I was working on this month's blog and then realized that I had to set it aside. Someone shared a Time Magazine article with me that threw me into a stomach-turning, loss of sleep frenzy. The report, which you can read here was entitled, "Flabbergasted, More Than 70 Children Missing from Foster Care." Intrigued by the title alone, I began reading. That was only in the State of Kansas that over 70 children were missing.
Nationally, 4,600 children are unaccounted for in the foster care system.
What perhaps was even more astounding to me was that everyone quoted seemed to think this was ok. There was some shrugging it off that these kids just "ran away" as if that was some justification for 4,600 children missing. It appears that those in positions of authority didn't seem bothered by the numbers, and that needs to change.
Just think for a moment if you worked at a factory and you "lost" 4,600 widgets that your company produced, what would happen? If, for example, you lost 4,600 cartons of supplies headed to troops overseas what would your boss say to you? What if you lost 4,600 customers from your database? Can you even imagine?
We have lost 4,600 PEOPLE, and nobody is talking about it. Those in charge have not been questioned, and it appears that in some instances it isn't even reported. In fact, they don't seem bothered by this information and instead seem to think it is acceptable because somehow this number falls into an adequate amount of loss on their end. Like losing any amount of children could be deemed acceptable.
I posted about this issue on social media, and several individuals said this has been going on for decades. How does that justify it? Just because a wrong has been going on for a long time doesn't make it right, it only makes us ignorant and even more responsible for not doing something sooner.
So, what can be done? I visited the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's website, and they do have a subsite for children missing from foster care. But, I have to be honest that is not enough. When these children were removed from their homes, WE (because WE are the State, WE are the Government) promised them that we would provide for them, that we would care for them. We haven't!
In fact, we haven't even tried to locate them. Could you imagine the outrage if a parent lost their child (regardless of the circumstances) and they didn't report it, they didn't seem concerned with where the child was? These are our children, and we owe it to them to remind them that we care about them, that we love them, and that most importantly we are worried for their safety.
So with the help of Marnie Grundman, a Homeless Youth Advocate, we decided to start #4600andcounting. #4600andcounting is a project born out of 3 sisters who were living in foster care and went missing in Kansas. Their disappearance ended up uncovering the fact that over 70 children were missing from Kansas, and that on average about 1% of a State's foster care population was missing. We know that parentless children, who have been abused and mistreated have been groomed for predators – and it is time for us to let our most vulnerable see that we care and are looking for them.
Most of the children who go missing from foster care have no missing posters and no designation. Many of thee children go missing for days, weeks and months before it is reported. And moreover, they have no one looking for them because they have been labeled as a "runaway." The officials charged with protecting them often discount the danger these kids are in.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1 in 6 runaways end up being sex trafficked; 83% of children who run from social services make up that 1 in 6.
Within the first 48 hours on the street, a child WILL be approached by an exploiter/predator.
These children are EVERYONE's children. We are the responsible parties that need to step and take action for our missing children. It is our mission to bring these children to safety and raise awareness of their plight.
Marnie and I decided to take up this cause because of our own childhood abuses. For me, I checked myself into foster care at 13 only to find it was no better than the abusive home I had left. I understood the reality of my situation and came to a point in my teens when I realized that no one cared if I lived or died. No one would even come looking for me if I disappeared. No one would know that I was gone.
For Marnie, she was a child that belonged to no one. She went missing at 13, living on the streets and experiencing the worst of humanity firsthand. In her darkest hours, while living in an apartment complex sauna, convinced that everyone who had known her had forgotten her.
No child should ever feel that way. We need your help.
Donate your time and/or services – this is a grassroots project, so there is much to be done as we begin raising money to fund #4600andcounting.
1. Non-profit status in Canada and United States. We need someone to help us file, and funds to cover the fees.
2. Logo/Graphic Designer
3. Website-Designer and Hosting
4. PR/Branding Agency willing to donate their services
5. App developer-With the intent of building something interactive that shows where the children are missing from and also has a system wherein each time a child is reported missing there is a notification based on geographical proximity.
We are also looking for high profile public supporters that we would like to help us join the fight, including but not limited to:
1. Ellen Degeneres
2. Oprah Winfrey
3. Ashton Kutcher
4. Lisa Ling
5. John Walsh
6. A contact at the NFL (We are hoping to draw attention to this cause at the upcoming SuperBowl)
7. Anyone else who is willing to come forward and draw attention to this issue.
The truth is that with the power of our skills and the skills and networking of our communities we can make this happen. Sharing is how a grassroots campaign gets started. Please start using the hashtag #4600andcounting on all social media. Or if you can, please consider donating to our crowdfunding campaign so we can hire the above work.
Beyond the list above we are open to any and all help and suggestions. Please contact myself or Marnie to get involved. We must all come together to support these kids, or we will risk losing a generation who has never known love, security or stability.
Shenandoah Chefalo is a former foster youth, and advocate. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of Good Harbor Institute an organization focused on translating evidence-based research on trauma into skills that can be used immediately by individuals and organizations. You can learn more about her and her work at www.garbagebagsuitcase.com or www.goodharborinst.com