By Annie Allen
This week we celebrate a man who stood for justice, equality, love, and so much more. He stood for these things so much, and his belief in his dream was so great, that he was assassinated for it. Most of us are taught that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. largely stood for racial equality, but his message was actually much broader. Dr. King sought to eradicate what he referred to as the triple evils: poverty, racism, and militarism. According to the King Foundation, these evils, “... are forms of violence that exist in a vicious cycle. They are interrelated, all- inclusive, and stand as barriers to our living in the beloved community. When we work to remedy one evil, we affect all evils.”
The child welfare system is a reactive system that seeks to minimize the damage that results from these three interrelated evils. Sometimes the child welfare system, despite its best efforts, can even exacerbate these evils. Children who become enmeshed in the child welfare system are disproportionately children of color and victims of systemic and generational poverty, which is not to say that these demographics must then abuse children more often - in fact, child abuse rates, much like drug use, is equal among all demographics. The simple fact is that the child welfare system is like any other large societal institution - an imperfect solution to a systemic problem.
I was one of those children who was disproportionately affected by poverty and the child welfare system - I am half Thai and half Mexican, my birth family was undoubtedly poor, and I entered foster care around my second year of life. An imperfect institution stepped into my life to partially remedy the effects of systemic problems; I don’t know where I would have been had it not stepped into my life, but I do know I’m thankful for where I am now.
At some point, most children in the United States will hear and learn about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, with too many people believing that his dream has come true. Likely, this lesson will be followed by a writing activity which will more or less ask, “After learning about his amazing life and listening to his “I Have a Dream” speech, what is your dream? What do you hope for in our future?”
When I was without a permanent family, a “forever family,” I dreamt of finding someplace I knew I could call home every single day and not have to worry that I would be taken away without notice. I wanted to feel loved and wanted, and I wanted to no longer call myself a foster kid. CPS workers took care to take our requests for the kind of forever family we wanted seriously. I wanted to remain the oldest, but my brother and I also wanted our own bedrooms and a two-story house, and we wished for our future home to have at least one cat or dog. Mostly we just wanted to know that we would be safe and cared for physically, emotionally, and materially. My dream as a child was simple and individualistic because I did not understand the larger forces that shaped my life.
As an adult whose experiences as a foster child marked her, I can say that my dream remains the same for the countless children that are struggling to navigate the foster care system today – I want them to know they matter, they’re loved, and I want a safer, more just, and more equitable world for them. My dream is also more informed. I know that to truly help these children, the larger societal problems must also be fixed. The best world is one in which the child welfare system does not exist because it does not have to – every child is well-cared for, wanted, loved, and safe. This dream is entirely possible as the problems that necessitate that we have a child welfare system in the first place are human made. Therefore, they can besolved by us.
But until then, we only have this imperfect system that tries its best. It is underfunded, overburdened, underemployed, and working within a no-win situation. This is why our organization, CASA of the Pines, is so important. Through it, we can train regular everyday people to advocate for a child in the foster care system – to make a difference in the life of a child who knows that at least one person sees them as more than just a “foster kid.”
Dr. King once spoke of a dream, but I find another quote by him to be more pertinent to dream-making: “Life’s most persistent question is, what are you doing for others?” Help a dream come true. Become a CASA.
Annie Allen is a recruiter for CASA of the Pines in Lufkin.