“You mean you left LA to be here? In Española? Why in the heck would you do that? There’s nothing out here. It sucks.”
She is about 10 feet away. Black shiny wavy long hair. Maroon sweater and a blue backpack to her left on her desk.
I zero in. Stare into her eyes without even a fluttering of my eyelids.
“Because I want to be here with you.”
I jerk my gaze and look at José, then James then Sylvia as I say, “And for you, and for you, and for you,” pointing with my right index finger in unison with “you.”
Do you know that look – almost like a blush, but nothing romantic? The this-is-so-hopeful-I-almost-don’t-believe-it look?
I was one of them as a teenager. And in my twenties. And into my thirties. You feel alone. You think you’re not one of them. You feel nobody important cares about you.
A boy at the corner of the horseshoe table raises his hand. “So, Paul, you were a horrible student in high school. You didn’t have the best family life, and education wasn’t stressed when you were our age. And you made it.”
“What do you expect we do better?”
Total silence in the class. They await my answer. I relish their attention. What I say will matter.
“You’re in bed. It’s pitch dark. You’re thirsty. You get up. You must search with your hands for the light switch. You all know what I mean?”
“You find the switch. You flip it. You now see. Your vision changes. You’ve all been there?”
“That will happen to some of you. You will somehow see that nobody can f-ing determine your future. You will become almost enraged, obsessed, almost demonized. Because it’s your life — you will own it and not let anyone else own it.”
Silence. Fourteen fixed gazes.
On the wall is the mission statement of the school. I point to it. I read this part.
“Look at that. You believe it? You? A globally competitive citizen?”
“I do, and I thank each of you for being so respectful and paying attention.”
As founder of theChild Rights Foundation, I am here, we are here, for them. Because children matter. And they are always innocent.
Why “new?” — because reports of child abuse have dropped. Why have they dropped? — because mandated reporters (teachers, pediatricians, coaches) with their eagle-eyes, aren’t able to see the kids. They can’t see the bruises or the dissociation or the trembling.
On average, 5 children die every day from child abuse. Because of COVID-19, that average is on the rise.
Incidents of sexual abuse are also on the rise. For the first time, over half of the visitors to the National Sexual Assault Hotline were minors. Of those who called with concerns related to the COVID-19, 79% said they were living with their perpetrator.
I’m writing today to raise awareness. I will write every day this month.
Writing is hard. You probably know what I mean. But writing about this new epidemic wasn’t hard. The words rolled off my fingers. There was a crisis. So I wrote about it on day two and day three.
But the writing got harder. Because every morning I receive an email from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And the email lists news stories about child welfare. And I read about how – all across the country, and the world – children were suffering, in unprecedented ways. Sexual abuse and physical abuse — and I could help wonder what it must feel like to be locked in an apartment for months with your abuser. I thought about the children I’ve met. Victims.
All you’d see on the news every hour is COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19 but noting – zero – on those who live in the shadows. Children. Minor children of neglect, abuse, and abandonment. These ones not suffering from the virus, per se, but from something I believe to be far more dangerous: family-induced childhood trauma.
Writing about the children wasn’t a too much problem on day four or five, which I titled Urgent Versus Urgent.
In January, I visited my psychologist for the first time in over a year. I seemed to be dealing with symptoms of depression. Everything in my personal life was flourishing. At RFK, our work was expanding to new states and new countries.
There was no “reason” for the depression. But something was up. Have you ever felt that way? — you just now something’s wrong even though everything in your life is going really well.
My therapist introduced me to the term, compassion fatigue — a disorder known to those who work with ailing populations:
Those who have experienced compassion fatigue describe it as being sucked into a vortex that pulls them slowly downward. They have no idea how to stop the downward spiral, so they do what they’ve done since medical school: They work harder and continue to give to others until they’re completely tapped out.
I now had a name for my new pyschological state of affairs. Always a good first step. I soon went to the literature, working on self-care and awareness. More yoga and prayer and exercise.
Work intensified. We developed new programing. How do we reach these children? Who will help them in this time of crisis?
When I interviewed for this role, during one of the many interviews, I was asked, “What do you believe to be your greatest strength with respect to this role?” Without hesitation, I responded, “compassion.”
This is weird to write. I’m just helping it real. I’m most certainly not like Mother Teresa or anything. But I feel the pain of others. Many who know me know this aloof kind of logical socially awkward introvert; that’s just my exterior. It’s my personality. Inside of that exterior — I can be kind of a mess when I see people suffering. Literally — somewhere in my chest, I feel it. Sometimes I have to gasp for air. Especially when the pain is the pain of a child. I don’t know why. It could be because of what happened when I was a child, but I’m not ready to write about that.
Maybe you feel the pain of others, too.
I remained connected to our RFK chapters and to HHS. Our RFK team began working on a national partnership to help the new emergency first responders: social workers.
I wrote on days six and seven and eight. It was getting harder.
Day 10, the entirety of my post read, “I can’t write about the pain. Goodnight.”
I don’t want to read it, anymore.
The morning reports. About the children. Not your loved and sheltered and guided ones.
The millions shacked up with torture. Torture. In America. COVID-19 makes them illusive to the press. Who talks about them. No mandated reporters to help.
I feel for the homeless; I fear more for children of rampant neglect, abuse, abandonment, far more.
