Each Indiana child is a promise and a hope. Our job as citizens of our great country is to help fulfill their promise to us from us for us.
The call to the Crisis Center came in the midst of a major snowstorm. A little girl, barely out of a single-digit age, had been dropped off at a public building. Traffic crawled as people made their way home before the roads got worse. It was really cold with temperatures dropping toward zero. Our staff person got into a Crisis Center van and maneuvered around stuck autos to retrieve her and bring her to safety.
The little girl had no socks. Her shoes were too big for her small feet. Her coat was held together with safety pins. She hadn't had a bath in quite a while. Her mother had beaten her and told her not to come home. The little girl sat in sadness and bewilderment, waiting for what would happen to her next. She was one of almost 300 children and youths who come to Alternative House on their own through our Safe Place/Safely Home program.
Alternative House is the only place in Northwest Indiana where a young unaccompanied girl or boy can receive shelter and help without being in the child welfare system. Sometimes it is a family argument that has gotten out of hand. Financial or other stresses become overwhelming. Arguments and cold words push people apart who should care about each other. Kids become discards.
Nationally, 1.6 million to 2.8 million kids are pushed out or leave home each year. About 2,000 are kids from Lake and Porter counties. Many are never reported missing. Thanks to caring Lake County law enforcement, kids are transported to safety at Alternative House when discovered by police.
Federal statistics show Indiana has one of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect in the nation. Child poverty soared 22 percent in the last year. Indiana's centralized call center had an increase in child abuse reports, but they investigated a smaller percentage and substantiated an even smaller number. The system is failing too many.
Last year, money to help abused and neglected children was given back to the state's treasury to help the budget during the economic downturn. A total of $320 million has been returned. Reports of abuse and neglect have increased, even though the state is attempting to "work smarter."
The Crisis Center is under tremendous financial pressure to provide services to the kids whose lives at home are so bad they risk leaving on their own. There are no "per diems" for them. And the funding available does not match the need. These kids need help. We need help to give them care.
Gabrielle Gifford, the Arizona congresswoman is recovering from a gunshot to the head, said with hope, "We can change things for the better."
Yes, we can. When we keep the promise to our Indiana children, we keep it for ourselves, too. Someday, their job might be caring for us.
Shirley Caylor is executive director of the Crisis Center. The opinions are the writer's.