Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The hidden victims of austerity

Benjamin Dueholm writes about his family's experience as foster parents in an article titled Taxing the Kindness of Strangers. He speaks mostly about their experience with their first child, Sophia (not her real name), who came to them malnourished with a broken leg when she was less than a year old.

Dueholm tells the personal side of the story (like driving Sophia around most of the night to get her to sleep and spending days working on qualifying for WIC). But he also draws some political conclusions.

It’s a major bureaucratic process to remove a child from her home and family. The state insures the child, pays for daycare, investigates the claims of abuse, and retains legal custody, but it cannot actually put a baby to bed at night. And so, on the other side of this most intimate public-private partnership are usually people like us, left alone with a stranger’s child and a garbage bag full of clothes and wondering what’s going to happen next. And what happens next depends, to a stomach-churning degree, on the state’s willingness and ability to keep up its half of the bargain.

So it was with an unusual sense of urgency and dread that our family watched the 2010 Republican wave and the austerity budgeting that has followed in ceaseless progression. When Paul Ryan’s budget, approved by 235 Republicans in the House, proposed dramatic cuts to federal Medicaid spending, it was as if they were trying to make it even more hopeless for us to find a doctor to treat Sophia’s health problems. When Scott Walker in Wisconsin sought to cut the workforce that administers foster care in his state, we went up to Madison to join the protests in solidarity, because we knew how helpless we would be if there were no caseworker on the other end of the phone to answer our own urgent pleas for help and guidance. And the threats have continued, as House Republicans repeatedly propose cutting trillions of dollars in domestic spending to reduce the debt while making room for sustained upper-income cuts. The way this hits home for us is simple. A foster parent joins hands with the state in order to take care of a dispossessed child. For the last year, the state has been trying to slip free of our grasp.

And he ends with this:

These days, when our kids instinctively comfort each other after a tumble at the town swimming pool, it’s easy enough to forget that our family is accidental and probably temporary. Parental affection can stretch itself farther than I could have imagined in those early days of round-the-clock shrieking. But we can never go long without realizing that Sophia’s difficult tendencies do not come from us, that she is likely to leave us someday, and that we are operating at the limits of our emotional, economic, and social capacity. Without a commitment by the state to cover the basic costs of her care, we would, like every other foster family, be asking ourselves daily whether we could keep doing it.

As social programs are unwound, foster parents watch our families being unwound with them. For most of us, our “altruistic motivations” always threaten to outstrip our resources. Foster parenting teaches us how to live as so many low-income families already live—check to check, coupon to coupon, appointment to appointment. The difference is that most foster parents hold middle-class passports, and they can cut short their sojourn among WIC recipients and Medicaid administrators at any time. No one knows what exactly will happen to Sophia and the nearly half-million kids in her situation if they exercise that privilege. If Republican lawmakers have their way, we may well find out.

First of all, let me say to Mr. and Ms. Dueholm - you are my heroes. I cannot think of another human activity that would require more courage and compassion.

While I can sympathize with the millions of people who are struggling financially these days, nothing speaks louder to me about the evils of austerity than does a story like this. The Sophia's of the world have done nothing and bear absolutely zero personal responsibility for their fate so early in life. To think that we would even countenance re-victimizing them by placing the burden on their small backs for the financial greed of the 1% is beyond my imagination. And yet, that's where our current day Republicans would take us.

It's for the Sohpia's of the world that I'll take on the fight...to the end!

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