Preventing Child Abuse in a Pandemic: Helpful Tips

Our current national landscape is one of physical isolation. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that 9 out of 10 Americans are staying home right now, either because of stay-at-home orders, or because they fear getting or spreading the novel coronavirus. That almost 300 million Americans are homebound and probably will be for an extended period of time is extraordinary and unprecedented in our lifetime. A portion of the homebound are continuing to earn a paycheck and while the stressors of COVID-19 for that group of people are very real, there is another portion of the homebound suffering much great repercussions from this pandemic.

The Department of Labor reported that last week alone, 3.28 million people applied for unemployment. This is more than four times the previously highest recorded number. For the 75% of Americans already facing the stress of living paycheck to paycheck, things just got considerably worse. Add to that the strain of fear and anxiety of a pandemic; the social isolation we must all endure; that children are home without the support (and break) given by schools or childcare; and the strain on already overburdened social services and you have a recipe for domestic disaster. And that list barely scratches the surface of the host of family-specific issues each household bears.

If history is any indicator, the result of domestic disaster will fall disproportionally on our most vulnerable; cases of child abuse and neglect (as well as domestic violence) will rise sharply while reports of the same will drop drastically: with schools and childcare centers closed, the sharpest eyes and ears of our child welfare reporting system—our teachers—are closed as well. And like so many things with this pandemic, one problem becomes compounded by another: Even as more children than ever are home 24/7 with their families, social workers are unable to conduct home visits with those already in the child welfare system due to abuse and neglect and are similarly unable to visit homes when new reports do occur.

Services previously provided to families—such as drug treatment and mental health services—are severely limited or non-existent due to social distancing requirements, and family visitations are often not occurring, potentially leading to a downward spiral of hopelessness and depression for parents and teens who may turn towards drugs, alcohol, or other damaging acts to ease the pain. All of this combined leads to a significantly increased risk of harm behind the closed doors of American homes. Sadly, there is little most of us can do to fix these problems: Children’s outdoor areas are emptier now than ever, and we simply are unable to keep a collective eye on children and suffering families the way we need to.

But that isn’t to say there is nothing we can do, and what we can do, we should.

Stress of all kinds is a significant contributing factor to abuse and neglect. Tempers are short, resources scarce to non-existent, and tools some are fortunate enough to have for comfort—Zoom calls with friends; virtual “playdates” for children; paying for online games, movies, and school substitutes to keep the children occupied—are not easily obtained by lower income families. And even the families who have the resources may find they aren’t enough.

But don’t give up! There are ways we can help families from all backgrounds, though I will admit that many of the ones I’ve listed below assume that the person helping has resources of their own to draw from (time, money, or energy). A few of these might help our most significantly at-risk families—those with serious addictions, long family histories of abuse, or the types of terrible things we read about in the media—but others wouldn’t. But again, what we can do, we should.

Abuse knows no economic, cultural, or societal bounds. From my years working with families already in the child welfare system, I can promise you that. I can also say that the simplest assistance, and perhaps the silliest sounding, might be all that’s needed to avert a catastrophe.

Consider a morning from my own life:

I, an obsessively tidy mother, sit in the middle of an increasingly cluttered home. My back and feet hurt, and the younger kids are arguing loudly while the oldest child tries to get some much needed sleep. Andy, a hard-working and busy father, already stressed from hiding in the walk-in closet to do Zoom calls where kids can’t find him, too loudly shushes the arguing kids. The kids begin to complain about the unfairness of it all and I try to intervene while stumbling over the puppy pulling on my socks and biting my toes. The other dog begins to bark at a person walking by, and both Andy and I begin to shush the dogs. The kids’ voices grow louder to be heard over the din of shushes and barks, and my mom, who lives with us, suddenly appears in the kitchen, asking why her dog is barking and saying she may need to go to the hospital for stomach pains but is scared to because of the virus so what do I think she should do and can I please contact her doctor for her? The gardeners begin mowing next door and within a minute we all hear a door slam from upstairs because the 24-year-old has frustratingly given up on getting any sleep.

