Have you ever come across someone whose poor judgment literally took your breath away? Who made you question the basic decency of people? Who made your blood boil?
Sure you have. There are plenty of individuals whose appallingly bad choices create ripples of misery across numerous lives. None suffer more from these dysfunctional idiots than their children.
I was reminded of that after reading a “Your Voice” article in the Trib (11/4), written by Jake Dekker, a single parent who adopted his now fourteen-year-old son, Danny, three years ago. Dekker wrote about that experience after reading the “Severe Abuse of Adopted Children Committee Report” conducted by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
The report’s conclusions were alarming. DSHS acknowledged that its system failed to weed out some foster home operators who physically abused the children under their protection, many of whom were in foster care for previous abuse. More troubling, Dekker’s experience suggests that the problems have not been fixed. This got my attention, especially given the number of children I have placed into foster care.
If you’re not familiar with the current system, I offer a work personal experience during my time as a patrol officer for illustration.
I was sent to conduct a child welfare check at a home on a quiet cul de sac. I met with the Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworker outside the house, one of the overworked and underpaid professionals who typically go through a lifetime’s supply of compassion in a single day. She told me that conditions were pretty bad for the three kids inside, and felt I should authorize a child custody transfer.
The mother met us at the door. The woman was surprisingly apathetic about the sudden appearance of both CPS and the police, and when she let us in I discovered that apathy and neglect were a repetitive theme. From the walls, to the furniture, to the floor, everything was covered in filth. There was soiled clothing, ankle-length garbage and the reek of feces and urine. The only food in the place, other than condiments, was for the dogs and cats.
It was one of the quickest removals I have ever done. Since there were no clean clothes, I picked up the two kids, the caseworker grabbed the baby, and we headed outside. I finished the paperwork outside away from the unbearable stench. As I explained the hearing process to the mother, I scratched at the handful of fleas that had crawled inside my uniform. I handed her a copy of the paperwork and left without another word.
We went to the station and took the kids inside for fresh clothes, a clean diaper and some food. The kids had no family members in the area, so the caseworker made some calls to track down available beds in local foster care homes. She found the room, but she was forced to separate the baby boy from his two sisters. We dropped them off with extra clothes and some donated toys. It all took about two hours, and I was onto the next call.
That incident took place many years ago, though the personal impressions are still fresh in my mind- the mother’s drug-addled confusion; the acidic, nauseating, eye-watering reek of filth; the absence of food and clean clothes; the sensation of fleas crawling up my legs; and the pale and innocent children living in that hell.
But after reading Mr. Dekker’s piece, I realize there are worse situations than the deplorable one which I just described. It brings on the numbing thought that, after all the times I have removed children from an unsafe home, I inadvertently plucked one out of the frying pan and tossed him or her into a raging inferno.
Thankfully, there are a few good people out there, like Dekker, who are willing to adopt a young person out of a system and into a family.
We need a lot more people like that.