Stories from the Field
Suggested Soundtrack: Girl on Fire, Alicia Keyes
Liza was a 14-year-old girl living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. She had been in the mandated Child Welfare system since she was about 10 years old. She had siblings and an extended family of many aunts and uncles. Every one of those aunts or uncles had a barrier to having children from CPS placed with them. 75% of them were in active addiction, and many of those also had simultaneous cases. Others had felony convictions on their record. All were poor. And of course, they were Black. Every one of these indicators is node on a graph of being underserved, or of disproportionality affecting Black families and communities, as well as evidence of existing racism in multiple government systems.
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Candidate A was running for office in the Lowcountry of South Carolina in 2019. Like many local municipalities, elections for local politicians are held in off years. This is one way both parties keep their power—they deliberately dodge rough national elections to get lower voter turnout in off years. Early in 2019 Candidate A sought to adopt a child through foster care. Adoptive parents working through CPS must foster their children before adopting them. After the requisite background checks and home study, Candidate A was approved as a foster placement. Liza was the first placement.
Liza had experienced significant trauma in three areas of child maltreatment—sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect. Her childhood had been riddled with years of not knowing where her next meal might come from, or when she might see her mom—her primary caregiver—again. Her mother, who was in active addiction since Liza was very young, was extremely dysregulated for much of Liza’s childhood, and she frequently used excessive physical discipline to control Liza. South Carolina Department of Social Services got involved multiple times and closed several cases before the most recent case when Liza was about 10 years old. By the time she was 14, Liza had transitioned to the adoption side of SCDSS. Enter Candidate A.
Youth like Liza can be very difficult teenagers. Prolonged child maltreatment at an early age is disruptive to the attachment process and can impact a person's identity and behavior for the rest of their lives. Add to that coping skills acquired in the midst of trauma that are usually not particularly effective and don’t benefit the survivor-victim outside of the traumatizing incident, but they don’t know it. Add to that the impact on the brain of trauma—how it produces uncontrollable effects like intrusive thoughts, fixations, impulses to fight or flight, etc. Add to that the effects of an incredibly negative youth culture, and you can see there might be problems.
But Candidate A had that election and glossy campaign photos of foster children are not allowed on the campaign trail. Photos of adoptive children, however, are allowed. Candidate A sought to rush through an adoption in less than four months when the timeline for SCDSS was at least six months, possibly more for a youth with these presenting challenges. Thus, Candidate A went from application to foster to adoption complete in less than six months. This is unheard of in mandated Child Welfare systems.
The adoption office within SCDSS, for their part, pushed back against the idea. Higher ups sided with Candidate A and the adoption was pushed through lickety-split. Within the month photos were published on Candidate A’s website. A few weeks later the election was held. This was November 2019, just 5 weeks before Covid-19 would start its march around the globe and four months before lockdown in the US. What do you suppose happened?
You’ll have to wait to read the next installment of Stories from the Inside. Stay tuned.
Dead Babies Everywhere is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support this important work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.