Our situation eventually resolves as best it can: Andy takes one kid to do a puzzle and I take the other to bake some bread, but not before I hop on one of the four laptops in our home to email a doctor, free of charge and easily accessible, about my mom. Sad to say, the oldest is still tired and the dogs still bark, but few things in life are perfect.

In this scenario, the main fridge is stocked, as are the one fridge and two freezers in the garage. We always buy in bulk so our toilet paper situation is fine. The same pay the adults usually get is still coming in, and the grandmother who walked into the kitchen at an inopportune time lives in the home and can watch the children should that be needed. Oh, and I have plenty of time to spend with the children and enough education to help them with their e-learning during our school’s closure.

And still, this isn’t a pretty situation. Imagine if:

  • The fridge was bare
  • The parents had just lost their jobs
  • There was no adult in the home with available time for the kids
  • Any one—or all—of the four adults had a substance abuse problem or untreated mental health issue

This scene could have ended in a very different and explosive way.

And so:

Think about your own circle of people, as far as it can go. Who in that circle is most in need of a break right now? Do you know any single parents? Someone who struggles with addiction? A family with a small home but a large number of kids? Someone who lost a job? Who is sick? Who is prone to anxiety and depression? The list could go on, and it should. Make an actual, physical list of people in your life facing larger-than-average stressors. Do you have their phone number? Their email addresses? Do they live within driving distance? Write those things down as well, then:

  • Call them. Talk to them. Ask to speak to the children for a while. Maybe read the kids a book over the phone or on FaceTime if possible.
  • Text them. Ask how they are. Tell them how you are. Send a funny meme. Ask if they need anything. Or don’t ask, but just assume they need something and then …
  • if possible, get it to them. Mail them $20 or a grocery store gift card. Leave food or other necessities (or non-necessities!) on their steps. Shop for them if they’re in a high-risk group. No, money doesn’t solve everything, but it can certainly help at times like this.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a bit of income to spare (and hey, we’re all going without our lattes these days), order something online to send to the kids to keep them distracted. Or send chocolates for the parents. Loan them an extra laptop by leaving it on their porch and letting them use it for Google Hangout or online school or even just mindless show watching. Again, these are money and material things, but if you can do it, please do. We may not like to admit it, but material things do often help.
  • Kids are still going outside, even if not to designated playgrounds. When they’re out, pay attention. Do they seem okay? Do the adults who are with them seem okay? What do you notice? Don’t turn into the nosy neighbor peeking out from behind the curtain—that’s just weird. You’re likely a savvy enough person to find a non-stalking way to do this. If you see signs of abuse or neglect report it, even if your state’s current isolation situation means a social worker can’t make it out for a while the risk still needs to be recorded. Then make it your daily commitment to help that family any way possible.
  • Offer to watch younger kids (but who old enough not to need hand holding or carrying) outside while their adults take a break. You don’t have to forgo social distancing rules to make this happen.
  • Have a six-foot-away playdate with your kids and theirs.
  • Take a social distance walk together. Or talk to one another from your own front doors.
  • Send them a card in the mail. A homemade one is fine, so you only have to pay for the stamp.
  • Offer to walk their dogs (seriously, don’t underestimate the power of this!)
  • Volunteer with or donate to groups that are helping those in the most financial need.
  • Donate not just food, money, and cleaning products, but board games, movies, electronics, coloring books—anything that can entertain children/teens or provide relief for parents. Do the same with any and all income groups if/when you think it might be helpful.
  • And, of course, pray for them.

Here are some other resources for how you can help at-risk families during this pandemic:

End Violence Against Children

The Alliance for Children in Humanitarian Action

Prevent Child Abuse

What you will find using these resources is a significant emphasis on stress reduction. Because that is what so much of this is truly about. Stress decreases our abilities to appropriately cope with even typical events such as arguing or crying children. And without appropriate coping abilities, typical situations can quickly turn to situations of abuse, even for families who otherwise would never find themselves taking such harmful actions.

Feel free to make your own list of stress reduction ideas for how we can assist those in need during this time. Act on those ideas and do it now. It’s never too soon to help a family in need, but it is often too late.

A Weary, Teary, and Dreary Day (At home. Again. With No End in Sight.)

