Sunday, November 01, 2009

Reflections on Throwaway Children and Teens

I was shocked, but didn't think too much of it at the time. It was a story relayed by a neighbor about a local family. Having lost a job, the father announced to his teen-age child that he could no longer care for her. She went to live with a relative, but the arrangement is tenuous. If that falls through, it's not clear where the young girl would go. It's also not clear how she would support herself given limited skills and a difficult job market.

Later I heard of yet other accounts: children who had run away from chaotic homes, teens placed in one foster home after another--all because no family members were able or willing to take them in.

My first experience with the idea of throwaway children and teens came in the early 1990s. We heard from our oldest son that economic upheaval in Russia had created a situation in which families were abandoning children to orphanages. Many of the children were healthy; quite a few were deemed unwanted (and unadoptable) because they had a mixed racial background. Left to languish without proper attachment and bonding, a great number of the older children evidenced signs of lifelong developmental disorders.

That's how we ended up going to Moscow and adopting our youngest son Macrae.

Now, right here at home, we see economic turmoil and fresh evidence of children and teens thrown away--not unlike what was seen in the early 1930s. Incredibly, about 1.6 million children each year either run away from home or are thrown out onto the streets, according to an illuminating New York Times account. All too often, those children and teens fall into the only way to support themselves that presents itself: prostitution. That, in turn, is accompanied by drug use and physical abuse.

I'm pleased to see that Dawn Schiller will be coming out with a book that details her story of physical and drug abuse as a throwaway teen. We hear about the suffering of teens and children in far-off lands that struggle with hunger and violence, but we don't think of such suffering in our own communities. And yet, there it is. My own area, which is reasonably affluent, has quite a few shelters for homeless children and teens.

Just as we did in the early 90's, Margie and I will find ways to get involved in helping those who are struggling to help themselves. I see those who live comfortably and whose concerns end with their own material desires; I hope that I will always avoid that deeper form of poverty. It's one of life's great paradoxes that, as we give more of ourselves, we find more and more of ourselves worth sharing. Thanks to Dawn, the folks at ChildServ, and the many others who are making the effort to pick up what's been thrown away.