But this post isn't about them.
At least not my biological children. This is about my other ones...
Our other ones.
I say our because they are ours. Our tax dollars pay for their care. Our state workers make sure they're safe. They live in our cities and towns. Yet they're invisible, an after-thought. Sitting somewhere, frightened and feeling as if no one wants them.
They are state foster children. Innocent. Alone.
I began this journey 6 years ago, when my news manager asked if I would pick up a feature on a child named Courtney who was up for adoption. I did. The child was adopted because of the story we told. I grabbed on that day when I met her, and I promised never to stop telling their stories... never to stop shining light on this horrific darkness.
Tonight, as we fall asleep, cozy in our beds, 4,984 foster children in Arkansas sit wondering where they'll end up. Back home with biological parents, who are often broken themselves by poverty, drug abuse, or mental illness? To a shelter, where they know no one? To a foster home?
The latter is ideal, but the fact is, there aren't enough foster homes. Only 3,384 available beds. You do the math.
What happens then? The children might sleep in DHS offices with workers. They might stay up late at Children's Hospital, in some cases, until someone says they'll take them for the night. Can you imagine how that child must feel?
For six weeks, I've been producing and writing a 30-minute special to air Thursday on THV 11 called "Foster Care Crisis." In it, Governor Asa Hutchinson tells me this is about more now than the state writing a check to take care of the problem. People are needed. Hearts must open to bring in these children, who are ours.
In the special broadcast, I also share June Simpson's story. She and her husband have fostered so many children that they "stopped counting at 125." I asked her why she does this. She answered, "it's not about us. It's about the children. They need us. Why else would you do it?"
And there's Kelly Wirtz, who adopted a teenage girl, something beyond what she ever thought she would do. As she told me, "I'm a single mom. I live paycheck to paycheck. I don't have a lot, but I have a home, and we have each other."
These are the people who have my heart and all my respect. Them. And the children. Our children, who are suffering unspeakable trauma right now. Children, like the two little girls I met last week, who answered this when I asked how badly they want a family to adopt them: "from one to a hundred? A hundred."
After we taped the show, my director told me, "man, Dawn, it's just almost too sad to even watch." Yes it is. Maybe it's a wake-up call.
This is a crisis. And our children are hanging in the balance until we figure it out. Don't they deserve better?
The girls who want a family to adopt them
June Simpson with her foster, biological, and adopted children
Kelly Wirtz and her adopted daughter Stephany
Governor Asa Hutchinson