"Giving her back," said Kelli Sedgewick, foster mother of little Tori Sandoval, "was like letting a stranger walk into my home and take her to a place I knew was not safe. There was nothing I could do."
When the dark-head toddler died a horrific death just eight months later, Kelli and her husband tried not to think about the words included in the autopsy report: full cardiopulmonary arrest; severe anemia; acute renal failure; severe hypothermia; severe hypocalcaemia; displaced fracture to the right ninth rib; multiple bruises to face and body; large bruise and laceration to the forehead, right eye, chest, abdomen and legs. Her biological parents are on trial for her murder.
Sadly, it wasn't Tori's biological parents who walked into the Sedgewicks' home, picked up Tori and walked out the door. It was a DCFS caseworker simply acting on orders from children's court who had ordered Tori's return after DCFS recommended it. They all decided to ignore the myriad of bright red flags flapping in the wind, screaming to be heeded. The bright red flags were things like a history domestic violence, an ignored restraining order preventing the parents from living together, the fact they lost custody of eight older siblings.
Little Tori is Foster Care's Sandy Hook.
Unspeakable suffering. Crushing loss. Unfathomable actions from a person wielding power and destruction. We say the precious Newtown kindergartners who died brutally and way too young are ‘our' children. As a nation we mourn the loss of them as if they were ours. We pledge to stand with the suffering families in solidarity, in prayer, in whatever assistance we can provide. Of course we do those things and we should. We stand together. We take care of each other. We show our love and support and vow to learn from this tragedy. Our government promises to work hard to make our children and schools safer. The topic of gun control has suddenly swooped in and taken center stage.
But where are we when a child like Tori dies because our system failed to listen to impassioned pleas from loving foster parents not to send her back?
Where were we when seven-year-old foster child Gabriel Myers hung himself with a shower cord in his foster home? Earlier that day he had sat in his school cafeteria with his head resting on a table, crying inconsolably and saying his tummy hurt and he just wanted to go home.
Did we even pause when seven-month-old Ty'ionna Barfield was found dead in the crib in her foster home? Her autopsy revealed bruises and two broken arms. No one has ever been charged. Does anyone care?
The irony is that foster children like Tori and Gabriel and Ty'ionna ARE ours. They are legal orphans, belonging to the government and funded by taxpayer dollars. That makes each of us responsible for them and how those dollars are used to help them.
A government will never successfully raise children. It was never intended to. That is our job.
Excited new parents endlessly research everything from baby names to car seats to pediatricians. I wonder if they've ever researched how many dollars their state spends on services to foster children. I wonder if they know one in four children coming into foster care is a baby under age one. I wonder if they know foster kids are more likely to be abused or neglected than children in the general population. I wonder if they know they have the power to hold systems and courts responsible for decisions made. I wonder if they know they are truly the only voice this invisible population has. If we won't take them into our loving homes, don't we at least owe it to them to use our voice on their behalf?
Maybe Charlotte Gray said it best. "Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children. From now on each wounded, abandoned, frightened child is yours. You live in the suffering mothers of every race and creed and weep with them. You long to comfort all who are desolate."
Our children need you. Here are some ways to help.