I have, unfortunately, been through a lot in life. Because of that I tend to disassociate and over-compartmentalize, which is a cross my husband too often bears when he’s stressed over something and I’m like, “eh, no biggie.” But Tuesday was the day that I finally began to feel what’s going on in America and across the world, and each day since (okay, the like 1 day and a few hours since), I have felt it more acutely.

Today I woke up feeling “off.” I don’t sleep well in spring or summer despite black-out curtains and sleep aids. Last night I tossed and turned, and this morning I woke well before anyone else but stayed in bed so I didn’t wake the dogs. Of course, that eventually ended, and our 6th day of distancing began.

I’ve been staying up each night to make the schedule for the next day. Yesterday we were a bit more loosey-goosey and home-ec-ish, and we had more fights and snappiness then usual. So, today we’re back to academics. Andy and the kids are walking the dogs right now, and I’m supposed to be setting up STEM projects because that’s what Aaron’s first subject is on Thursdays at school.

But then I realized we thankfully we have lots of Kiwi Crate boxes on hand, and so instead of setting up ropes and levers and magnets and pullies, I’m writing this.

I find myself on the verge of tears today, but I’m not quite sure why. It is true I have a family member (who lives elsewhere) who almost certainly has coronavirus given her symptoms and recent travel. But she’s in her forties and quite healthy so I’m sure she’ll be fine. It is true that I love having my kids at home, but as an introvert, it’s difficult to give up the seven hours of kid-free time to which I’ve become accustomed. It’s also true that all my attempts to grocery shop online are failing, even at Amazon, due to shortages. And yes, I may just end up paying $11 for a bag of sugar because options are limited and I need to be able to bake.

The same shirts needing to be hung have been on my couch since the weekend.

And today it’s wet out. No biggie, but it’s dreary.

I’m doing my makeup every day. Putting on sweats (as is my usual), and starting the school day at 9:15. I’m still having my 1:30 coffee, and we’re still putting the kids to bed on time.

Those are good things. Routine is good. So is being willing to leave routine behind for something different. For whatever this moment in time is to you.

Overall, I’m not quite sure where the teariness comes from. Are you feeling this way, and if so, do you know why? Or maybe it’s like my feeling … a slight overwhelm (if a “slight” overwhelm can exist?) not rooted in depression but … in something else. A feeling of not-quite-rightness that has no concrete end in sight. I am a creature of habit but habits have no place in an isolated, quarantined, and locked-down world. I am developing new habits, though. Habits of dog walks, being more careful with my resources, being sure to reach out to others, and to appreciate those who reach out to me.

So reach out. Let me know how you are. Post it here in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter. If you know me personally, send me an email or a text! Phone calls are harder because, you know, kids. And dogs.

And in this moment, I hope you are making it through okay.

(Oh—and don’t forget to wash your hands!)

Love in the Time of Corona

This morning, I, like so many others around the world, worshiped from the confines of my home. I wore sweats, folded laundry, and did dishes, even as I prayed the Lord’s prayer, sang Amazing Grace, and passed the peace.

While I type these words, my youngest son is in the basement playing Legos. This may sound mundane, but it isn’t: he’s also having a FaceTime playdate while he sorts and builds.

As we all know, and we’ve certainly all been told, these are strange days.

Strange isn’t necessarily bad.

I loved my time of worship this morning. I managed to do chores, take in the Good Word, and spend time with my community by sending hearts and thumbs up and quick messages at the bottom of a tiny screen, all while in my slippers and without wearing a bra. What could be better than that?

As I listened to the sermon, my mind started making plans to stop physical church altogether, choosing instead to worship virtually while on the treadmill or cooking, thinking of all the time and energy I could save I didn’t have to shower, dress (appropriately), or spend time making small talk each week.

And then I remembered my Lenten sacrifice: to forgo complacent isolation. To take my community seriously instead of for granted, and to give in to the societal expectation of jeans and yes, even uncomfortable undergarments.

