A Radical Notion: Children Come First, Period.

She had a felony arrest for child neglect last July, but the Department of Childrens Services was not monitoring Latasha Morris, or checking up on her children. In between December 2007 and January 2008, Morris was arrested four times. On February 6th, Morris, a chronic alcoholic and drug user, passed out on top of her 2 year old son, Sheldon Bartley. The toddler died.

It does not appear that Morris was without people who tried to help. Sheldon’s paternal grandparents often cared for the children, and were making plans to get Latasha into rehab, where she might receive treatment for her decade-long battle with alcoholism.

In the meanwhile, six year old Estajah and two year old Sheldon were left unchecked and in their mother’s care, with disastrous consequences.

My January 29th article on adoption garnered a lot of response, including some disturbing mail from an anti-adoption group which seems to be made up of a handful of birth mothers who resent their decisions. They rail at a society which, they say, does not do enough to financially support them. They rail at adoptive parents, claiming they are thieves. They rail at adoption agencies, claiming that they are a corrupt, money-making industry. They take a few stories from unhappy adoptees, and twist them into propaganda to buoy their anti-adoption creed.

It’s difficult to read their tales, because no matter how matter how vague their actual stories are, or how many gaps of logic are apparent in those stories, the facts of these women’s lives — and their regrets — are drenched in pain.

One wrote to me and said that my plea to young mothers to consider adoption would not be heard by those who would do harm to their own children, but only by those whose love was so encompassing that they would give their children up before subjecting them to any harm at all.

She’s very likely right. The majority of birth mothers that I have spoken to are women who love deeply, and whose thoughts were centered on what was best for their child. They chose adoption not because it was easier for them, but because it was gut-wrenching to consider raising the child they loved in anything less than good circumstances. To me, the love and care they expressed through adoption is heroic. Often, they placed themselves in the line of fire from others who questioned their decision – they struggled with their internal emotions and the perceptions of the outside world for nine months – and in the end, chose to put their children first.

There really should be another Mother’s Day just for them. One in which the whole of society acknowledges the unconditional, selfless, agape love of women who placed their faith and hopes in adoption in order to give their child the best possible parents, circumstances, and opportunities.

Not heroic was the note I received from a mother who is outraged that her children were “stolen” by the foster care system due to abuse perpetrated by the mother’s boyfriend. “Not my fault” was the tone of the letter, and “they had no right” was the message. Her children, her choices. She didn’t believe society should have any say in how her children were raised, but she did believe that none of this would have happened if society had supported her. If school was free, maybe she’d have gone, and gotten a better job so she wouldn’t have to live with others. If there was free daycare, maybe she wouldn’t have had the boyfriend babysit.

I don’t know what she expected from me, but she was writing to the wrong person.

I know a few things about pain. I know what it is like to be a child born at the wrong time, to parents who had their own personal problems. My body still carries the memories of their problems – their narcissism, impatience, and rage. At 45 years old, I still flinch when someone moves their hand too quickly or too closely to me. I startle easily, and always have to have my back to a wall in a crowd so that people cannot surprise me from behind. In personal relationships, I have a reflexive tendency to just slip away whenever a confrontation is impending. I go away easily. Arguments frighten me – I always fear they’ll end in disaster.

I know, too, the feeling of standing outside of life’s gate, with no clear way in, and no invitation. To be the girl who feels no sense of place in the innocent, carefree world of others. To be the one with the dark house, the bad teeth, and the worn hand-me-downs, who can only pretend a sense of normal, while dreaming, always dreaming, of being somebody-somewhere else.

And I know passion. I know that at some point memories became a protective instinct, dreams became missions, and that my perspective from outside the gate had a value, if only for those who had not yet seen beyond the iron slats of their own similar experiences.

No one wants to think they’ll be a bad parent. My parents, I know, like so many others, leaned on the bromide of “we did our best” as both excuse and salve. The truth is they did not. The truth is that they both had affairs, and decided to bring a child into the world that was the result of their lack of control, and their lack of love or respect for each other. Instead of being born with a blank slate, I was born into turmoil, shame, and bitter feelings. My coloring was a sign of guilt, and my character was questioned even as an infant. I was too quiet, not like her other daughters, but when I cried it was all wrong, it grated on her nerves. I read too early. I was too athletic. I was too dreamy, too willful, too different, and too much.

As an adult, I once asked my mother why she did not give me up. In a rare moment of honesty, she told me she tried to abort me several times, but it didn’t work. She thought about giving me up then, but it was too complicated. She was married, and people would ask questions.

Embarrassing questions, it seems, were harder for my mother than raising an unwanted child for sixteen years. Instead of temporary feelings of guilt, my mother chose – not just for her, but for me as well – years of despair and hurt.

