Birthdays are such a special celebration of life – another year of lessons, successes, failures, opportunities, dreams and aspirations. As a mother, the celebration of a birthday of my boys feels momentous. I think about the milestones that they met throughout that year, the changes in personality, appearance, and the wonderful, kind, and sensitive people they are becoming. I find myself giving thanks for another year of health and happy children – and walls filled with laughter and love.
As we prepared for Gray’s 2nd birthday party, I found myself thinking about how lucky I am. How truly lucky I am to have so many wonderful people in my life and surrounding my children to help guide them, celebrate them, and step up to support our family at a moment’s notice if needed. My children are celebrated daily and have more gifts and toys than they could ever want or need. As a social worker and a mother, I aim to teach my children early on the importance of helping others and the importance of being thankful for the inherent opportunities they have due to the family they were born into.
Unfortunately, there are many children across the world, the United States, and our Commonwealth of Virginia that have birthdays that come and go and are not celebrated. Specifically, children who may find themselves celebrating a birthday in a non-relative foster placement, independent living facility, group home or residential facility. Children who may not have any type of party, no gifts, and no one who is excited to share in their special day separated from family and loved ones. As of April 1, 2018 there are 5,271 children in foster care in Virginia. 836 of those children, are between the ages of 1-3 like my Gray and 640 between ages of 4-6 like my Palmer. 13% of those children have been in 6 or more placements. 49% of these children are in foster care due to neglect, 27% due to parental substance abuse and 15% due to physical abuse. (Department of Social Services, 2018).
In recent years, Virginia has ranked as the state with the highest percentage of children aging out of foster care without permanency – meaning during their time in foster care the system was unable to safely reunify them with their parents or family members and was unable to place them with an adoptive family. This is why there are children and youth who have no one to celebrate them on important days.
I partnered with a local nonprofit, Worthdays, started by a fellow social worker and friend of mine, to sponsor a birthday box for one of the 5,271 children in foster care who is turning 10 in June and currently lives in a residential treatment facility. He will be celebrating his birthday this year with only a social worker. He likes Spiderman, race cars, soccer, and the color blue. Worthdays believes that one of the most universal needs of all children and youth is to feel wanted and worthy and aims to do this for children who are often ignored and forgotten by many.
So, as our friends joined us in celebrating our sweet Gray turning 2 – we asked that they not bring any gifts for him and instead join us in celebrating this special child in foster care and they did just that. They eagerly stepped up to the plate to provide amazing and exciting gifts for a special young man to make sure he knows he is worthy, important, and celebrated on his special day. I explained to my two boys that sometimes there are families who don’t get to live together and kids who do not live with their moms and dads and siblings and that we were going to help him have a special day since we already have so many toys. We let our 4 year old pick out the gift, and he very thoughtfully searched for just the right choice, a Lego Spiderman set that he was adamant would be a hit.
The best gift I can ever give my children is to be kind. To be humble. To be thankful. To celebrate others – no matter their background, situation, stressors, or family scenario. To help others.
If you are interested in celebrating the birthdays of children in foster care and making an impact in our Commonwealth, please check out Instagram and Facebook for future box needs. Help us in spreading awareness and love for all kids.
Most importantly – Happy 2nd birthday dear Gray. I love you more than you will ever know. Being your mom these past 2 years and watching you and your brother grow up brings me more joy than you will ever know. The sky is the limit buddy – thank you for letting me be your mama.