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Building a Movement

sandy largeMy son Julian spends hours racing his toy cars, sprints to be the first when the doors open at school, and slowly nibbles his dinner to savor every morsel – and delay bath time.

He also listens, watches and absorbs everything that goes on around him. Julian, 7, is a quiet, sensitive kid. A stern word from me, a mild insult from his 10-year-old sister, and his big brown eyes well up instantaneously. Thankfully, that is about all the hurt Julian experiences. He lives in a stable home, with two imperfect but loving – often doting – parents.

As I read the first-person accounts of foster care highlighted in Children’s Rights’ 2015 Fostering the Future campaign, I couldn’t help but think of my son. At one point, all of the people who shared their experiences were kids too, but their childhoods were glaringly different than Julian’s.

State care was a safe haven for some, like Diane, who described her “angel” foster mom as “the best at telling me the truth and guiding me the right way.” But others were victimized by the very system meant to protect them.

When Rodney was just a year younger than Julian, he was hit with belt buckles and “whipped with switches from the rose garden – with the thorns still intact.” It happened in a foster home – a place that was supposed to be safe. And when another boy, David, was just 5, the child welfare system returned him to his biological parents, where he “went days without bathing” and “missed school because of the bruises on my body” before he went back into foster care.

The bloggers – all of whom are now adults – also described being torn from their siblings, overmedicated, institutionalized and bounced from home to home – things that still happen to children in care today. In fact, many of their experiences mirror those of the kids Children’s Rights represents. Kids like J.M., who went into state care at 6, and in just 2 ½ years has already lived in at least 13 places, including four different group homes within a four-month period. And children like Zahara. At 5 years old, she was in a secure institutional facility designed for children with severe mental health needs. While there, she was put on powerful psychotropic medications and waited months for visits from her grandparents and brother.

It is obvious that child welfare systems are failing our young people. That is why Children’s Rights steps in to hold government officials accountable and compel change. We’ve shown that it is possible for more kids to stay with their siblings, for systems to recruit safe, caring foster homes, and for children to be linked with permanent, loving families. But more work needs to be done: We must join together to propel this fight to the next level. We can no longer allow foster care to be shrouded in obscurity, for kids in the system to remain invisible. We must bring awareness to their suffering and demand that they are safe and have stability.

To our bloggers, thank you for being brave enough to share your stories. You have given hope to thousands of children and opened up so many eyes to the issues faced by young people in foster care. And to those of you who have followed along by reading, commenting on and sharing the posts this month, I want you to know that we hear you. You are all helping to create a movement for reform, to lift the veil of secrecy around foster care. Thanks to your support, we not only hit our goal of 1 million social media views, but surpassed it. In turn, we are reading your comments and listening to your feedback, and we’re using it to inform our work.

Published on May 31, 2015 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign.