Reach out to a ‘throwaway’ kid

Margaret Bengs is a Sacramento resident and the author of Wednesday Night “Mom": The Challenges & Rewards of Volunteering with Abused & Neglected Children

Margaret A. Bengs will be reading from and signing copies of her book, Wednesday Night “Mom": The Challenges & Rewards of Volunteering with Abused & Neglected Children, at 2 p.m. on May 13 at Barnes & Noble’s new Natomas store, 3561 North Freeway Boulevard. Call (916) 788-4318 for information.

When I arrived one night at the Sacramento Children’s Home for abused and neglected children, little “Aimee” (not her real name), an 8-year-old in a pretty lavender dress, was waiting at the gate. Her brow crumpled as she realized that her sister would not be coming—another promise broken. Aimee’s mother, a substance abuser whose violent bouts had endangered her children, refused to take the steps she needed to get Aimee back.

Aimee had been moved from foster home to foster home, had severe self-loathing and temper tantrums lasting up to two hours and was eventually moved there to help work on her “issues.” That night, as Aimee spotted the water bottles, flowers and colored pebbles I’d brought for the children to make “vases,” her frown turned into a smile as we went off to make bouquets together.

Another time, “Matthew,” a little boy whose methamphetamine-addicted father had reportedly kept him a cage, looked down at the floor, forlorn. I offered to take him to the barn, and a glimmer of light infused his dark eyes as we walked out to pet the geese and the potbellied pigs.

These children see themselves as “throwaway” kids. Each year, approximately 40,000 children in California are removed from their homes because of severe abuse and neglect, according to the California Department of Social Services. More than 16,000 of these children live in group homes. Without help, these kids often end up failing in school, unemployed, homeless and in prison, according to a study by the California Research Bureau. As the Little Hoover Commission put it, “The personal anguish becomes a public calamity.”

Research also shows the unrivaled power of a consistent adult presence in the life of a child. Those of us not in the position to adopt or be a foster parent can be a friend or mentor—a once-a-week “mom” or “dad”—and become that rock for a child who has no permanency in his life. Making a difference for those who have had so many strikes against them is a rare gift for the soul.

Opportunities to make a difference in the life of a child can be found at the Web site of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services:

As Mother Teresa once said, “Come and see.”