I recently had the pleasure of attending the Public Children Services Association of Ohio’s annual conference in my role as president of the organization’s Board of Trustees. Among the many good things that happened that day was the recognition of one of our children as the statewide winner of the Rising Up and Moving On award.
Shaquielle Crutchfield entered the child welfare system at age 4. He was surrounded by violence, drugs and mental illness as a young boy. He experienced a failed adoption while in the child welfare system and battled his own mental health issues. His grades suffered at school and he shuttled between foster care homes throughout his teens.
But he wrapped himself in his church family and formed his own support group. He developed his own coping mechanisms, including writing. He connected to three teachers at his school. Saddled with a 1.8 grade point average before his senior year, he scored all As and Bs his final year and graduated from Woodward Career Technical High School. He will attend the University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash campus next year and has moved in with a host family he met through his church.
“Somebody in my family has to make it; why not me?” he says.
I meet dozens of teens each year who are like Shaquielle: they have been dealt a very difficult hand in life and, somehow, they have risen above their circumstances and carved a path to a better life. I wish whatever they have could be replicated, because certainly not all of the children in our care have it, nor do all children outside the child welfare system, as many parents can attest.
I can tell you about Isaiah and Armoni and Trenton and Dominique and Laquita and dozens more who possess something inside them that enables them to overcome a background of drugs, domestic violence, mental illness, physical disabilities or any of the other myriad of problems found in families where child abuse and neglect flourish.
I would like to believe our agency plays a part in helping them to a better tomorrow. In some cases, I am sure we do. But I know the overall success of the children we serve depends greatly on the inner strength of each child. Another child experiencing similar issues as Shaquielle might fail, despite our best efforts.
That does not relieve us of our responsibility. We must do everything we can to ensure a child is safe and stable and has a foundation for success. We offer counseling, meet medical needs, provide education opportunities or life skills training and form innovative programs such as the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative or Kids in School Rule – all with an eye toward moving that young person to a successful adult life.
But in the end, it often comes down to the strength of that child. That is something we cannot replicate.
But I do see certain traits in those who overcome. One is that they, like Shaq, connect with one or more adults in their life on an emotional level. Whether it be a caseworker, guardian or advocate, someone from their school, neighborhood or church, they find an adult who provides support, guidance and love in times of trouble.
That is all the more reason for those who have even an inkling of interest to become a mentor in our Higher Education Mentoring Initiative. You can read more about that elsewhere in this edition of Update.
I love hearing and telling the success stories of Shaquielle and others like him. Those types of outcomes remind me of why I chose this career. I am grateful for what these young people teach me every day.