Several years ago, I discovered what I call my life verses:

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. (emphasis added) (Acts 2:4-6)

My love for these verses isn’t surprising. As a lawyer, a writer, an editor, even a Sunday School teacher, everything I find satisfaction and joy in revolves around language. The language of law, of stories, and of speaking into the vernacular of children and church. To me, these verses are powerful and validating. They represent the essential need of humans (and the church) to recognize, hear, understand, and speak to the spiritual and emotional needs of others. Through this, hearts are touched, healed, and filled. This is what language can do.

But I, you see, am an introvert—note the word “sacrifice” attached to my commitment of non-isolation. My preferred language is written, not spoken. I love to interact online and by blogging, but call me on the phone and you’ll find a socially awkward woman who isn’t quite sure when it’s her time to speak. This is an exaggeration of course; I’m only a little awkward on the phone, and I certainly love face-to-face interaction, though generally only on my terms. The days when the stars of
coffee,
and NSAIDS,
and sleep,
and spoons
have aligned.

But this morning, folding laundry while my pastor spoke to an empty room, looking out at faceless pews, nothing needed to align. I was isolated and in my element. My youngest was not crawling under the communion table, threatening to knock over the baptistry, or making fart jokes at the alter. It was good.

But it wasn’t church.

Because see, a few verses above 4-6, we read, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (emphasis added)

This morning when my pastor spoke of Abram and Sarai, we were not all together in one place. We were not sitting in a house soon to be filled with the violent wind of the Holy Spirit. I was here, and they were
there,
and there,
and there.

But nonetheless—and perhaps by now you see where this is going—while we may have been there and there and there instead of a common here, this morning’s service wasn’t not church.

In this moment of semi-forced isolation and distancing, I am faced with a choice: will I be complacent in my isolation, relishing the excuse to hide behind my door, or will I refuse complacency and reach into the scary places of phone calls, check-ins, sharing toilet paper, and sparing canned goods?

Watching a Facebook live stream isn’t a scary place. It’s easy peasy. But it would be even easier to shrug it off; who would even notice if I wasn’t there? Likely no one. And I likely wouldn’t notice if so-n-so didn’t watch, but actually, according to the numbers we had about as many viewers as we tend to have at in-person worship.

We showed up.

And in the act of showing up, we hearted and thumbs-upped one another, shared comments from our couches, and prayed together. We showed our screens to our dogs, let our kids hold our phones, gave honest feedback about the video feed. Knowing that in our private homes so many of us logged on and gave back is a tremendous gift. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so at first mention, but when the individualistic nature of American society is considered, paired with the amount of entertainment options in our homes, it truly is a countercultural decision—a gift of time and presence—to choose church and in so doing, to choose one another.

In a way, even for those of us who love language, who love to type away at our screens and turn pages until the wee hours of the morn, it is incredibly difficult to choose online church. Not because it’s easier to go in person, but because it’s easier to use this time of physical distancing as an excuse to relish isolation. For the healthy, COVID-19 provides excuse-free time to drink cocoa, read books, watch Netflix … even to break up fights between siblings.

But as life likes to remind us so often, easy isn’t always right.

It will be hard for a phone-hating introvert like me, but as a deacon for my church, I (and others) will be calling to check in on fellow church members as the days at home drag on. Even now, having only sent a handful of (non-scary-place) emails, I have heard stories of loneliness and frustration. Confusion and fear. And in my community, this is only day three of “distancing.”

For those of us who love our jammie-and-coffee time, all day every day, it will take work to overcome our natural tendency to settle in for a good read. But it is necessary work: even in a time when crowds are disallowed and gatherings are frowned upon, the task of speaking to one another’s heart does not end.

So friends, good luck making it through this journey, and if you want to talk (or not), you I know where to find me you.

Intentional Adulting

Having been away from teaching Sunday School for a while due to health reasons, I am THRILLED to finally be back at it. And when I say thrilled, I mean bound-out-of-bed-happy-three-hours-before-church-even-starts kind of thrilled.

Anyone who knows me—virtually or otherwise—knows how much I love children. Put me in a room split into kids and adults and I will always find some reason why I should be in the kid group. I’m pretty sure part of the reason for this is because my own childhood ended too soon when I became a mom at fifteen. Or maybe it’s because I’ve lost a child and through that gained a different (and hopefully uncommon) perspective.

