The collective weight of the horror stories that result when foster care systems fail is enough to make anyone want to give up. But if we stand together, we can bring about massive change.
We’ve been writing all week about the stories of Oklahoma children who lost their lives when state child welfare officials failed to carry out their most basic responsibility to these kids — to watch over them carefully, and to protect them from harm.
A recent report by a national child welfare expert reviewed the cases of several kids who died in the custody of the Oklahoma child welfare system between 2007 and 2009, and found that at least five of their deaths could have been prevented. We have told the stories of four:
- Five-year-old D.S., whose caseworker visited him just once in the five weeks before he was beaten to death in the home of his own parents, to whom Oklahoma officials returned D.S. in spite of the repeated and severe abuse he had suffered at their hands in the past.
- R.P., just one and a half years old, run down by a truck near the overcrowded foster home that Oklahoma officials failed to investigate in spite of reports that the eleven kids who lived there were being neglected and left without any adult supervision at all.
- S.W., a two-year-old girl, and J.T., a three-year-old boy, who drowned after child welfare officials failed — twice in just over a year — to enforce their own simple and glaringly obvious policy of requiring protective fences around swimming pools at foster homes.
The fifth story, which we had planned for today, is just too grim to recount. Suffice to say that it follows the same sad, frustrating narrative: Oklahoma child welfare officials place a little girl — two-year-old N.W. – in a foster home of questionable merit. Despite one horrifying warning sign after another, caseworkers fail to step in. And before long, another young life ends under horrifying circumstances.
The collective weight of these stories — and many more that remain untold — is enough to make anyone collapse in exasperation. But that’s not the reaction we want to elicit, and hopelessness is far from the message we want to convey.
The truth is that the situation in Oklahoma — and in foster care systems across the United States — is not hopeless. It is dire. It is depressing. It is something we should regard as a national disgrace.
But it can be changed. The lives of the more than 400,000 children in American foster care right now can be transformed. They can be protected from the abuse and neglect that too many of them have suffered. They can be given the care and treatment they need to recover from the trauma of their past. They can go home to the safe, loving, permanent families that all children deserve.
They can have the healthy, happy childhood that should be every child’s right.
That is our mission. That is our goal. That is what we are making happen in a growing number of states across the country. And the stories of these children — as difficult as they are to hear — are what remind us every day of the urgency of succeeding in the nationwide campaign for child welfare reform we have undertaken.
We are grateful for all you do to stand up for the vulnerable children we represent. And we hope you will continue to stand with us as we press on.
- Read about our efforts to reform Oklahoma child welfare.
- Learn how you can support our work on behalf of abused and neglected kids nationwide.
- Sign up to receive important e-mail updates about our ongoing reform campaigns.
- Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
- Spread the word: tell your friends that you are ONE who stands up for American’s abused, neglected, and foster/adopted youth — and encourage them to BE ONE TOO.