Invisible Kids

Hank Mattimore
March 12 2013
Reproduced with Permission

"Yesterday upon a stair, I saw a man who wasn't there
I saw him there again today.
I wish to God, he'd go away." -Ogden Nash

I'm reading a book called "The Invisible Children," about the hundreds of thousands of kids who wend their way through the Juvenile Justice System in our country. Call them "wards of the court." Or foster kids or, more harshly, "throw away kids." They are all around us but we don't "see" them.

I have had quite a bit of experience with kids in this situation. Many of them, finding themselves rejected by the only parents they have ever known, are in shock. They yearn to be re-united with the very parents who abused them; they can't help it. Their very identity is at stake.

For some reason, when I think of these invisible kids, I find the comical little verse of Ogden Nash going through my head. "Yesterday upon a stair, I saw a man who wasn't there. I saw him there again today. I wish to God, he'd go away."

We see our throwaway kids too, but we turn our heads away and pretend they are not there. Then we see them again "on the stair" and to be honest, we are irritated. We wish they would go away. For some of us, their very presence makes us feel guilty. We get defensive and tell ourselves that we are doing our best. These kids are fed and clothed. A mattress company gives them shoes or coats, the local civic organization gives them Christmas gifts. What's the problem?

The problem is, and deep down we all know it, is that providing food and clothes and a basic education for kids traumatized by parental abuse and neglect is not enough.

The mental health issues faced by traumatized kids are not that dissimilar to the problems faced by our military men and women returning from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. We can choose to put a label like PTSD on them or no. The fact remains; many of the abandoned kids who live among us have been profoundly scarred. They think that is their fault that they have been taken from their abusive or neglectful parents. They blame themselves for becoming foster kids.

We need to really SEE these kids; put ourselves in their tennis shoes. It is not their fault that they find themselves in foster care. And, like the man on the stair, wishing they would go away will not make it happen.