I've been concerned about the foster care system for a long time, I don't even remember when that started. The idea that any child would not have a safe, loving home hurts my heart. But that concern stayed mostly in the abstract for a long time, until I became a mother, in fact.
Now, I know that I often present as patient and calm, and I am, often, at work and in public and when it is needed of me. But those who know me well also know that I have a horrible temper. Especially when tired or feeling overwhelmed. So I quickly saw, in those first months with a infant, that I certainly possess the capacity to hurt my child, verbally, physically, or emotionally. (Which just makes me so sad to think about that I'm crying as I write this.)
I also saw that what keeps me from hurting my child is not any special quality within myself, but a whole slew of resources that I have at my hands. First of all, the belief that hurting my child is wrong to begin with. The knowledge that doing so won't help any given situation and will likely make things worse. A set of strategies for what I can do if I am feeling so overwhelmed. A loving partner who can step in and help me when I am at my worst. Oh, and then all the many privileges of my place in society that shelter me from additional stressors: reliable shelter, food, water, safety, health. So how much harder is it for parents without those resources?
I am fortunate that through work I spend some time each year focusing on child abuse prevention awareness, bringing attention to those agencies in our city that work actively on the factors I mentioned above (as well as direct care for those abused). But I also knew, deep down, that there is abuse more serious than can be addressed through better support for families, or education, or counseling, and over time I became willing to open my eyes to this. Once I did I became aware of abuses far beyond what I could imagine, far beyond hurting a child out of anger or frustration or ignorance.
Children sold to brothels in southeast Asia. In indentured servitude in India and Central Asia, generation after generation. Child soldiers in Africa and across the globe. Photos of child sexual abuse traded and sold online in the US and Europe, parents inflicting unspeakable horrors on infants and children and swapping the pictures of it online.
What I have been learning about is so awful that my heart can only make sense of it in religious terms. Sin. Evil.
I realized quickly that in order to be able to make any kind of a difference I was going to need resources of my own. People to talk to and work with. A way of framing all this in a historical/sociological/religious context.
A deepened spiritual life.
(Of course the problem with a renewed prayer/study life is that it transforms you in ways you can't have planned on, but that's a topic for another time.)
What can any one person do, what can I do? I'm still at the beginning of all this, watching things unfold. But I can start to make a difference, to move in that direction. To keep educating myself and others. To support those people and organizations taking direct action. To start to write about it. To find ways at work to do more. To continue to pray for strength and guidance and an open heart and opportunities to be useful.
If you'd like to learn more about any of these issues, here are some basic resources. I plan to put up a page with more in the next few weeks. And if you have any suggestions for additional resources, please let me know!