Oregon’s Foster Care System
I was originally going to title this post “Brian’s Song,” but for the sake o’ the search engines, I went with the title above.
When I read the article “Oregon needs more classrooms, not more cells” in the October 5th issue of the Oregonian, admittedly, I glossed over the following statement:
“Mannix would make Oregon the state with the nation’s highest percentage of female prisoners. That surely would mean far more children shoveled into Oregon’s woeful foster care system, which too often serves as a de facto holding tank for the next generation of criminals.”
Then today, I read Tom Mitchell and Miriam Green’s response, “An Insult to the Foster System.”
Now, I’m not going to bother arguing with the Oregonian’s “editorial” staff, (please refer to the old joke about having a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent,) but I do want to relate a personal experience regarding Oregon’s “foster care system.”
I have a couple of friends…let’s call them Dan and Margie (to protect the innocent.)
Dan and Margie have been a part of Oregon’s foster care system for years, and I have watched any number of children come into their home; usually high-risk babies, who arrive after wee-hour-of-the-morning phone calls.
I want to talk about one, in particular…
His name is Brian.
Brian was born a junkie. He had never picked up a needle, had never snorted a line, but through no fault of his own, he came into this world an addict, as do many of the babies that the Oregon foster care system has to deal with.
When I first met Brian, several years ago, he was a toddler, not much older than my own 15 month-old daughter is now. Being childless at the time, I didn’t have any real appreciation for Brian’s behavior and abilities…but I do now.
My own baby girl laughs and smiles. She speaks a few “baby words” and knows a few signs to communicate her desires. She cuddles, and grins, and seeks the love and attention of those around her.
Brian did not.
When I first met Brian, and as I grew to know him better, I saw he was a baby who was “apart” from the world around him. He did not laugh or smile, could not communicate his desires (except to scream) and would not even make eye contact.
This was his life when Dan and Margie took him into their home.
Years have passed, and I have watched my friends love and nurture this boy who was born with two strikes against him. I have watched them sacrifice their time and devotion for him. Dan and Margie have risked the safety of their home and their own three children, and have sacrificed countless hours attending hearings and ridiculous levels of red tape to keep someone else’ baby safe and cared for.
But, to Dan and Margie, it wasn’t someone else’s baby, Brian was their baby, and he was given the same love, devotion, and protection that they give freely to the babies of their own blood.
Years have passed since I first met Brian, and now he’s a healthy, happy little boy.
Sure, he still struggles with the issues he was born with, but through the tireless efforts and love of his “foster” parents, he now smiles, and laughs, and speaks full sentences.
It’s hard not to tear up when he comes to me, and looks me in the eye, with that big grin, and proudly shows me to the new boots that his “Grandpa” bought him, or as I watch him snuggle into the Dan’s arms and say, “I love you, Daddy!”
I watch him play with his “brother” and his “sisters” (who have also made their sacrifices for the half-dozen babies that have shared their parent’s love) just like any other baby brother, in any other family I know.
Now understand, I’m not saying that the system is not without its faults. Like any “system” it will have its ups and downs, its victories and its failures, but I take exception to the premise that Oregon’s foster care system is a “de facto holding tank for the next generation of criminals.”
You see, I grew up in a slum neighborhood in the Portland suburbs, around crack babies being raised by addict mothers, and children who never saw their incarcerated fathers. Babies who lived on junk food when the food-stamps arrived, and starved the last week of every month…
I take exception because I have lived in the “holding tank for the next generation of criminals.”
I take exception because I’ve watched a young couple give of their lives, their finances, and their family, for the sake of someone else’s child.
I take exception because I’ve watched a little boy who was born with two strikes against him, who’s very survival was unlikely without intervention, be led to the plate and taught to swing for a grand-slam, a baby who has being given a hope and a future.
I take exception because I know Brian.
PS – To make a great story even better, Brian is no longer the “foster” child of Dan and Margie, about a month ago they finalized the adoption proceedings (a grueling and harrowing experience in itself,) and Brian is now their son in name, as well as in their hearts.