I recently reviewed a report that detailed the tragic death of a young girl in foster care. What struck me most about the girl’s life was the degree that she was unwanted and was made to feel like a burden. We don’t like to think about children being devalued in this way, or at least not physically and cognitively healthy children. Based on the report, her young life was laden with physical and emotional scars. Her father was not in her life, and the girl’s mother eventually told the state she didn’t want her and would not allow her back in her home. Ultimately, the mother was one of the many people using a social media platform to call for the girl’s death by suicide. It makes you cringe doesn’t it. It is hard to even write those words that contrast so abruptly with the sounds of my oldest son playing chess with my husband in the next room.
How could any child be that unwanted? And yet millions are. Don’t believe me? Look at the foster care systems across the globe. Look at the orphanages in China (where my sons started their lives). Some children enter these systems because they are physically or mentally broken, while millions of others are aborted. Either way the message is clear – they are unwanted and if they are unwanted they shouldn’t be here.
In the months surrounding this girl’s death, the foster care agency was doing a lot of things right. Those in the agency seemed to be trying hard to show her she was wanted and worthy. They were hopeful of her future and she was looking forward to college. Ultimately, based solely on the information contained in the report, I would surmise it was the extreme feelings of being unwanted on the night of her death, and throughout her young life, combined with a long history of complex trauma (meaning trauma originating in the family system) that led her to end her life.
Early on, her interactions with the state agency were less than stellar. Opportunities for intervention and prevention were lost. They seemed to be checking boxes and looking the other way to some pretty egregious stuff, but they weren’t the only ones. Many were not valuing this child, not seeing her worthy of love and safety. But can we really expect those working for the foster care agency or those in the courts to value her? You might say of course that is their job, and I would wholly agree with you. But at the end of the day, these are all just human beings who live in the same world that I live in, and when I look around, I clearly see the message that we are not all equally valued.
I saw it in the eyes of a sales clerk in China, my beloved son, whom I would lay down my life for without hesitation, did not hold value in her mind. The memory still brings tears to my eyes, the thought of him ever being looked at that way is too much for me, even years later. And yet this girl was the same in the eyes of so many, a burden, unvalued, and unwanted. How would my intelligent, sensitive, emotionally astute son see himself if he lived in a world that didn’t want him? Would he value his life when no one else did? Or would he internalize the messages, as this girl had done, and give the world what it seemed to want?
Her death is a tragedy, but not one that could’ve been easily prevented by the foster care agency. Certainly, her suicide that night could have been stopped if they realized what was happening, but the guilt doesn’t rest on her case manager, therapist, or foster parent. It rests on all of us, because we are all guilty of assigning value based on what someone does for us, not simply because they are here on the planet with us.
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25: 40