Regardless of the circumstances of their specific cases, what has unified all twenty of our foster kids has been the trauma of being removed from their parent or parents.
Kids are taken into foster care for two reasons, and only two – abuse or neglect. That means the adult in charge of caring for them has either treated them as if they are worthless or treated them as if they did not exist. One hears the stories and thinks, “How horrific! Who would do such a thing? What awful people!”
Yet each and every one of our kids has loved their “awful people,” in spite of the horrific things that have happened. That love is experienced as grief when the child is taken away, and that grief is traumatic.
One of our kids (I’ll call her “Gabriela”) was taken into care when police raided the home in which she was living. It was a drug raid, and large amounts of cocaine were seized in the raid. As Gabriela’s case progressed, it was discovered that her mother was from Mexico, and living in the United States without proper documentation. Mom was struggling to get by, looking for a better life for the two of them, and had been taken advantage of by coyotes who promised big and failed to deliver, as is typical. Moving in to the drug house was an act of desperation, a matter of survival. And bad timing.
For a week straight, Gabriela cried herself to sleep every night at our house, repeating a word over and over again as she did. We did not recognize the word, partly because she was crying which made it hard to understand, partly because she was three years old, but mostly because it was a word we had never heard before. It turned out to be a sort of pet name for her mom.
She cried herself to sleep every night crying for her mama.
Stories of children being taken from their parents have been in the news lately, first at the U.S./Mexico border and more recently as a result of I.C.E. raids in Mississippi. These stories have hit my family in a particular way. Every one of the kids whose faces we see on the news, whose voices we hear crying for their parents, whose stories have awakened indignation and ire among so many, every one of them is Gabriela.
Gabriela was reunited with her mom, which is great. And then we lost track of her, which is not uncommon. And so we don’t know where she lives or who she’s with or how she is or pretty much anything about her. She’s a teenager now, which is hard to fathom. In our minds she is still three, still chattering away in a mix of Spanish, English, and toddler, still wagging her finger at us when we tell her it’s time for bed, still crying herself to sleep and calling for her mama.
You may try to come at me with “but they broke the law” and the “it’s the parents’ fault for bringing their kids here in the first place” and the other myopic platitudes that do nothing but make you feel better about yourself. But please, don’t. I have zero patience for it.
Here is the truth: Each and every one of those kids on the news loves their parents, no matter what. And each and every one whose parents were taken away was traumatized by that experience. And that ought to be the priority; that’s what we should be talking about.
Because I just cannot bear the thought of a single child, much less a dozen, much less … however many … crying themselves to sleep at night, calling out for their mamas.