February 8, 2017

Imagine living in 28 places by the time you’re 16 — moving, on average, at least twice a year. Now imagine that this awful cycle began when you were only 5 years old, too young to make sense of the instability — or why your parents aren’t by your side.

Every year, U.S. authorities receive more than 3.3 million reports of abuse, representing about 6 million children, or 8% of the child population. From those reports, after investigation and intervention, about 400,000 children are placed in foster care, and of those, nearly 60,000 are permanently taken away from their families.

Because we know that children thrive in families -- not institutions or transient, temporary care -- we made a promise to those children. We promised the day they were permanently separated from their families that we would find them new ones. A place to call home, to be loved, supported and cherished, as every child should.

But many of America’s child welfare systems are badly broken — and children can suffer serious harm as a result. Some will be separated from their siblings. Others will be bounced from one foster care placement to another, never knowing when their lives will be uprooted next. Too many will be further abused in systems that are supposed to protect them. And instead of being safely reunified with their families — or moved quickly into adoptive homes — many will languish for years in foster homes or institutions.

When you hear the word trafficking you might immediately think of young children in third world countries.  However, trafficking is not just an international problem but is rooted on our soil.  Right here in the U.S., and particularly in large cities such as New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles, some of our most vulnerable children, foster children, are victims.  In 2013, 60 percent of the child sex trafficking victims recovered as part of a FBI nationwide raid from over 70 cities were children from foster care or group homes.

When children feel that no one care about them, and are moved from one placement to another, craving attention and stability children can easily find themselves seduced by traffickers who initially make them feel care for, only to find themselves used for financial gain. 

4KIDS in Fort Lauderdale
4KIDS in Fort Lauderdale

While in Fort Lauderdale, Adrian visited with 4KIDS, a charity that is tackling the foster care issue.

4KIDS began in 1997 and is committed to the mission of “A Home for Every Child.” The 4KIDS innovative approach provides a continuum of care for kids in crisis that has been recognized as a national model of excellence. Their model has inspired people around the nation who are joining in similar efforts to serve children across the United States. 4KIDS is on a mission to share the need and help others change the face of foster care in their own community.  

From newborns to 17-year-olds, every child in Broward County who is brought into the Child Welfare system upon being removed from their families due to abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment, is given loving shelter and supervision at Safe Place while they await a more permanent placement.

The child placement agencies in Broward and Palm Beach County work with 4KIDS to place the child with a foster care family or at a family-style home that allows siblings to stay together while they await placement in a foster home or with a family member.

When foster children turn 18, they are handed a check as they exit the foster care system. Many have no family, no mentors, and no one to help them reach their educational or career goals. The 4KIDS Independent Living program fills in these gaps by giving these kids a roof over their heads and mentors to help guide them during this next stage of their lives.

Mackenzie Bearup of Sheltering Books
Mackenzie Bearup of Sheltering Books

"I think any child being in horrible, intense pain like this, they need something. And something that I knew that helped me was books." - Mackenzie Bearup

Last week, John Bierly spoke with an earlier Peace Fund Radio Hero of Week, Mackenzie Bearup, to bring us updates on all that has been happening in her charity. Mackenzie, from Alpharetta, Georgia, suffers from a disease, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, that compares to a bomb going off in her knee.  There is no cure for the disease.

Her personal discovery that books could be used to ease discomfort was an idea that MacKenzie ultimately chose to share with homeless and abused children throughout the country.  

Mackenzie was only 13 years old when she began collecting children's books for shelters.  It soon became a family project with her two brothers working along with her.  

In 2009, she founded her own charity, Sheltering Books,  that now receives books from people across the country. Mackenzie and her brothers, Alex and Benjamin, regularly attend homeless events and meals to set up tables full of books for the kids attending to select all the books they would like.  Today they have collected and donated over 360,000 books to shelters across the world.  Today, John continues his discussion with Mackenzie.