I survived. Too many children do not even have that opportunity. Many others will go through life feeling disconnected, lost, or alienated. Some will wrongly mistake rage for strength, and seek to become stronger than those who hurt them. Some will even end up with emotional and mental damages that are beyond repair.

The point I made in Dangerous Choices is, I think, clear to those who would hear its message. Children must come first, period. Children are not chattel, and they should not be considered the property of unfortunate birth parents who cannot, will not, or should not care for them. Childhood is a short-lived experience, a limited window of opportunity, and children should not have to suspend their needs, waiting on parents whose histories have already shown a propensity for neglect, abuse, and danger.

The foster care system needs a radical overhaul, and a new mission statement: Children Come First. Period.

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14 comments

  1. jane, who are a shining example that “you do not have to be victims of circumstance” as a wise woman once said …oh wait, that was you. my heart aches for you and the things that you should not have had to go through …and still are.

    birth mothers are incredible people. our little boy’s birth mother is an absolute angel. we love her dearly. my heart swells every time we see her, email, text or chat. i love her, respect her and admire her. she has taught me so much. we are so proud of the goals and dreams she has achieved. she is our hero.

    birth mothers do have their own day. it is the day before mothers’ day …which is really powerful for me as an adoptive mom seeing as there would be no mothers’ day for me without our beautiful birth mom. she will always be celebrated in our home.

    you are amazing.

  2. My Dear Jane,
    You illuminate and motivate, using facts, photos, thoughts and desires.
    You inspire, via cyberspace with heartfelt words and generosity of spirit.
    You are loved, despite distance and our never having met.
    You are precious, utterly…totally…completely.
    You matter.
    You matter to me.

  3. Jane, I know that you tell your life story not to get people to feel for you, but so that you can be a voice for those who have none. I applaud you. I know it is not easy.

    I do feel for your experiences, though, and I think your strength is just incredible. I am glad that your voice resounds so clearly on behalf of those children who don’t yet have that strength.

    Yes, the foster care system needs to change.

    Imagine, putting children first. Imagine, not losing track of a child in a precarious circumstance. Imagine if these parents were actually held accountable before their children ended up with broken bones, destroyed lives, or no lives at all.

    I am with you, Jane, and have written my letters.

    Thank you, as always, for touching my heart as you did today.

  4. Can we ever learn? Can we ever make it right for these children? You Jane, are my hero. You will try.
    Because you choose not to abandon and simply count yourself lucky to have made it, others may get the chance. These babies need us. They need our society to care.

  5. Allison, I’m not sure that we’ll ever learn, but I know for certain we won’t if society keeps propagating the “get over it” – “I’m sick of hearing about it” – “there are no victims” – “there’s a reason for everything” – attitudes that shut out, or make light of, the crimes against humanity, particularly child abuse.

    I’m no hero. Just a woman/parent/writer/day-laborer with a blog that maybe 2000 people a month stumble upon, usually while looking for something else altogether. There are voices bigger, better, and far more qualified than mine, but I don’t hear them speaking. I don’t hear them demanding change. It’s almost painful for me when the broadcast news turns to trivia. I think — what a lost opportunity.

    Even though it’s a small group that gathers here and on similar sites, it gives me hope. Not all is lost. And we’ll keep talking, and even scream if we have to, to try to get the message across.

    These lost children, in one way or another, belong to all of us.

  6. Soldier on Jane, to 2000 or 20, because sometimes it only takes a compassionate minority to get things done.

    “Then let us all do what is right, strive with all our might toward the unattainable,
    develop as fully as we can the gifts God has given us, and never stop learning.”
    — Ludwig van Beethoven

  7. Jane,

    This just breaks my heart, seeing these poor babies. How can any human being, do this to a child?

    Please, keep on with your wonderful writing and getting stories like this out to the people who do stumble upon your site.

    I think I told you a long time ago, that no one would ever know you came from such a background, because you are so intelligent and so soft spoken and well read.

    I also said, you can be proud of yourself. Please stay the course. I’m sure you will, because that’s the way you are.

