Experience Reminds Me.... Who is Protecting Our Children?
She is a little girl- only four. She has long dirty blond hair. She still has her baby fat and her “blankie” when she comes to me. When she comes to me, she is not potty trained. She does not know about bed time, dinner time or story time. When she is hungry, she drags a chair across the floor and gets herself cereal to eat. This is because her mother is an addict and chooses drugs over her. This little girl was born in prison and although there are no longer any bars, she remains there. She has been in foster care several times. She came to me because I was her lucky foster mom. For one year I loved her as my own. She had stories and dinners with milk and prayers and a bed time. For one year until DYFS and a blind judge returned her to an unsafe home. That was ten years ago. This is only one child and only one case. And this is a child who has a huge extended family who would and could give her everything she needs to be a healthy and happy little girl. But in the end, most of the time, even though it’s not in the best interest of the child, the courts send him or her home. And sadly at the end of one year, even though the mother continued to do use drugs and the father continued to be a crutch, the father was granted custody of this little girl, providing that the mother did not live at home. The father was also ordered to take a parenting course, anger management courses, etc… But once DYFS placed this child back into an unsafe home, one in which she did not want to go, DYFS and the judge were never heard from again. End of story. End of hope for a positive future for one little girl. And this is only one child and only one case. What about all of the others? Soon after, the year of normalcy for this little girl was over. She was back with her father and mother. Back to drugs, domestic violence and threats. Not where you’d expect, Camden or Burlington City, but in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where there are fancy cars, fancy schools and homes that sell for half a million. James McGreevey might have had skeletons in his closet, but he also had good intentions for the welfare of our children. In 2003, after several publicized deaths of children in foster care due to abuse or neglect, then Governor McGreevey took action. He created the Child Welfare Reform Plan. According to the NJ Department of Human Services at www.state.nj.us.com, this plan, which was established on July 9, 2004 “was approved by the Child Welfare Panel and incorporated into the settlement of a class action lawsuit brought against the State and the Department. The plan is called, A New Beginning: Child Welfare Reform in New Jersey.” If you go to www.state.nj.us.com, you’ll also read that the plan “targets many of the problems that are precursors to child abuse and neglect, including substance abuse, inadequate housing, domestic violence and the lack of community based social services, and commits the state to working to prevent abuse and neglect before they happen.” If this were really true and the plan actually worked, I would not be writing this article today. The plan is expected to take three to five years to fully implement, so maybe there is still hope. I also found a list of twenty-four organizations on this website where children can get help if threatened by child abuse or neglect, yet the system has failed one child for ten years now, so I can only imagine how many other children it has failed. How does an abused child get such help without a caring parent or advocate to guide him? Today, “this little girl” is a beautiful young lady. I pray that she makes it through sixth grade successfully but realize that concentrating at school is a huge challenge. She continues to live in a home where pills lay on the floor. A home where a father chooses to put her in danger by staying with an addicted mother. I talk to her on Facebook.... keep an eye on how she is doing and what I see scares me. Her mother is in jail until bailed out once again. She is smoking and chatting with boys. Looking for love and security I know, but at what cost? I am an American citizen who is proud of her country. I am proud that I can practice freedom of speech and proud to have opportunities beyond what most countries dream of. But the last ten years of my life, have led me to ask, “Who is protecting our children?” American children have no faithful advocates. Everyone is overwhelmed with case studies, the Division of Youth and Family Services, law enforcers and school counselors have more files then they know what to do with. I have tried to contact our Commissioner several times and was told (by a DYFS worker ) that I will never hear back from a Commissioner- just doesn't happen. These issues cause me to think: Who advocates for the children whose parents are incapable of doing so? In 2006, according to the Department of Children and Families website (http://www.state.nj.us/dcf/abuse/fatalities/2006fatalities.html) the following was printed, ” The public's concern about child safety resulted in a historic surge of calls to the DCF child abuse hotline and in DYFS investigations of child protection cases. “The stakes are very high for vulnerable children. In 2006, 23 children died in New Jersey due to abuse or neglect. Four children died with open DYFS cases. Five others' families had a prior history with DYFS; in three of those instances, the families' cases were closed before the children were born. Fourteen children who died from abuse or neglect lived with families unknown to DYFS. This raises the need for a more robust child abuse prevention effort across the State, within and beyond DYFS.” First goal of DYFS according to their website is: “The health and safety of each child." We all know that this system doesn't work. Records of starving children canvassing neighbors' trash speak volumes. Our children are the leaders of tomorrow and you can’t lead a nation after leading a childhood full of hopelessness.

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  • Hannah Goodman

    My heart hurts for this littler girl and for oyu. you are brave and strong. Thank you for sharing this piece.

  • Jodi O\'Donnell-Ames

    Wow. I grew up near you..... Palmyra. Thanks for your comments. I am grateful that someone read it! I tried to publish it as an editorial but I'm not my best PR rep.

    I would adopt her in a sec. Only wish I could do more.

    Keep writing!

  • Jaime Herndon

    wow. This broke my heart. I know Cherry Hill, NJ well. I grew up in South Jersey, in Blackwood, and went to school in Cherry Hill. DYFS leaves much to be desired.....but this little girl is lucky to have you in her life, even if it is "just" on facebook.