the foster system and parents like Melanie will be provided the network of support needed to create a home that is safe, secure, and filled with opportunities for success.
They are why I care.
*Names have been changed, but the stories are true, and they represent but a handful of the thousands to tell in Texas' child welfare system.