October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month; November is National Adoptions Month. Both are a reflection of serious social injustices and problems. Domestic Violence in America is pervasive, negatively impacting individuals and children at an alarming rate. Additionally, too many children are in need of adopting because of these issues--domestic violence, family dishevel, substance abuse, and the list goes on.
I have worked in the child, youth and family services industry for nearly 50 years, and each day brings a new victim, trauma and crises, with an increasing need for intervention. Unfortunately, the public at large is mostly unaware of the depth and breadth of our social problems. Fortunately, due to the extensive research into Adverse Childhood Experiences, public understanding of the impact of trauma--physically, psychologically, socially, and economically--is growing.
Abuse and neglect of any type, family dishevel, and disruption destroy one of the most important elements of a healthy child’s development–Permanency! The chief goal behind every intervention provided by the Family Care Network is to create, strengthen, and preserve Permanency.
For the past few weeks, my wife and I have been watching the Netflix limited series “Maid.” It is a brilliantly acted depiction of domestic violence, poverty, mental illness, housing challenges, substance abuse, and the blatant ineptness of our social safety net to effectively help those in need. It has also stirred up some passion in me knowing that most people who find themselves in similar situations as depicted by the show’s characters, don’t choose to be there. And these real-life people are often looked down upon by society at large, which only adds to the numerous challenges they face to overcome and rise above their circumstances. As a case in point, let me share my story.
When I was seven years old, on the last day of second grade, my mom picked my sister and me up in our station wagon which was packed to the brim with all our belongings. The short version of this story is that she was extricating all of us from a very emotionally abusive, fearful living situation caused by my father’s narcissism, meanness, and alcoholism. For the next few months, she hid us in a rustic cabin owned by friends in the Forest Falls area of the San Bernardino Mountains. To be honest, it was a relief; we had all been living in fear with my father. Living in the mountains was an awesome distraction from the reality of our situation, and an experience I will never forget. Up until then, we were a very affluent family living in an estate in the La Canada hills. Life would never be the same after that.
My father was wealthy, he owned a small chain of successful pharmacies. My mom’s actions so infuriated him, that for the rest of my childhood he never contributed one dime to our support and successfully tied up all of the assets so that my mom received nothing, even under court orders. But at least he didn’t come and kill us!
There we were, homeless, with only a small bit of money my mom had squirreled away–but we were together and safe. We lived in my grandmother’s tiny house until she sold it; using the proceeds to help us get our own rental home and help my mom go back to school to get her teaching credential. We lived for years on very meager means, even after my mom got her first teaching job. My sister and I both got jobs--I, a paper route--to help make ends meet. Our working was especially important during the summers when teachers didn’t get paid. We all contributed to make sure we survived. I have never stopped working since then; I even paid my own way through college. Thankfully, we were surrounded by a network of supportive friends and family who came to the rescue when it was needed!
Our situation was certainly not as extreme as that portrayed in the “Maid” series, but it wasn’t as dissimilar as you might expect. I always felt “less than” my peers, and I was treated differently in my neighborhood and school. My mom and grandmother sewed or altered our clothes, they canned food friends and family brought us, and buying anything new was rare. We didn’t have a TV but occupied ourselves playing games and doing creative stuff. Our life was austere, plain and simple; but we had a strong sense of permanency and togetherness. That made all the difference in my life.
One of the conditions in our culture that so infuriates--but also motivates me--is the disdain so many people have for those who are poor, victims, struggling and working hard to survive. I find it repulsive that we are the richest nation on earth and yet have one of the highest child poverty rates. We also have the highest degree of income inequality and the largest class of “working poor.” The “Horatio Alger” “rags to riches” myth underlies much of our cultural thinking, but it is just that--a myth; a fantasy not based on real-life circumstances. Not everyone has equal access to or the opportunity to work hard and become successful, especially people of color and those living in poverty. I mean, we still have politicians active in government who think slavery was good for black people!
I am not sure what it will take to open our “cultural eyes” to see more clearly the carnage being produced by greed and the lust for power. Until we do, social injustice will continue to take its toll, child and family stability and permanency will remain in harm’s way, and the need for Adoption and Domestic Violence Awareness will remain high.
I am very proud of the fact that the Family Care Network has the skill, expertise, and an amazing record of success in helping victims of trauma and creating for them a path to permanency they need for success. But now is the time for us to fervently stride forward and forge new successes in prevention to bring about more Social Justice, ending inequality and cycles of abuse and poverty.