Joco Opinion

We must step up if we think a child is at risk

Falling through the cracks.

It’s a trite, over-used cliche.

But sometimes it’s the best and most descriptive way to portray what happens to a child like L.P., the little girl who was rescued from a closet-dungeon last year.

The “system” definitely failed L.P. The crack she disappeared down was a deep one.

Thankfully she was found in time and at least physically she will be OK.

Having once been a foster parent I’ve seen first-hand how well the system can work. And how poorly.

Our personal horror story started with a midweek call from a worker. Could we take a short-term placement for a 4-year-old boy?

The worker explained that it would just be a few weeks while a home study was completed so the boy could go live with his father and grandmother on the Kansas side of the state line. It was just a formality.

We said sure, and we made some room for a sweet, quiet little guy in our Kansas City home.

When the next Monday rolled around, my wife called to check in with the worker. Here’s what she was told:

“He doesn’t work here anymore. Friday was his last day.”

Long story short, that little boy was with us for five months.

It was five months of him crying at night because he couldn’t go home. And five months of us complaining and advocating on his behalf with the system.

The crack in his case was the state line, which meant not one, but two bureaucratic systems were involved.

Of course the system is supposed to keep children safe, but none of the delay in his case was about that. It was just a matter of nobody taking the responsibility to reach down into that crack and pull him out.

It was frustrating for him, for us and for his family. It was an absolutely unnecessary delay.

One day they called and said OK, he can go home now. The call should have come months before.

At least he left us with a memorable quote when his dad came to pick him up: “Peace ya’ll. I’m outta here.”

That case was an anomaly, nothing like any of the situations with other foster children we had. And fortunately it wasn’t a situation where he was in danger because of being caught in bureaucratic limbo.

But when it comes to the well-being of children there should be no anomalies. There should be no L.P.’s.

Save for an occasional child welfare worker who dumps a kid off on an unsuspecting foster family and then quits his job, the vast majority of those engaged in that kind of work are caring and conscientious. If they weren’t, they never would have pursued that kind of career.

The sad truth is that there are way too many children who need to be watched out for, and way too few workers to do it.

Luckily for L.P., somebody outside the system figured out something was wrong and made a call. More people need to be willing to get involved like that when we suspect a child is being abused or neglected.

If the system doesn’t have the resources to prevent cases like LP.’s, then the rest of us need to step up and make a difference.