Posts Tagged ‘Zahra Baker’

Something I have never been able to wrap my mind around is the public swell of emotion when a famous person dies.  I particularly am unable to grasp the public empathy when they live a lifestyle of various personal abuses and act in a manner that if it were anyone we knew personally would not surprise us at all if we had found out they suddenly died as a result of said behavior.  I do not mean to diminish the sense of loss experienced by their family and close friends, it is expected and completely understandable they would go through that.  When you live a life in the public eye and allow you demons to be on display, why is it then the public in general is shocked and draw together in memorium when just a few days before they were so critical of the most recent display of dysfunction splashed across the tabloids?

There have been numerous musicians in my lifetime that have met a bitter end due to their inability to control their demons.  While still in diapers in a very short span the world lost Jimmy Hendrix, Janice Joplin, and Jim Morrison to some side effect of their drug and alcohol abuse.  Flash forward to the 1980’s and there were numerous musicians, actors and models who fell prey to the early days of the A.I.D.S epidemic.  In the 1990’s we saw Curt Cobain eat a shotgun as his final display of his inability to reconcile his fame, fortune, family and addictions.  In the last year alone there was the death of Amy Winehouse and just this weekend the death of Whitney Houston.  It is too early to tell what caused the death of Whitney Houston, but how much would you like to bet that in some way, shape, or form it will be attributed to the very demons she shared with her ex-husband Bobby Brown and put on public display both in the tabloids and their television show.

Americans both worship and vilify the cultural icons we put up on a pedestal.  They are fodder for the tabloids with their exploits no matter how personal they may be.  Somehow, we also manage to be surprised and saddened when those same actions lead to their death.  Michael Jackson is probably the most famous case of this.  All the debts he racked up while he was alive to help foster his eccentricities is now being paid off as he continues to make as much money in death as he did during life.  Somehow his true and deadly addictions managed to be kept out of public eye until after his death, we just got to witness the great talent he had alongside his completely eccentric and often disturbing life.

We witness famous people enter our popular culture and the vast tabloid battlefield each and every day.  Many are mourned and we speak of the loss for the world with their passing, yet each and everyday a child or children are killed in senseless acts of violence that could have been prevented.  They die through no fault of their own, victims of their genealogy or placement in an unforgiving system.  Their losses may make national headlines due to the heinousness of the crime which killed them, yet we as a country pay more attention to the trial of a doctor who in a display of unethical practice allowed someone who knew to be an addict self-medicate with a powerful anesthetic he prescribed him.  I wonder if the judge on that particular case would show the same level of loss and acrimony to the killers of Zahra Baker or Shaniya Davis.

The system each and every day fails children and more continue to die because among the first programs to get cut on state and federal budgets is social services.  Famous people undress to show their love of animals and protest cruelty towards them.  How about they keep their clothes on and dedicate some time and money towards protecting our youth or helping provide much needed services that would prevent them from becoming just another statistic.

Whitney Houston delivered one of the most memorable performances of our national anthem ever back in 1991.  The thing about that is, it was recorded and now will long outlast her.  There is a whole community out in Washington state that wonders how the system could have failed two little boys, burned to death along with their father, who allegedly could not live without them.  As they were snatched away from the social worker who was supposed to take them to a SUPERVISED visit with their father, a person of interest in the disappearance of their mother, the smell of fuel was evident from the front door as it was slammed in the social workers face.  This social worker called 911 and waited as the police responded to something else and the house became immolated by fire. Despite the pleas of the social worker to 911, her suspicions were not enough to raise the priority as there was a known emergency elsewhere at the time.

“I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be”

These words were sung by a woman with an amazing voice and a haunted personal life.  Many people watched her dysfunctional life play out on a weekly tv show and read with shock, awe, and morbid fascination her every foible in the weekly tabloids.  Even someone with a life such as hers can bring words to life with their voice, that is their gift.  I would like to think that in their passing they would rather see the world focus on the words they have sung and find the meaning in them rather than be placed upon a pedestal strictly for the gifts they were given.  Magic is all about illusion, in this case as in most, the magician is the public as we willingly fool ourselves into seeing only the bright spots and not recognizing the picture for what it is.  We pull the wool over our own eyes and draw our focus to our icons rather than aligning our empathy to those who truly need it.

