by Lindsey Abston Painter | 6 May 2022 |
My job is to train professionals who work with children and families in a variety of needs.
One is the foster care system: I train new foster parents, seasoned foster parents, foster family case workers, social workers, and floor staff in group homes.
In my work I see a lot of sad stuff. And it is that work that drives me to be what is traditionally called pro-choice on the matter of abortion.
You might not agree with me. But I think that may be because you don’t see what it looks like when an unwanted child is brought into this world. I do.
I say repeatedly to myself and anyone who will listen to me: every child born should be a wanted child.
Let me tell you a little about the foster care system in America. Right now there are more than 400,000 children in foster care. The average age of a foster care child is 8 years old.
Children enter the foster care system because something has gone terribly wrong in their lives. Their families abused them or neglected them. A parent or other carer died and there was no one else to take care of them.
You would think that a child would be happy to be removed from a home where they’ve suffered severe abuse or neglect. But remember that this life is the only life this child knows. Even in cases of severe abuse, children love their parents. They want to be with their parents. Having law enforcement and social workers suddenly descend into their lives and take them away from the only life they have ever known is in itself trauma.
Add to that the trauma of seeing their parents being arrested. The trauma of likely separation of siblings into different homes. The trauma of possibly having to move schools, lose all their friends, be separated from any support system they may have.
They now live with strangers.
Maybe the strangers are nice. But we’ve all heard stories of foster families who were not. Abuse and neglect happens in foster homes too.
Thankfully, the system has gotten better at spotting and weeding out these toxic foster families than it used to, but it still happens.
Every child born should be a wanted child
When you are a foster child your social worker is required by law to review the foster youth bill of rights with you starting at age 10. This includes rights like not being locked alone in a room. Being allowed to use the telephone. It includes sexual rights, and educational rights, and gender identity rights.
These are not things most children (like your children and grandchildren) need to be schooled in, because most children don’t have to learn how to defend their rights. Foster children have to know their rights: whom to contact if their rights are being violated, and how to survive in yet another environment that may not be safe for them.
Because of all this trauma, foster children are more likely to have behavioral and mental health problems. But it is unlikely that they will get continuity of treatment by medical professionals. They often see a new doctor every time they go for care, and each new doctor might prescribe a different psychiatric med for them.
Foster youth are famously overmedicated. Because we have no medication that can cure trauma, they receive medication for depression, anxiety, bipolar, oppositional defiant disorder, reactive attachment disorder, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, conduct disorders, and more! Do they need all those medications? Who knows?
When you don’t have a permanent parent, you don’t have anyone to advocate for you. Even if you have a really great foster parent, it takes so much time to work through these issues that you likely won’t be in that foster home long enough to get it figured out.
When you don’t have a permanent parent, you miss out on a lot of the stuff other children your age are doing. Foster children are far less likely to be involved in extracurricular activities. They are over twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school. Foster children are far more likely to be targeted by predators who will use and abuse them, or traffickers who will traffic them for sex.
Every child born should be a wanted child
Many children are so traumatized that they develop behaviors too difficult for a foster family to manage. Where do they go then? A group home.
While that might sound nice when you first hear it, group homes are brutal places. Now the child doesn’t even have a temporary guardian (like a foster parent). They are cared for by hourly staff. Imagine a home filled with 6-12 teens with behaviors too difficult for a foster family to manage, all living in one place, supervised by hourly workers. Violent outbursts happen regularly.
One of my jobs as a trainer is to teach group home staff how to restrain a child safely when they become so violent that they might seriously harm themselves or someone else. Not my favorite part of the job, that’s for sure.
Those dedicated social workers, case workers, foster parents, educators, group home staff, and other team members for a foster child’s care are constantly trying to improve the foster care system so that these kids are better taken care of. But the fact remains that being a foster child, even in 2022, is no picnic. No child deserves to be unwanted. No child deserves to be in foster care.
I haven’t even mentioned that there are, quite frankly, not enough foster homes. There are too many unwanted children, and not enough places to put them. They end up in all kinds of places. Sleeping on a social worker’s couch. In a locked mental health facility meant for adults. In juvenile hall. In group homes, simply because there is nowhere else for them to go.
And in many states, when they turn 18 they are just thrust out into the world, alone and unsupported.
Christians and unwanted children
The Bible has little to say about the unborn. But it sure has a lot to say about orphans. Out of dozens of texts, I offer but two:
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror. Psalm 10:17-18
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:18
Children’s suffering is a matter of justice for God. We should be doing all we can to reduce the suffering in our world, not increase it.
With the recent leak of SCOTUS’s planned decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, I can’t help but be dismayed. There are many compelling reasons to support a woman’s right to choose. As a feminist I’m moved by the arguments you will hear about women’s rights in the coming weeks.
But as a person who has eaten with, sat beside, and listened to the stories of these children, I ask you to consider this: children are going to suffer. Not potential children. Not fetuses. But real live growing, needy children.
Having seen the devastating effects of unwanted children, abused and neglected by their families, I can’t help but say again: every child born should be a wanted child. Every child deserves to be cherished, cared for, loved, their interests encouraged, their defeats comforted.
Do I like abortion? Of course not! No one likes abortion, in spite of the nonsense you may hear from some politicians.
But abortion isn’t about killing a baby, it’s about preventing a baby. It’s about preventing a child being born who isn’t wanted.
A lot of the problem with this debate is that the pro-choice people are focused on the woman, while the pro-life people are focused on the fetus. If you are pro-life, I get it. You care about kids. You hate that someone innocent won’t get to have a life.
But in spite of what you think, I’m on your side. I also don’t want to see innocent children doomed from the start. I don’t want to see babies born into families who didn’t want them, and won’t, or in many cases simply are unable to, care for them, children abandoned, desperate to be loved.
Is that what we really want? Because if we overturn Roe v. Wade, that’s what we’re going to get: a surge of unwanted, abused, and neglected children in a country where we can’t adequately care for them. We will get more children in this foster care system that I am so very sadly overly familiar with.
I’ll end with the story of the birthday party I recently attended at the group home. A teen girl sat around a small kitchen table, a store-bought cake in front of her. Pink streamers decorated the sad little kitchen. Only staff and other group home clients were in attendance. We gave her the small gifts we could. We sang and ate cake and celebrated.
And then I went home and wept.
I care about children too. Deeply. That is why I will fight for the right to an abortion for all, until my dying breath.
Every child born should be a wanted child.
Lindsey Abston Painter is a mental health trainer living in Northern California. She is passionate about feminism, social justice, and sci-fi. She is a proud parent, and has way too many cats and one goofy dog.