I had just arrived at the state office and was immediately sent out on my next social work case: four children, abandoned in a shack, tied up with ropes, and bleeding.
When no one responds to my knock, trembling, I slowly open the front door and step inside. Gasping at the stench, I cover my mouth in disbelief. Newspapers are scattered on the floor, soaking up blood. Then, I see her.
Tears flow down my cheeks as I move toward the baby. She lies still in the bottom drawer of a tattered dresser, wearing only a soaking wet, cloth diaper. The notes from her file state she’s eight months old. She’s so frail I can see her ribs. She shakes when she opens her mouth and reaches for me. Her faint scream is weak and raspy. I take off my sweater to wrap around her and bury her in my chest as she continues to scream.
The oldest, a small five-year old boy looks at me with frightened eyes. He tries to jump up when he sees me standing there holding his baby sister, but he can’t get up. He fidgets, attempting to untie the ropes that have him bound to a dresser. I notice his little bloody fingers which have been desperately trying to get the ropes off his ankles. I kneel down to help free him, talking softly to calm him. The baby has fallen asleep, so I whisper.
“David, honey, I’m here to help you. I won’t hurt you. Please trust me. It’s going to be okay. Where are your other sisters?” Looking behind him, I notice a small foot tied to a chair, sticking out of a dirty sheet.
Martha is only four years old. She’s weak and dehydrated. They all need food and water. I look around for a faucet, but there is no kitchen, no running water. I know I must find Linda. She’s only two years old. David’s glance moves behind me as his little shaking finger points to the corner of the room.
“Dare! She’s over dare.” I turn to look around. The blood is still fresh on the floor. Her feet are bound and her ankles are bruised and bleeding. She looks so cold against the bare floor. Rushing to her, still holding the baby, I call out her name. I touch her small, dirty toes. At the sound of the baby coughing, she opens her eyes.
“It’s going to be okay, sweetheart, I’m here.” The ropes are so tight on the child’s ankles, I will need both hands to free her.
“David, sweet boy, will you hold your baby sister for me?” He reaches out for the baby. His skinny little arms look like toothpicks about to break.
I kneel down and take my scarf to clean her ankles. The wounds are deep. I take my time, slowly removing the ropes digging into her skin. She flinches in pain but remains still and quiet. I believe she is in shock. The children are filthy. Their clothes are soiled with urine and blood from being left alone and tied for hours.
“We’ve got to get them out of here.”
I, Linda, was one of those children.
Even though my story begins in February, 1956, travesties like this are still happening today. According to Statistics from the SC Foster Care Review Board 2017-2018 Annual Report:
3,679 children entered foster care
34% of children entering care had previous out-of-home placements
3,741 children left foster care
45% of children returned home
13% of children reviewed were adopted
The four of us had been placed in four separate foster homes. I believe it was when I was about three years old that I remembered I had a baby sister. I didn’t know what happened to my older sister and brother, and in time, my memory of them faded. My baby sister cried a lot. While I was in foster care, I hid food in my pockets to feed her. I had no idea it would be two years before I would see her again.
By God’s sovereignty, He brought Wanda and me back together. We were miraculously adopted into a wonderful family. Our older sister and brother were never released for adoption.
Linda and her sister with their adoptive parents.
Twenty years later, our older sister, Martha, found us. We were then reminded we had an older brother as well, David. In 1990, all four of us were reunited and experienced an immediate, inseparable bond.
What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.
Psalm 56:3, KJV
This verse always brings back memories of my new home.
Every time there was a storm brewing in the distance, and we could hear thunder rumbling, my little sister, Wanda, and I would run to our new Grandma’s lap and rock back and forth with her as she softly sang to us and whispered scripture verses in our ears.
“Don’t be afraid, girls,” Grandma would say. “God is just watering all our beautiful trees and flowers for us. Let’s sing praises to Him, and thank Him.” Wanda and I would rest our heads on her shoulders as she sang Jesus Loves Me.
The fear of the unknown caused our insecurities to run deep, and no one calmed our fears quite like Grandma. Today, many children are still lost in foster care awaiting adoption. Many of them will never have a grandma’s lap to run to.
If my parents had been told there were two more siblings who needed adopting, I can assure you that Grandma would have been singing and quoting scripture with four little ones on her lap.
Why were we separated? Why did Martha and David grow up in foster care? Why were we sent back twice to an abusive home? These are questions we are still researching today. Only small portions of information about our past have been discovered through our non-identifying record. Obviously, the system failed. It’s sad to say, but it is still happening today. Many children are left in the system due to the lack of good foster homes or enough families willing to adopt. With so many cases of abuse, neglect, and an insufficient number of homes available, Foster Care Reform has now become a high priority.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. With hard work and diligence, change is attainable. I believe now is the time for us to step up to be advocates for all foster care children and to assure their safety. We must do everything humanly possible to keep them safe, give them hope, and be there for them as they search for meaning and purpose in their lives.
God’s Word affirms that we go through suffering so we can minister to and encourage others who are suffering (2 Corinthians 1:4). I truly believe God has called me to be a voice and an advocate to help prevent foster children from falling through the cracks.
Linda and her sister on their Grandmother’s lap
If you would like to be involved with this God-sized task, here are some agencies in SC diligently working for change:
CHILDREN’S TRUST OF SOUTH CAROLINA is taking a leadership role in preventing child abuse, neglect, and injury - scchildren.org
TOGETHER WE RISE, an organization which provides duffle bags to children in foster care so they don’t have to move from house to house with their belongings in a trash bag.
YOU GOTTA BELIEVE’s mission is to ensure that no one ages out, and that every youth leaves the foster care system with a forever, loving family. #NobodyAgesOut
THE SOUTH CAROLINA CHILD ADVOCACY AGENCY
Funding by the SC legislature is pending for this agency which will promote and enforce foster care and adoption reforms.