JoeAnn Ballard calls herself an ordinary person. But to her 75 foster children, she’s anything but that.
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She and her late husband, Monroe Ballard, started serving dinner every Sunday night at their humble home in North Memphis. It was always an open invitation, she said, and typically 20 people from the area would show up. Some started spending the night.
“Then, overnight and weekend visits eventually turned permanent,” Ballard said.
Child after child would trickle in, and the couple welcomed each one warmly. Between 1968 and 2008, the Ballards became known as “Mama JoeAnn” and “Daddy Monroe” to 75 orphans, abuse victims, runaways and young adults in need of support.
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Six years after entering Philadelphia’s foster care system at 16 years old, Liam Spady has now worked for five organizations fighting against youth housing insecurity.
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In 2016, Spady co-founded the Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services’ Young Adult Leadership Committee, an organization that works to prevent and end youth homelessness.
In January 2020, OHS recorded 958 unsheltered persons, or people in places not meant for human habitation. Of those, 117 were youth aged 24 and under.
“It just reminds me of how so many people don’t have [a support system] and how many people might have fallen through the cracks,” Spady said. “It kind of drove me to a passion that I have today, to kind of get into the service field, because it’s just critical that young people don’t feel that way and that nobody feels that way.”
“In every case, we prioritize the best interest of the child involved, which as you can imagine, is dependent on the circumstances and never cut and dry,” a DCF [Department of Children and Families] spokeswoman said. But why tell a foster mother she could adopt the child whom she already treated as a son only to recommend later that the child be removed? And what was the reason for encouraging a couple to adopt their daughter’s brother only to deny them after they had spent thousands of dollars on the process?
Too many inconsistent decisions will undermine the system. Adopting and fostering children is hard enough without child welfare agencies whipsawing families between hope and despair.
Official statistics are mixed. In some countries, reports of abuse have risen during the pandemic; in others, including the United States, they’ve fallen. But people who work with victims say that in countries seeing fewer complaints, the numbers mask a darker reality. The closure of schools and day-care centers means teachers and social workers have been unable to identify and report abuse. A growing body of evidence suggests incidents of domestic violence are rising as families struggle with restrictions on movement and mounting economic hardship.
Countries rich and poor have shown growing signs of a surge in domestic violence. Fifty-four percent of vulnerable women surveyed by CARE in Lebanon reported an increase in violence and harassment during the pandemic; 44 percent said they felt less safe at home.
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In July, I visited The Mary Elizabeth House, an inspiring place that helps to empower young women & mothers in & out of the #FosterCare system. Please enjoy the fresh produce from the @WhiteHouse Kitchen Garden, as a token of my support for your courage & strength. #BeBest pic.twitter.com/JjbJX0RPZP
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) September 4, 2020
“When we see them together, we’re glad we decided to adopt Andrew,” Kevin Gill said. “It just seems like it was meant to be.”
Now, Joc and Andrew share a room, two screens for video games for each. They’re never too far from never-ending Pop Tarts.
“This is my brother, Joc,” said Andrew.
“This is my brother, Andrew,” said Joc.