They will end up incarcerated unless we act.
Unless we act.
We can act.
I didn’t write again until May 17, day 17. Then day 19. Then day 24.
Today is the 31st. Last day of National Foster Care Awareness Month.
Last post for the month.
I will keep speaking and writing because the children are still at home and there will be a flood of new abuse reports in the upcoming months.
She lives in New York City. She attends Columbia University Medical School. Her graduate work is the field of genetics.
I wish she was here. But her life is there now. She finished her first year, last week. Her second year begins in a few days. She will intern at Presbyterian Hospital, this term.
We had a Zoom call, this morning – a surprise Zoom birthday party for my 25-year-old baby.
The call was her mother’s idea. Not all of la familia could get on the call. But I and her mother and her siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and stepfamily all joined at 8:30 a.m. PST.
Protect was my word.
We wanted the surprise Zoom birthday party to actually be a surprise. We all dial-in. Then it dawns on us that nobody told Bree about the call.
We laughed. Would she be available? She could be taking a shower, be on a walk, her phone could be dead.
Planning isn’t my specialty.
I text her.
I text again and again and again and finally she replies: “hi.”
Told her I wanted to Zoom with her. Suspiciousness must have been in her; we have never Zoomed. We use FaceTime.
Anyway, she gets on a few seconds later and her face beams.
Our family is very close.
After a few minutes of catching up and laughing, her mother suggested that each of us say a word or words describe Bree.
Her mother and siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and stepfamily all joined and revealed their words with an explanation. Their words were radiant, fun, loving, music, joy, intellect, sweet, peacekeeper, lovely, caring, intelligent, diligent, fun, caring, brilliant, dance and funny stories.
It was my turn.
I said something like this:
Protect is my word. Because 25 years ago, at about this exact time, you came into this world. And I hadn’t known what love was until that moment. Then the nurse said she was going to take you and clean you. I told her I would accompany her. And she took you into this room and she placed you on a small bed under this warm light. And she stepped away to gather the cleaning materials. And you lay there, exposed, without touch, crying. And I put my two hands on you and whispered into your ear and told you that I would always protect you, until the time I breathe my last breath.
I’m thousands of miles away from her today. And if I saw her now, I’d, for the first time, kiss her 25 times on the forehead. (Whenever I see her, I kiss her years on her forehead.)
I’ll see her soon enough.
I’ve been thinking of my 25-year-old baby all day today.
But I couldn’t not think of the 125,000 children in American whose parental rights have been terminated. That means they live in the foster care system and have nobody — neither father nor mother nor sibling nor sister nor aunt nor uncle nor grandparent nor cousin nor stepfamily — to protect them.
Some things you can change. Some things you can’t.
You can pray.
You can act.
You can raise awareness.
But sometimes, surrender. Because you can only do so much.
The world is full of suffering. Insidious kinds of suffering. I wrote about suffering here.
Atheists use suffering as an argument against the existence of God.
Their logic goes like this:
If God exists, he must be good
If he is good, he would not allow needless suffering (like children being locked up in homes with their abusers)
The world is full of needless suffering
Therefore, God does not exist
Philosophers call this puzzle the Problem of Evil: Technically, The epistemic question posed by evil is whether the world contains undesirable states of affairs that provide the basis for an argument that makes it unreasonable to believe in the existence of God.
Some suffering is from natural evil — disease and disasters.
The other is due to human evil — things people do to others, bringing physical and emotional (or both) pain.
(As an aside, I’m reading The Book Thief for the first time.)
Humans can’t do anything to prevent natural evil; we can’t prevent earthquakes or tsunamis or tornadoes.
But human evil — physical abuse and rape and verbal abuse and greed — can be stopped.
People have choices. (Though I do hold to a libertarian view of free will, I still, often, find myself afraid that most of our actions are done without decision — we are in autopilot more than we want to believe.)
Even so, human evil is prevalent. (You and I have played our own parts in it.)
When my children were young, one of our prayers before bedtime was the Serenity Prayer. We’d pray it after the Our Father, Glory Be, then Anglican prayer of repentance. Anyway, it’s not really Christian, but it’s a good one: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Acceptance and surrender are the same thing.
The good news is that human evil can be curbed through education, intervention, legal sanction, attending 12-Step meetings.
But even then, you can only do so much. Evil still happens.
And I don’t want to be a downer to my friends on social media.
But I can’t not speak out.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: COVID-19 affects all of us. But, COVID-19 hurts children most. The fallout amongst the health experts I speak to weekly in Washington DC is unknown. I wake up daily to news articles on spikes in calls to rape hotlines, child deaths, you name it.
It will take years to recover.
Never in the history of U.S social services have children been kept from mandated reports. Never in the history of social services have children been locked-up with their abusers, with no end in sight.
According to Girls Not Brides: “We know that girls and women – particularly amongst the poorest and socially marginalised groups – will likely be most affected by the pandemic.”
It’s always the weakest and most vulnerable that get hit hardest. The people Jesus stood for, advocated for, died for.
COVID-19 hurts children most
Seeing countless people protest because they can’t go to the beach or party at their favorite bar or who believe guilds of tens of thousands of our finest medical doctors and researchers (in the (WHO, CDC, NIH) are conspiring…we live in a bizarre world and ignorance is our biggest killer.