But rather than try to pinpoint it, I think it’s safe to assume it is the sum of various life experiences that has led me to discover and deeply understand the complexity, joy, and needs of childhood, as well as the honor it is to be an adult in a child’s life.

But let me be clear: children are not amazing because they are commodities. They aren’t amazing because they’re our future. They aren’t special because they may some day cure cancer or put a person on Mars or any of the other feats we all mention when looking into a child’s potential future. We make the mistake of defaulting to these ideas as well as descriptors such as  “innocent” and “joyful” because there are simply no words, or at least none I know, that can truly embody the essence of what makes children so special.

I stand in awe daily at the privilege it is to be in a child’s life, even if briefly. Every single interaction adults have with children is an opportunity to shape who they are, who they will become. How that child will parent, be called into God’s work, be a friend or a spouse or a random person passed on the street whose smile brightens a stranger’s day. Let that truth sit for a while until its enormity hits you.

That is huge and, frankly, overwhelming.

The collective “we” never know what might stick with a child forever and always, for good or for bad. We might never recognize that one off-hand comment that spirals their self-esteem, convinces them to be an astronaut, makes them feel they have failed everyone and everything, leads them to God.

That’s a lot of pressure. I don’t recommend thinking about it all the time; it’s too big a yoke to bear. But truthfully, it is our yoke. Not thinking about it all the time is one thing; never thinking about it is another. Perhaps adults should spend a few minutes each day reflecting on the fact that every word, action, or inaction that comes from our being shapes the children around us. Those mere few minutes should be more than enough to bring us to a place of intentionality in how we “adult,” at least most of the time.

I readily admit that I do get frustrated with my children. I’ve even met a couple of kids I didn’t like. And I am far from consistently intentional. That is my very human failure I attempt daily to rise above, but sadly too often fail. But my emphatic hope and prayer is that I live a life reflective of my privilege and responsibility as a shaper of human beings.

It is an awe-inspiring wonder that our system of human existence relies so heavily upon generational influence. That is no mistake, but rather the hand of the divine at play. My actions shape the small beings who live in my house or attend my Sunday School class or stand behind me in line at the store. Knowing that brings out the best in me which, in turn, brings out the best in others. Not always. Not perfectly. But some.

So take it seriously, folks. As frustrating and runny-nosed and loud and chaotic and time- and energy-sucking as they are, children deserve and need the best from us. And in the amazingly perfect symbiosis of our universe, when we give them our best, we too, get the best in return.

Fiona Hill’s Defense of Women

Democrat, republican, or a member of the who-gives-a-damn party, anyone watching Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony yesterday was surely impressed. Having watched the impeachment hearings from start to finish (I’m recovering from surgery so have had plenty of time on my hands for TV watching), I can say emphatically that she was the most impressive in a line of impressive witnesses. I use the word “impressive” here not necessarily referring to the content of testimony but rather to the poise and intelligence of the witnesses (even Sondland, whom I otherwise take issue with regarding both character and veracity).

But Dr. Hill… she blew them all away. Her no-nonsense attitude, clarity, poise, steeliness, and resolve were gratifying both because she’s a woman and because her expertise is a credit to career civil servants. I don’t know her politics (though she referenced both non-partisanship as well as leftist ideals in line with the UK, not US, definition of “left”) or personal history beyond what she disclosed. On the face of her performance, however, I stand by my complete takenness with Dr. Hill.

Importantly, Dr. Hill stood firmly in defense of herself, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and Congresswoman Stefanik in the face of sexist treatment. These women have been bullied by primarily white, primarily male politicos, and, in Stefanik’s instance, support of male bullying by those on the left who would—and do—cry foul at similar treatment of women by the right has reeked of hypocrisy. I have little doubt that Dr. Hill has faced bias throughout her career in a male-dominated field. Knowing this, I wondered if this bias is what has led, at least in part, to her steely, no-nonsense demeanor. Men often label women’s anger and indeed any show of emotion as histrionic, and women seeking respect and career advancement must quash emotional responses, whether those responses are warranted or not.

