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Shannon Casas: The news this week was hard. But you can help change children's stories
Shannon Casas high res

I arrived at the classroom at day care to find a child in tears. It seemed nothing was physically wrong with him. His teacher asked what was wrong and he only cried. I didn’t ask. What’s wrong was likely much deeper than whatever his answer might have been.

This week, I feel a bit like that child. I’m not sure I have the words to express what’s wrong.

A newborn was found abandoned in the woods, crying and wrapped only in a plastic bag.

A 2-year-old was shot and killed by his father after what must have been a terrifying stand-off with law enforcement.

Another toddler drowned in a pool after being left unattended by a mother who now faces murder charges.

Most people judge these parents. Surely they deserve at least some of that judgment and should be held responsible for their actions.

But I want to blame their actions on something other than pure evil intent: drugs, mental health issues, desperation — nothing that assauges them of their responsibility but something that leaves me some room for hope in humanity and redemption. 

How could a sane, sober person do any of these things? It’s incomprehensible and leaves me speechless.

But it doesn’t leave me powerless.

Hope in a better story for children like these is what drives me to foster — and hope for a better story for their parents, too. It’s hard for me to separate the two. Whether separated at birth or 5, 10 or 15 years old, children are linked to the story of their birth parents, even when those parents can’t care for them. 

The only solution I’ve found to stories like those reported this week is love in action. 

Reading books to kids like these at bedtime. Buying them superhero shirts with sequin patterns that flip. 

Taking them to get cotton candy ice cream when they’ve had a rough week.

Prompting them to “try again with respect” instead of screaming what they want or don’t want.

Waiting patiently until their tantrum is done and reaching out a hand to help them up from the floor.

Showing up to their court hearings to be informed and try to make sure the court is informed as well. 

Coordinating their therapy and medical appointments.

Taking them to visit their family.

Honestly, sometimes that love doesn’t feel like enough. Tragedies seer into hearts, forever changing those who experience them. 

Loving someone who is falling apart from the inside out is exhausting. Some days it leaves me locked in my room by myself avoiding the outbursts of children struggling through big feelings, while my husband steps in to fulfill their needs.

Some days I answer a phone call from a caseworker and then burst into tears as soon as I hang up. Other days I answer the phone and just feel lost.

I don’t want these stories to be true. I don’t want the fallout to be so real.

Some days I don’t want to be the one picking up the pieces.

But with love, I pray at least some of the stories are different — love that is acted out as much or more than it is felt. It means physically and emotionally diving into situations that look bleak, and blindly hoping they will some day look better.

Without this kind of love, it feels the world may just drown in tragedy and despair.

With this kind of love, a baby is being cared for by foster parents who likely stepped up long before she was found in the woods and splashed across social media. 

A thousand have come forward wanting to adopt her.

In Hall, there are fewer than 100 foster homes. And though their stories may not be traveling around the World Wide Web, there are almost 400 children who need foster parents to step up and care for them. 

They need someone to love them. Their parents need someone to love them. It’s not easy. But these children’s lives aren’t easy. 

We have the opportunity to do more than feel outraged and judge. There are ways to help, ways to love these families, ways to change their stories. If you’re looking for ways to do that, I’m more than happy to connect you with some of the options.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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