Inspired by the stories he heard at Solutions at Sunrise, Bankole Thompson (columnist for The Detroit News) wrote a piece on Southwest Solutions work with adopted children in Detroit.
Bankole Thompson, The Detroit News
October 12, 2016
Child abandonment and neglect are among the deepest wounds many children suffer today. Because they have no voice or anyone to advocate for them these children remain invisible and some may never get the help they need.
Detroiter Ana Vela, knows that too well because she is currently raising all five of her younger sister’s children.
On Tuesday, she’ll mark the fourth year since her sister walked away from the children — Octavio, 5, Angel, 8, Valentino, 9, Miguel, 11, and Maria 14 — because she couldn’t take care of them anymore.
Vela’s sister reportedly was on drugs and child protective services intervened, giving Ana Vela sole responsibility for the children.
“She just said she couldn’t do it anymore,” Vela said about her sister. “She went into rehab back and forth. She is living in the streets now.”
Vela accepted the responsibility and she was shocked by something two of the children told her.
Miguel said, “I won’t be here to grow up. Sometimes I feel like I want to die.”
And Maria said her mom always told her, “Don’t worry about a career because the only thing you would be good at is having kids.”
That set off an alarm for Vela and she sought help right away for the children for fear that their parental abandonment could cause them to harm themselves.
She turned to Southwest Solutions, an organization in southwest Detroit that provides a broad range of services to needed and disfranchised families and abandoned children including counseling and mentoring services.
“There is so much more to life than selling drugs. I’m grateful to Southwest Solutions for helping the kids have a better chance of understanding that their mom’s choice does not have to be their choice,” Vela said. “The damage to these children was very deep. Miguel, for instance, won’t be here today if not for the coping skills that he learned from Southwest Solutions. Now the kids laugh more and they are not closed in.”
A 2006 study by the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh found that child protective services offices across the nation receive an average of more than 60,000 allegations of child maltreatment, including reports of neglect, physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
“Who are the victims of maltreatment and who are the perpetrators of these acts? Sadly, the youngest children are the most vulnerable and parents are most likely to be the ones who abuse or neglect them,” the report said.
In Detroit where more than 60 percent of children live in abject poverty, the situation could even be worse.
But in the case of the Velas, the children seem to be doing well for now.
Miguel, for example, is a fifth-grader now at Hope of Detroit Academy. His siblings Angel, Octavio and Valentino also attend the school, and Maria is an eight-grader at Caesar Chavez Academy.
“I love everything about school now,” Miguel said. “I want to work for the police or the Navy when I’m done with school because I can help people just like other people helped me.”
Maria added, “I want to study science in college because it’s interesting. I want to study rocks and know more about them.”
John Van Camp, president and CEO of Southwest Solutions, highlighted the development of Maria and Miguel during a video presentation last month at the group’s annual Solutions at Sunrise breakfast at the Detroit MGM Grand Hotel.
“To help children experiencing such profound adversity, it takes the concerted effort and many partners and sectors dedicated to stabilizing the family situation and rebuilding a sense of hope and efficacy,” Van Camp said. “It is this concerted effort that ultimately makes the difference.”
The organization also introduced Sarah Sanders, a senior at Melvindale High School at the breakfast. Sanders, 17, who is from Detroit, was abandoned by her mother when she was age 3 and had to be taken care of by family members preventing her from going into the foster care system.
She enrolled in Southwest Solution’s Cornerstone program that prepares teens dealing with mental and juvenile justice issues to become adults.
“Miguel, Maria and Sarah all experienced trauma because of the neglect and abandonment of their biological parents,” Van Camp said. “We provided professional and compassionate counseling to help address psycho-social issues the children have been dealing with.”
Sanders, who is planning to attend Eastern Michigan University to study music when she graduates from high school in June, applauded her interaction with Southwest Solutions.
“My counselor helped me deal with the trauma in my past. She let me see that I am not defined by the bad experiences. She helped me grow in confidence and to see things from the perspectives of others not just my own,” Sanders said.
Detroit is said to be coming back. But the comeback story will be complete only when the problems facing abandoned children are also dealt with.
“Only when we can prove that we have made significant progress in reducing child poverty can we truly say that we are turning the corner in our city,” Van Camp said. “Ultimately the measure is the lens through which we must view the future.”