Earlier this morning, President Trump stated on Fox and Friends that he was told by others in his administration they had to be “nice” to Ambassador Yovanovitch because “she’s a woman.” This is disturbing whether it’s true President Trump was actually told this or whether it’s a fictitious account. No, women do not need to be treated “nice” because they are women. Kindness is a trait we should all work to demonstrate, but in the hard-knock world of politics it’s absurd to expect genteel kindness based on gender. President Trump’s statement furthers discriminatory treatment and hiring practices by giving credence to a belief that women in the workplace will require special treatment and kid gloves lest they break down in tears, scream in anger, or lodge a harassment suit against unkind treatment.

Dr. Hill’s testimony lays this myth bare, exposing it for the fiction it is. Anger at times is warranted, such as when one is being undermined in their jobby others acting in direct opposition. In this precise circumstance, Ambassador Sondland characterized Dr. Hill’s anger as “emotional,” to which Dr. Hill replied, “Often when women show anger, it’s not fully appreciated. It’s often, you know, pushed on to emotional issues or perhaps deflected onto other people.”

Indeed.

I applaud Dr. Hill for refusing to allow that kind of disregard and disparagement go unchecked, whether it is against her, her colleague Ambassador Yovanavitch, or congresswoman Stefanik. Sexism is not bound by political party and our reactions to it should not be, either. Dr. Hill’s across-the-board calling out of bias is either proof of her non-partisanship, proof of her deep belief in gender equity, or proof of both. As we continue along our political journeys in a deeply divided United States, I strongly urge us all to remember and emulate her example. Disagreements over policy, candidates, and politics are one thing, but disagreement over equitable treatment of our shared humanity is simply not debatable.

A Way to Help

The following is a testimony I gave at my church earlier this year. I have provided an update at its conclusion.

I spent summer and winter of 2018 in a state of rest that we half-jokingly called my “sabbatical.” This was a time for rest and healing and, as the balm of those two things took hold, of active listening for the Word of God. In those months I lost many things I knew I could not get back, but I also knew that as I healed, God would call me when and where I was needed. I now had time on my hands and space to breathe; all I needed was God to point me in the right direction.

A couple of months ago, Andy and I got an email from a local advocacy group asking if anyone would be willing to sponsor a family seeking asylum. The family was in Tijuana and wouldn’t be allowed to cross into the US unless someone on this side would promise to get the family here and help them out once they arrived.

I had time. I had space. I had resources. I emailed back within minutes. Andy and I would be happy to help, I said.

This last Tuesday the mom, whom I will call SJ, and her three children arrived on a red eye from San Isidro after spending several hours at a McDonalds where ICE had dropped her and children. Gratefully, through a network of concerned individuals, we were able to secure overnight respite in the house of a well-placed angel willing to help a family in need.

At 7am Tuesday morning, I watched SJ walk through the airport, carrying a one-year-old baby and an extra-large duffel bag—did I mention yet that SJ made this journey without a stroller? That means she was lugging a one-year-old from Tijuana to San Isidro to Maryland.

So perhaps it goes without saying, but SJ is an amazing woman; her children are, too. Her oldest is a brilliant artist and has handily beat my daughter in chess many times. Both she and SD have made ample fun of my Spanish skills. The one-year-old is a champion sleeper and the eight-year-old boy and my son hit it off immediately, speaking a boy-language of shoves and wrestling moves and video games.

When SJ and her children left their home behind, they also left behind two bunnies—both named “bunny”—a chow puppy named Chowbella, and a big yard to play in. They now live in a two-bedroom apartment with a total of 10 people. The 10 people are spreading what money and food they have between them, but ten mouths are a lot to feed.

Andy and I are continuing our sponsorship of this wonderful family and are learning as we go how to best do that. Tomorrow I take SJ to see an immigration attorney and Wednesday I will drive her to enroll her kids in school. Thursday Andy will take them to Baltimore for their Immigration check in. Beyond that, we’ll play things day-to-day.

On this day, my sponsorship activity is this testimony. Both so you can feel the joy of a successful story—against every odd they made it to the United States—and also so I can ask you to consider what you might be able to do to help this family get on and stay on their feet.

