I remember the night I slept in an office so clearly. The message that was sent to me that night is that no one wanted me. That no one cared for me except this case worker that was sitting in front of me, watching my every movement. Imagine being taken from your home, your family, and your community, and placed in an unfamiliar environment, with nothing but the clothes on your back.
As you enter the office building, you notice the impersonal atmosphere. The fluorescent lights hum overhead, and the smell of paper and printing supplies fills the air. You are led to a small, cramped room that doubles as a makeshift bedroom. There is a scratchy blanket, and a pillow that feels more like a bag of rocks than something soft and comfortable to lay your head on.
You try to make the best of the situation, but the office is not designed for sleeping. You can hear every sound from outside the door, the muffled conversations, the footsteps of the night staff cleaning the office, and the hum of the air conditioning. You toss and turn, trying to find a comfortable position but your mind is racing with questions and concerns about your future.
The next morning, you wake up feeling exhausted and disoriented. You quickly realize that this is not a sustainable living situation, but you also know that your options are limited. People are saying it’s because of your behaviors, or your mental health or a strained system. The actions are focused on you, but not on the system that hurt you or affected your identity.
As you navigate this new reality, you begin to understand that being a foster child is not just about finding a temporary place to sleep. It is about adapting to a constantly changing environment, navigating complex relationships with caregivers and social workers, and trying to make sense of a life that is filled with uncertainty and upheaval.
The fact that children are sleeping in offices across the country highlights the urgent need to rethink our current child welfare system. Rather than focusing solely on removal and placement, we need to prioritize community-based solutions that support families and prevent crises before they occur. What if we could work with the families in which children are coming into care because a parent needs assistance to meet the needs of their child? What if we were to identify the child’s familiar connections and co-design a wraparound, supportive system?
When children are placed in foster care or institutional settings, they are often uprooted from their homes, communities, and support systems. This can be a traumatic experience that can have lasting negative impacts on their development and well-being. Moreover, placing children in these settings can also exacerbate the systemic issues that led to their removal in the first place, such as poverty, inadequate housing, and lack of access to healthcare and education.
In the case of children who are sleeping in offices, it is clear that the current system has failed them. These children were likely connected to their communities and support systems before they were removed from their homes. By prioritizing village-based solutions, we can work to strengthen those connections and prevent the need for removal in the first place.
It is important to create opportunities for community members to come together and connect. By fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness, we can create a supportive environment where families can turn to each other for help and support.
Ultimately, the goal of building villages of hope, change and transformation is to create a world where children never have to sleep in offices or be uprooted from their homes and communities. By prioritizing village-based solutions and investing in the well-being of all members of society, we can create a world where every child has the support and resources they need to thrive. For children in foster care who are sleeping in offices, their family connections aren’t engaged in the process in a way that uplifts villages most of the time.
The child welfare system itself can create barriers to maintaining family connections. There may be bureaucratic red tape or other obstacles that prevent children from being placed with relatives or that make it difficult for family members to stay in contact with the child — issues that stem from a world in which white privilege has dictated the rules on what is deemed sage, what is deemed appropriate.
Despite these challenges, it is critical that we prioritize the importance of family connections for children in foster care, especially those who are sleeping in offices. We must work to identify and maintain these connections, whether it is through regular visits, phone calls, or other forms of communication and then find the answers and support to safely keep them with their families.
We also need to recognize that family connections are not limited to blood relatives. Children in foster care often have extended family members, friends, teachers and other adults who play a significant role in their lives. It is up to us, as a community, to support these connections and help ensure that children in foster care have a strong support system in place.
When we recognize and prioritize the importance of family connections, we can help ensure that children in foster care are not isolated or forgotten. They may be sleeping in offices, but they have a village of people who care about them and want to see them thrive. It is up to us to keep them connected to that village, and to help them build a sense of belonging and resilience that can carry them through even the toughest times.
The traditional saying “It takes a village to raise a child” highlights the importance of having a strong community for children to thrive. When children have access to a supportive network of family members, neighbors, and friends, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging, security, and self-worth.
Children don’t need an office building or a hotel stay. It’s simple: they need a village. And they need people working on their behalf who also believe that having a village — or access to a village — is not a privilege, but a birthright.