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  • Fritzie Saintoiry

“It Is Easier To Build Strong Children Than Fix Broken Men”

In 1855, freed slave and statesman Frederick Douglass said: “It is easier to build strong children than fix broken men.” 162 years later, the quote holds true. We saw the quote circulate across social media platforms following the murder of 17 innocents at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a broken young man. What we know of him tells the story of a lonely child who was adopted at an early age but lost his adoptive family and tail-spinned into despair and destruction. We do not know much about his upbringing but we do know that in the US, 80% of children in the child welfare system have significant mental health issues. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Healthy Foster Care American Initiative, identifies mental and behavioral health as the “greatest unmet health need for children and teens in foster care.” One more startling statistic: children in foster care are 5 times more likely than the general population and twice as likely as Iraq War Veterans to suffer from PTSD. The stories you hear from children in the system will break your heart over and over again. As a society, we are failing our children and the product is broken children like this destructive young man and thousands of children who end up in a never-ending, often generational cycle of abuse and brokenness.

When the founder of GHH first approached me about her idea of a caring and loving home environment for siblings in care and for boys aging out of the system, I knew very little about the plight of these children. Fritzie’s unrelenting passion is what initially committed me to partnering in building GHH. What has kept me deeply engaged for the last two years is the children. To know one of the children at GHH is to love them. These children are survivors with stories most adults would not have survived. The children and young men who we have been privileged to care for, have taught me and challenged me. They have inspired us. And, in the little time we have had them, we have seen them grow into thriving children and young adults. One cannot underestimate the power of a loving and appropriate adult relationship; the influence of allowing sibling groups to stay together through the traumatic time of separation from parents; and a safe and happy home environment that allows children to be children. These things build strong children and repair those children we might think are broken.

At GHH, all of our children receive not just therapy, but a loving safe space with appropriate interactions with our lovely house parents, board members and GHH family members. I have no doubt that we are building strong children while supporting them as they work through the trauma adults, and a broken system, have imposed on them. We are keeping the inherent promise all adults are bound to: protecting the most precious in our society. At GHH, we will not stand for children falling through the cracks. And, as challenging as it becomes to trouble-shoot through our incredibly bureaucratic child welfare system, we will continue to advocate and lend our voices to these brave survivors. If we want to be a truly great society, we each need to play a part in building strong children.

This month’s blog contribution was written by:  Caryn Lavernia

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