As I write this, it is 4:30 a.m. in Seattle and I am on my way to New York to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer. The interview is for an upcoming special on the issue of overmedication of foster youth—something that is of great concern to me and to many of our volunteers. But that’s not what is on my mind this morning.
A few days ago, I picked up the New York Times and saw this headline: “A Bleak Life, Cut Short at 4.” I read through the story—yet another episode of a child whose situation was known to CPS, who nonetheless died a tragic and unthinkable death. I took it all in with a sickening sense of familiarity.
As often happens following a tragedy like this, there will be the rush to lay blame, to reset procedures and maybe even to create a new law or two. But what struck me about the article is not that one part of the system failed. Her support system broke down in myriad ways: visits not made, concerned relatives not listened to, protocols not followed, insufficient visits by CPS and its private contract agency, poor quality services, caseworkers at a loss on how to handle caseloads, and the list goes on. There are any number of reasons why this tragedy happened, but there are no valid excuses.
The cascade of failures that led to Marchella Pierce’s death won’t be entirely solved by new legislation, new procedures or more money. What every child needs is someone who stands beyond the excuses. Someone like a CASA/GAL volunteer whose sole responsibility is to protect the best interests of that young person and ensure that she does not fall into the shadows. I cannot promise that our movement alone can solve all of the problems that led to this young child’s death. But I do know this: our country cannot fulfill its crucial obligation to protect abused and neglected children unless qualified community members are empowered to lift up their voices on behalf of each child. Every child in care needs someone who will fight to ensure that their future is a safe, permanent home instead of a premature obituary.
This is why we have dedicated ourselves to providing a CASA volunteer to every child in care by the year 2020. Every child. Not a single child in this country should be left to navigate the system alone. That is exactly what our 2020 goal is about. We can, and we will, lift up the voices of every child in the system until there are no more children in care. This is our mission. This is our calling.