How relationships can infuse troubled, at-risk youth with hope and self-worth.
Raising teenagers is not for the faint of heart. Every parent knows what to expect during the teenage years but are ill equipped at dealing with the inevitable angst that consumes their children.
There were countless times I wanted to give up on my own teens, believing I would never survive another day with those alien creatures. But my parental commitment to my flesh and blood kept me grounded. I took the bad with the good and the ugly with the uglier because they were my responsibility.
Surviving my kids’ teen years cultivated an abiding respect for people who have committed to caring for children who aren’t their own; whether it’s through adoption, foster care, or legal guardianship. Even in the best of times, doing life with a teenager who shares your DNA isn’t easy.
When the FBI’s Operation Cross Country exposed a nationwide child sex trafficking ring a few months ago I was elated. When stories like these report, “the nationwide operation over the weekend resulted in 150 arrests, with 105 children between the ages of 13 and 17 rescued,” it is a victory chant validating the work of an abolitionist.
However, not everyone shared my joy. A consensus view among people I spoke with—that the children were troubled kids, came from broken homes, sexually abused, and had behavioral problems, were more likely to be caught in child prostitution—didn’t sit well with me.
So we don’t have a moral obligation to fight for these kids’ freedom and protection because they’re already broken and troubled?
In her article, Human Trafficking and Foster Care…Connecting The Dots, Rhonda Sciortino, who’s passionate about good child welfare providers, highlights in meticulous detail the importance of fighting for children caught in child prostitution:
“A 2009 New York Times series found that many trafficked kids are not reported missing, and even those who are, are not being entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database as required by law. The Justice Department’s National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children estimated nearly 1.7 million runaways and “throwaways” each year, of which just 357,600 are reported to police.”
It’s a vortex of hopelessness and despair when the foster child or runaway, who’s already been abused and rejected, feels unwanted because no one comes searching for him/her in their absence. Compound that with government social workers who let their files fall through the cracks due to a heavy workload and more discouraged children fall prey to human traffickers.
My friend, Ann, became Calli’s (names changed) legal guardian when Calli was 14-years-old. Calli’s mother was arrested numerous times for illegal drug use, which resulted in foster care for Calli and her older brothers. Shuffled through the foster care system since she was a toddler, Calli wasn’t privy to a stable home environment.
Ann was Calli’s middle school teacher when they first met and their relationship progressed through the school year. After learning of Calli’s predicament, Ann and her husband made the difficult decision to take Calli into their home.
Imposing rules and boundaries on a 14-year-old who wasn’t used to them posed a huge problem. Also, Ann’s young sons felt threatened by Calli’s presence because she seemed to divert their mom’s attention from them. Many times Ann and her husband second-guessed their decision and felt they made a monumental mistake in becoming Calli’s guardian.
Yet they persevered for four years. Through prayer, faith, and a solid support group they were able to come to a place of harmony in their relationship. Calli had no desire to get kicked out of Ann’s home and eventually she changed her ways. No longer lying, sneaking out, and ditching classes, Ann and Calli were able to strengthen their relationship of friend and mentor. This year, Calli graduated high school and began dorm life in her new college.
Ann feels “thankful that we have had this amazing journey with Calli. She is beautiful inside and out. Our boys have learned such a meaningful way of loving others through first-hand experience of having Calli live with us for four years.”
Michelle Burnette, a foster mother to 40 children over 15 years, expresses a similar feeling of gratefulness in an interview with NPR. She and her own children have learned more from the foster kids they’ve cared for than vice versa.
“You know, we’ve learned that they can love unconditionally. We’ve learned that despite things that happen to them, that they are resilient, they can move on from situations that are horrific sometimes and go on to be well-adjusted, successful adults.”
Meaningful relationships can infuse hope in these lost, broken, and forgotten children. Investing time in a child provides them a sense of self-worth regardless of the mess they’re in. Seek opportunities in your community to help a troubled child or find organizations such as One Simple Wish to get involved.
–Photo: digital illuminati/Flickr