Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Blame Game

I recently read a statistic that bothers the hell out of me. A recent survey of Americans found that 45% believe children enter foster care due to juvenile delinquency. 45% of us believe that when kids are removed from their home, or relinquished by the caregiver, it is THEIR fault. This is patently false, these kids are removed or relinquished due to the failure or inability or flat out unwillingness of their parents to provide their care. Saying anything else is blaming the innocent.

What is truly frightening about this figure, though, is that I believe it a small piece of a larger problem. I don't have statistics to back this up, but extrapolating from the above information and factoring in my own personal experience, I content that a significant number of people believe that children are orphans because there is something "wrong with them." Sometimes it might be their behavior, sometimes it might be their attitude, maybe it's a medical condition. Perhaps they can't help it, but the problem lies with them. They are damaged. They are faulty. They are discarded because they are worthless.

Not only is this so wrong it makes my skin crawl, but it's ignorant and cruel. Blaming the victim is never cool, but we seem to love to do it. These children had no choice as to when and where they were born. They didn't choose their parents. They didn't ask for a disability. Honestly, I don't see any real need to assign blame at all. Figure out the cause so we can stop the problem of abandonment, yes please. Let's go do that. Provide assistance to break the cycle. But if you think that pointing fingers at an unwed mother, yelling at an addicted father, or vilifying a grandmother who just can't keep up with her grandkids and can't find their parents is going to accomplish anything or help anyone then you are callous and, frankly, not too bright.

Why? Why do we feel the need to do this? Never mind the need to place blame, but the need to place the blame on the only truly innocent party in the whole mess. Why would anyone do such a thing? I'm going to lay some blame of my own, and I think there are two factors at play. One is a media culture that portrays orphans as just that - damaged, weird, bad or evil. The other is a need to escape personal guilt.

I can't say where it started, but Hollywood and the news media seem to love to show us screwed up kids with no parents. Maybe it's a reflection of our belief that parents are vital for normal and healthy development. Maybe it's subliminal messaging, telling us to be careful how we parent because these kids can come out really messed up. But it shows up in movies - "The Omen", "The Good Son", and "The Orphan", to name a few. IMDB them. Each one features an orphan who is taken into a family and turns out to be evil and tries to tear the family apart. It shows up in the news - tales of parents living in fear of a violent child they adopted, or stories of parents who either abuse or abandon their adopted child because the kids is "too difficult" or "fails to attach."

I'm not trying to say that adopting is easy, or that adopted children won't have challenges to overcome. What I am saying is that the challenges of adoption are NOT because the child is bad, or faulty, or evil. Difficulties in attachment aren't the result of a child who has no feelings, it's the result of a child who is afraid. Who has been made that way by their environment. To quote one child who had spent years in the foster system "They said I had an attachment problem. I say I had a life problem, and I attached myself accordingly." Developmental delays are not because the child is "retarded" or "stupid." It's because their developing brain was sidetracked at a young age by their survival instinct, and the opportunity to develop higher functions was pushed aside by the need to make it one more day. At any rate, their difficulties are not their fault.

More than anything else, though, I think people hold this ludicrous belief that kids are to blame for being orphaned because it makes it easier to do nothing. If there is something wrong with them, then it's a short "logical" step to say that nothing can be done for them. No one could raise them. No one could help them. If it's their fault then they deserve to be in foster care, or an orphanage, or an institution. It's not my fault I do nothing to help them - they don't deserve my help. I don't have to feel guilty when I hear the statistics. It's not selfish of me when I refuse a request for help. It's smarter not to waste resources on a bunch of delinquents who wouldn't amount to anything anyway. And since it's their own darned fault, I can sleep at night.

Wake up. These kids are innocent and they are screaming out for our help. Our failure to respond is precisely that - our failure.

1 comment:

  1. It's like the poor animals sitting in animal shelters going kennel crazy and spinning because people only want pure bred mill-bred animals because they think "They're all there because they bite people". All my pets over the past 10 years have been rescues. Sometimes they have an elderly owner who has to go to a nursing home or passes away. Sometimes someone gets a pet and doesn't want the responsibility. Sometimes they're just asshats and abuse them.

    Same thing with these kids. Tommy's parents died in a car accident. Jamie's Mom was a crack whore. Sarah was abandoned because her teen Mom hid her pregnancy from her parents. And, yeah, maybe Billy has a mental disorder that his parents couldn't cope with. And maybe Heather has some social / aggression issues. But it doesn't make any of them bad kids. They just need the right family to help them out.