The state of North Carolina has had its fair share of problems the last few years when it comes to child welfare, social services and other areas pertaining to the overall safety of children in the home.  The Zahra Baker and Shaniya Davis cases brought national attention to a system that managed to fail children on a spectacular level and in the wake of their deaths highlighted a system that has its trusted agents overworked and unable to carry their caseload as well as a bureaucracy that is more concerned with covering it’s own ass than it is doing the right thing and aiding in the investigative process.  Here in NC we have such fancy titled agencies as the Department of Social Services and Child Protective Services; CPS falls under the authority of DSS who has a director for each of its 100 different county offices.

NC is no different than any other state in the country.  The high turnover rate of social workers is only eclipsed by the number of people who wish to become one.  While there are federal ethics and standards that should be met, each state is essentially responsible for the “policing” of it social work system and just like any system in this country the potential for both abuse of the system and general ineffectiveness is quite common.  Zahra Baker and Shaiya Davis are just two examples, the worst of all possible examples, of how the system can and does fail.  They are also examples of why there is such a high-turnover in the career field.  It takes a certain kind of person to dedicate themselves to social service, particularly with the types and number of cases social workers can field.  The majority of these dedicated individuals are well-educated, manage the required continuing education, caring, compassionate people, many of whom have had their own experiences within the system at some point in their lives.  They bring a unique level of experience to the system, the system however seems to keep burning these folks out and tossing them to the wolves, over and over again.

One thing NC does very, very well in cases where a judge deems fit is they assign an advocate specifically for the juvenile involved in the case whose only concern is for the well-being of the child or children.  You see the roles of the other players are a bit different, DSS or CPS has the goal of resolving issues with the family, with the intended goal to be resolution and/or reunification of a happy, healthy family.  The criminal justice side of things is generally speaking seeking out some sort of punitive and possibly rehabilitative measure.  One way or the other from the CJ side there is some sort of desired outcome demonstrating justice has been served.

The third player in this little dance of familial dynamics is a group of volunteer community members appointed by a District Court judge known as a Guardian ad Litem.  These volunteers are tasked with investigating and determining the needs of abused and neglected children who have entered the social services system.  Their goal, is a safe, secure environment for the child/children advocating through a legal team during court proceedings.  Many lawyers dedicate their pro bono time to aiding the GAL offices in support of their paid staff lawyers.  The paid staff per county is minimal, the system relying on the unpaid services of community minded volunteers.

Many of the more rural counties in NC have a shortage of volunteers for the overall caseload they have.  The more populated counties have numerous volunteers such as Cumberland County, well into the hundreds and still not able to cover everything they do.  While counties such as Hoke and Scotland have a combined office located in Laurinburg and are at a serious deficit with the number of volunteers on staff.

My wife has previously worked as a GAL in Cumberland county and currently as part of her internship for her final college semester is a GAL in the Hoke/Scotland office.  The office she is part of is well understaffed.  Volunteers are needed everywhere and you do not need to be a resident of the county in which you are serving.  Volunteering for this organization means you are an advocate for the child, not the system itself or their parents, but the child.  A judge will use your recommendations in determining the outcome of a case.  It is a unique opportunity in which you get to speak for someone who under other circumstances will not have a voice.

If you are in NC and are interested in making a difference in a child’s life visit this site:  From there you can find the necessary applications and requirements to become a GAL, they are the same for every county.  There are links to take you to other GAL locations and tons of information.  For folks in states other than NC, each state handles the process a little bit differently and you will have to do a little research in order to see what the process is and what the requirements may be.  Every child deserves someone who can speak for them and their needs alone, you can make a difference.