  8. This article breaks my heart. Any article for that fact with child abuse breaks my heart. Innocent children who have nothing but love to offer getting hurt . Anger is taken out on them and they have not done anything. I am a single mom to the MOST beautiful angelic 6yr old girl. I can’t even fathom laying a hand on her. She gives me nothing but love and deserves nothing but love in return. It makes me realize that there are truly people with some serious issues out there that need help and I feel so sad for them. I have also recenlty , in the past 5months, placed my other daughter for adoption. I am still amazed at adoption and will continue to be. I am floored sometimes that I placed my daughter and other times it just made sense. Raising two kids on my own didn’t make sense. I admire birth moms myself. Especially the young ones and the maturity they behold to make such a selfless descision. They are MY heros. I read the last article with comments of other mothers who placed with regret. By no means is this easy. It has ripped my heart out and hurts because I couldn’t give her what I dreamed of, but in all reality I did. She has a mom and dad that love and cherish her beyond words. They will be able to give her what I as a single mom can’t. Adoption is “not the abandonment of a baby but an abandonment of self for a baby’s sake.” curtis young I love this quote. It takes two to make a baby, it is going to take two to raise a child, a healthy child. There are people out there that can’t have children. God would not have people out there born with a problem without a solution. Infertility is the problem, adoption is the solution. I gave not given up my daughter but I have placed her. With how adoption is nowadays I have not lost her but I have gained more family. It is so sad to personaly know people that can’t have children and the heartache that they are feeling and there are people out there that can have children and hurt them so badly. Knowing that these children could very well be loved and taken care of and the parents could be releived of the heartache that they are going through now of their children on life support and them being locked up. It is such a vicious cycle. These people are now more depressed which isn’t going to help. My heart just wrenches with pain for all involved. I pray that more people can catch the testimony of adoption and how healthy it is. That it is such a beautiful experience. That the families that are placed with are so eternaly grateful that your child will not be lost. There is a fit for everyone. Whatever kind of adoption you want. Closed, open, semi-open. I personaly know Mrs. R and her family. She does celebrate her birth mom. I love her site and her as an advocate for adoption. If we can all just touch one heart with the beauty that it beholds, the world will be a better place. Hearts have to be ready to receive anything in life. If not then it is like the parable in the bible. The sower and the seeds. If the dirt isn’t prepared then the seeds will not be accepted and they will not prosper. The only thing we can do is continue to share as there will continue to be people out there that will continue to be ready to accept adoption into their hearts. One life touched is many lives affected. Thank you for your articles and for personaly sharing yourself in them .

  9. I am sick to my stomach hearing about these cases where children are given back to the assholes that abused them! What the hell kind of mentality is behind this? How is it thought, EVER, that a neglectful abusive parent should be given another chance to ruin their child’s life? Who’s best interests are really at the heart of this? Why aren’t children being protected?

    I’ve been heartbroken at the story of little Aiden Waller, who’s still clinging to life. It looks like Georgia DCFS officials are in hot water, http://savannahnow.com/node/442567, but it’s too late for Aiden and other children hurt by this backwards system.

    I tried to become a foster parent a few years ago and was told that because I was single and worked I was disqualified from fostering anybody except teenagers. They didn’t want foster kids in daycare, even for a few hours a day. Better to have them in a home where one or both parents don’t work and beat or neglect their kids? Better to leave them with mommy-dearest’s flavor of the day, so he can beat and neglect them?

    It’s just so frustrating!

  10. UNFORTUNATELY, CHILDREN HAVE NO RIGHTS.
    I AM SADDENED BY THE MANY CHILDREN WHO NEVER ASKED TO BE BORN ARE MISTREATED AND HAVE DIED. WHY? BECAUSE THE SYSTEM STINKS. HOW CAN WE CHANGE IT? THERE ARE SO MANY CHILDREN THAT NEED OUR HELP. WHERE DO WE START?

  11. Just found this site tonite.
    I tried to work for state gov’t in child protection. I lasted less than a year. The ‘system’ is corrupt, inept, untrained, unaccountable, unbelievable! That was 30 yrs ago.
    We have institutions of terror- that are viewed as ‘normal’. I also worked at a state mental hospital- teenager unit. Those workers who cared, (myself included)- became victims of the sadistic workers- who did not care!
    I finally gave up. Often, when I have tried to tell what happened there- people will give me the raised eyebrow look. I know then that I have just received another judgment that the fault was w/ me- that I overstated the problem- imagined it- exaggerated it for some self-serving need.
    My last week of work at the MHI- I wrote a letter-to-the-editor to the D.M. Register- criticizing the lack of care. I knew I had to quit my job after the letter was posted on the bulletin board at work. But the kids outside shouted out an affirmative good-bye as I left. I still think about those kids. One boy had scars on his back- another whispered-
    & a worker set his socks on fire when he would not pick them up. That worker was the ward’s favorite. He never had to account for any of his behavior. When I refused to assist him in his abuse- he physically attacked me. 2 social workers happened to walk thru the ward- both acted as if they did not see him twisting my arm behind my back. It was absolute insanity! I have no reason to think that conditions have improved.

  12. I’ve been catching up on stuff here. I haven’t been commenting, just quietly reading. But this made me cry. It hits close….

    I don’t know where you find your courage to be so honest, but I”m glad you have…

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