As a mother of six children formerly in foster care and later adopted, I cannot assume to imagine how you must be feeling at this time. As I watched the video that was released on television and heard that Ma’Khia was in foster care, all I could think was, “what about her mother?” Not the foster mother, but her mother who birthed and loved her first like no one will ever comprehend or love her the same.
I do not know you personally, but realize that acquaintance aside, we are connected as so many Black mothers who are criminalized and demoralized as we fall under the radar of systems that we believed were in place to help us, and for whatever reason entered our lives. My heart breaks for you to have to experience losing your child, first to a system that assumes to know better for our children than we do, and while in foster care, to have lost Ma’Khia again in death at the hand of a police officer who swore an oath to protect and serve.
Our normal expectation when our children go out to play, go to school, or hangout with their friends, is that they come home. When our children end up in foster care, our number one goal from that point on is to bring them home and I will never be convinced that foster home placements are better for our Black children. As a Black mother, just being Black is held against us; we cannot show anger, hurt or fear because it will be assumed that we’re angry, irrational and combative.
Behind those emotions are real fears, pain and trauma about our children being removed and not knowing when they will be returned. What mother wouldn’t react with fear and anger?
Just as our children are traumatized by their removal from the only home they’ve ever known, we too are traumatized. The stigma and the negative stereotyping that is associated with Black women follows us through the life of our case, too often ending in termination of our parental rights, as this stigma prevents us from receiving access to appropriate and culturally responsive programs, or resources and services like our white counterparts, to help us bring our children home.
Even if we do figure out a way to navigate the system to bring our children home, there’s always another hoop we have to jump through as our children languish in care, being further traumatized with each new home or placement, being constantly reminded that their birth mother isn’t “good enough,” beating our Black children down mentally, physically and emotionally until they too believe they are not “good enough” or white enough to be worth anything. Reinforcing this by the words that “you’re a lost cause, you’ll be just like your parents,” told by those who were chosen to better care for them.
I was asked recently, how does this all tie into slavery? In answer, back then white slave owners sold our children to the highest bidder. Today, child welfare has a tendency to place them with whomever will take them, then overmedicate them to keep them in line. Black children are never provided a chance to process and heal from the trauma caused by the removal from their families. They become victims of retraumatization, by repeatedly being passed around a foster care system that has never been culturally competent enough to be culturally responsive to the needs of our Black children.
As a result, our children often turn to the use of substances to further repress the trauma, end up in jails, institutions, and in some cases, as with Ma’Khia, dead.
Paula, as you go through this most difficult time, when the focus turns to you and why Ma’Khia was in foster care in the first place, stand your ground and hold your head high as this is not about you or why she came into care. It’s about systems that failed Ma’Khia, so much so that her life was taken.
There will come a time when you feel like you cannot go on. Please know that there’s a multitude of birth mothers who are covering you in our love, thoughts, prayers and our work. We made a commitment years ago to advocate for change in child welfare and foster care nationally, and we will not stop now. I realize that absolutely nothing we can do or say can bring Ma’Khia back, but her legacy will live on through us and all that we do to demand race equity and social justice in systems that affect the lives of Black families and especially our Black girls.
On behalf of myself and countless other birth mothers with children in foster care nationally and youth in and aged out of foster care, I want you to know that we stand with you, and we stand for you as you navigate these systems to get justice for the death of Ma’Khia and you are not alone.
In Solidarity and sincerity,