Their main needs right now are adequate housing and assistance with daily expenses such as groceries and toiletries. If assisting this family is something you feel called to do with the time, space, and resources you have, please let me know.

Most importantly, please remember this family in your prayers, and ask for God’s providential care over them as they begin their new life in the United States. Remember too, that when we slow down and listen, God will speak.

Since I wrote these words several months ago, much has changed. The two school-aged children are thriving, making friends, learning English, and becoming accustomed to a different way of life. The baby is confident, smart, and obsessed with our puppy. Most importantly, SJ and her children have found an apartment to call home. Each month is a struggle to make ends meet; SJ’s income does not cover essential expenses and we are often scrambling to find a way to ensure each person’s basic human needs are met. To that end, we have established a Go Fund Me page to help this family with their day-to-day expenses. Any amount helps, and I ask you to consider whether a donation to this family is right for you.

 

 

 

Every Child Matters. Every Child.

According to an audit done by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), in the summer of 2017 there was a significant increase in children who were separated from their families at the US/Mexico border. The Trump administration did not officially announce its family-separating zero tolerance policy until June of 2018.

The children detained after the policy’s official implementation have mostly been released to their families, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains that the children detained prior to implementation have been similarly reunited.

So. No harm no foul?

I don’t think so.

There are a number of frightening things at play in this latest bit of breaking news, one of which is that while DHS and other government agencies can say these children have been released to their families or “sponsors,” the truth is, we simply don’t know. It appears that the government agencies responsible for these children can’t really know either, as the number of pre-policy detainees has been put in the vague range of “thousands” of children, and no adequate records of these children exist.

There are many (MANY!) jaw-dropping pieces of news floating around right now, but I implore you not to ignore this one. Even if the relevant agencies knew without doubt the exact number of children and had proof positive of reunification, the question remains: how did we, the American people, not know about this?

(DHS spokesperson Katie Waldman maintains that the practice of detention has been going on for decades, and so at this point it should be well known and old hat. What Waldman is referencing, however, is detention of unaccompanied minors, which is not what is at play here. I’ve worked with a few of those minors in the past and feel generally well informed about what goes on in those equally sad cases.)

There is no need to wax on about why this story should break your heart, make you so angry you could spit, or send you to the streets in protest. I assume you already feel all of those things and more.

But what feels even worse is what this all of this implies for the collective soul of our nation.

As someone who prays daily that we might all be able to fully realize one another’s humanity, it is this type of news that renders me breathless and overwhelmed. I cannot think of many clearer cases than this of failing so completely to see the face of God in others. When a parent of five knowingly and intentionally separates a child and parent, I can think of no other reason for it. Because if the humanity of “others” was realized, that person would know there is no difference in how “their” children versus “our” children feel when taken from their parents. No different heartbreak for a mother or father when his or her child has been taken to God-knows-where and is being cared for by God-knows-who. Have no doubt about it, memories of this moment in time will be reflected by history books, and we will not like what our grandchildren will read of it.

And then there’s the helplessness to stop it.

Because yes, while we, the American people, put so much pressure on the President that he signed an executive order meant to end the practice of separation, and the courts compelled reunification of the families, we didn’t even know about the thousands previously detained.

As a mere citizen, there are a large number of things I don’t know about what goes on in the world. I’m well aware of that, and I know that in most instances there is little I can do about it. So, I push those things aside and focus on what I can do now, and how I can learn to do more in the future.

But this. I didn’t know about this?

As a long-time child advocate, as someone whose primary concern in life is the care of children, this frustrates, saddens, and angers me beyond belief. It is something I feel in my gut. In the tips of my toes and in the pounding of my temple. It is one of those things that makes life unbearable, and yet makes me realize that with the one life I have, I better live it well and for not just myself, but for the well-being of others.

News stations don’t seem to be focusing much on this story, although every reporter I’ve listened to says the news is “huge.” Instead, the focus today is on the letter-writing pissing match between Speaker Pelosi and Mr. Trump. Today’s other, more important news is a much-needed reminder to focus on the things that truly matter. Not trips to Brussels, but children.