March 14: To Prosper the Children

Like a cage full of birds,
   their houses are full of treachery;
therefore they have become great and rich, 
   they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no limits in deeds of wickedness;
   they do not judge with justice
the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper,
   and they do not defend the rights of the needy. 
Shall I not punish them for these things?
   says the Lord,
   and shall I not bring retribution
   on a nation such as this? 
Jeremiah 5:27-29

One year ago, the Dallas Morning News told the tragic story of the death of Leiliana, a four year old girl from Grand Prairie. She had been experienced horrific abuse at the hands of her mother and abusive boyfriend. 

But the gut-wrenching part of the story was the fact that the office tasked with protecting children like Leiliana had utterly failed. According to the News, “a chain of errors, incompetence and systemic problems” kept the Dallas bureau of Child Protective Services from preventing her death. And the story implied that thousands of other children were at risk.

Lawmakers in this year’s Texas Legislature recognize that the state CPS office is broken, but halfway through the session, no fixes have been passed yet. Instead, a fight has erupted over exactly who ought to pay for the fixes.

God sent the prophet Jeremiah to speak harsh words to the people of Judah, in part because of their mistreatment of children. Jeremiah condemns them for not promoting “the cause of the orphan” and not defending their interests and needs. In fact, on the heels of this complaint, God asks, “Shall I not punish them for these things?”

Children are especially vulnerable and needy humans; when they have no parents, or have parents who are abusive, neglectful, and harmful, they are in need of outside support. In that case, it is the responsibility of the community to intervene; these children require a compassionate and protective response from those outside of their immediate families.

Child Protective Services was established to play this role in our communities, but suffered from massive state budget cutbacks in 2003, which it has never fully recovered from. Part of the problem was the fact that prevention programs such as community-based parenting classes, crisis intervention and case reviews tailored to reduce child deaths, were among the first cut; we are living with the results now. The foster care system budget has also been slashed.

In December 2015, a federal judge ruled that Texas' system for caring for its foster children was "broken." She wrote that children routinely exit the system in worse shape than they were when they entered. This happened because the office was underfunded and understaffed.

But in 2017, Texas still spends less than half the national average on its children. 

What would Jeremiah make of this fact? Would he not insist that the welfare of orphan and foster children was the responsibility of the entire community, of the whole state? Would he not deliver a blistering rebuke of our own failure to protect those who are most vulnerable?

Prayer: God, protect the children of our neighborhoods and cities. Raise up advocates for them on every street and in every institution. May our hearts break until every child is given a safe place to grow. Amen.

Justice Challenge: Read this editorial from the News which urges the state to take the advice of the federal judge who ruled that Texas’ CPS system must change. Follow the effort of the Texas Legislature to reform CPS, and contact the following four key lawmakers who are working on this issue: Contact key lawmakers working on Child Protective Services: Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chair: 512-463-0112 ; Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown: 512-463-0105; Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo: 512-463-0558; and Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls: 512-463-0534. In particular, urge them not to choose the route of privatizing the functions of CPS, which would likely cause problems such as conflicts of interest, increased removal rates, and demoralizing effects on the remaining state-employed caseworkers.