Clark Howard meets fans at a toy drive in Marietta on last Sunday. For 25 years, Howard and News/Talk WSB have teamed up with Georgia’s Division of Family and Children’s Services to provide Christmas gifts for the foster kids in the state. Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
Photo: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
Photo: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Turning sorrow into joy for foster children

Anna doesn’t know if her wish this Christmas will come true or not, but she can’t help but hope.

If Santa sees her list, she’d like a scarf, bath and body products, maybe a piece of costume jewelry and some makeup. If not, a gift card would be nice; that way she can just buy what she wants herself.

If not, any little thing would be nice.

When you’re a 16-year-old in foster care, you learn pretty quickly that you live much of your life at the mercy seat of strangers.

“Our teens are often overlooked because the items on their wish lists are more expensive,” said Susan Boatwright, spokeswoman for the Division of Family and Children Services. “Even the smallest donation can be combined with other donations to purchase the items requested by teens.”

Anna, not her real name, has been a ward of the state since earlier this year, when her mother, no longer able to pay the rent, took her younger sibling and left.

“You’re old enough to fend for yourself,” her mother told her.

Remember 16? If you have any recollection at all of the teen years, you know that is hardly true. Even if you could dress yourself, you probably didn’t know how to cook and do laundry for a family of three.

At any given time, there are over 11,000 kids like Anna in the state’s foster care system.

When DFCS implemented a toll-free hotline – 1-855-422-4453 — in the fall of 2013 to make it easier for the public to report cases of child abuse and neglect, the numbers shot up.

In September 2013, DFCS received 13,715 reports of child abuse; a year later, it received 26,127 reports and so far this year, 21,941.

Nearly 80 percent of callers report failure of the caretaker to provide a child’s basic needs, including a clean home, food, medical treatment and supervision. The remaining 20 percent report physical and sexual abuse.

Now comes the teenager we only know as A.S. or Anna, and the sibling group of three, ages 4, 8, and 13, who before being placed in foster care three months ago lived in a dangerous, condemned mobile home park.

While their mother looked for her next high, the siblings were left to fend for themselves. Like Anna.

So much for a sweet Christmas story where family love is the centerpiece.

The siblings’ and Anna’s story read more like the harsh conditions Joseph and Mary faced, as told by Luke and Matthew: a mother’s neglect instead of Herod’s rage, abuse instead of the massacre of the innocents, and foster-care placements instead of flight to Egypt.

The wise men brought gifts of frankincense and myrrh but times have changed, of course.

I mentioned Anna’s wish list. Now here are the siblings’. The 8-year-old hopes he gets a remote-control car, soccer ball, scooter, helmet, and a Star Wars Lego set. The 4-year-old wants a Lego Jr. Pirate Treasure Set, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figurine, and a Hot Wheels Racing Set with multi-car collection. And their oldest sibling, the 13-year-old, would like an MP3 player, watch, matching necklace and earring set, and a Wal-Mart gift card to purchase a few personal items.

Children end up in foster care through no fault of their own and, as difficult a time as the holidays can be, they are especially hard for children separated from their loved ones.

Purchasing a gift or donating to Clark’s Christmas Kids can help make the holiday season a little brighter.

“Knowing that others in the community care gives a child hope and can impact how they experience and remember what is considered to be the season of giving,” Boatwright said.

If you attended Sunday school for any amount of time, you know that the birth of Jesus isn’t a sweet story. But in it, God intervenes in human depravity and sorrow, offering hope to the hopeless, light to those walking in darkness.

For 25 years now Clark Howard has been doing his part to shine a little light into the lives of children who have no one else.

This is our opportunity to help.

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