Where have the children gone?


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



A frightening fable…

Three men were fishing along a heavily wooded riverbank. Their friendship had lasted for years. They loved spending time together, fishing, working and vacationing with families.

They shared good times and bad times. They called themselves the three amigos. Their lives, thoughts and ideas seemed to intertwine perfectly. They were such close friends that they could fish in silence, without chit-chat or small-talk.

The only sound that broke the perfect silence was the whisper of gently flowing water, the songs of birds and the rustle of leaves as squirrels hastily buried their acorns. It was perfection, until…

Dan saw something floating from around a bend in the stream. It was slowly coming toward them. Suddenly, he realized it was a child. He shouted, “Oh, my Lord. It’s a little boy?”

As one, they threw away their fishing poles and charged into the water. The water poured over their hip-boots — they were immediately soaked and cold. As a team they pulled the child from the frigid water, laid him on the grass. Together, they started CPR. The child remained cold and lifeless.

They were ready to stop the resuscitation when Gary glanced toward the water and cried out, “Oh, good Lord.”

Two more small bodies were slowly drifting toward them. As they jumped back into the stream and grabbed the two small bodies, John looked upstream toward the bend in the river and saw three more children floating, lifelessly in the water.

Dan immediately took control. He yelled out, “John, grab them. Gary, call 911 and get us some help.” Then, Dan bolted. He started running upstream. Gary shouted after him, “Where are you going?”

Dan’s response was immediate. “We have got to find out what’s happening. We’ve got to stop it. We must get to these kids sooner.”

Working together as a team, without knowing exactly what their next steps would be, they tackled a deadly problem that was costing children their lives.

… this is where the fable ends.

The current reality is, that right here in Clinton County, we have children going through crisis after crisis in their young lives. Many of them are in horrible danger. We know the main reason for their problems.

Their parents are doing stupid things: taking drugs, getting arrested and going to jail or prison.

The children are being left behind. They are floating downstream without support.

When possible, family members are stepping up and raising the children in safe, loving homes.

Sadly, many of these children are without any family support. The only support many of these children receive is provided by the child protection unit of our local Jobs and Family Services Department (JFS).

Those services are funded by the Children Services Levy. Currently, there are not enough funds coming into JFS to provide all of these children with the support they desperately need. To correct the problem and to provide the services our children need, a 1.1-mill additional levy is on the ballot next week.

Years ago, during my first term as a county commissioner, we had a vacancy in the position of JFS director. To fill the position, we appointed our county administrator, Mark Brooker, to be our interim JFS director. In that position, he dealt directly with the many problems facing our children. It was overwhelming.

During one of our bi-weekly sessions, Mark asked if we could go into executive session to discuss the legal issues facing some of our children in Clinton County. The neglect, the abuse, the mistreatment of these children was mind-numbing. There were thing Mark told us that blew our minds. We were shocked.

Today, it is even worse.

Next week, we need to vote to approve the funding needed to continue providing services that can be lifesaving for local children. Vote yes on the Children Services Levy.

The money generated by this levy will help the good people who work with the child protection unit to help our children. They have been struggling and struggling to save our kids. We need to provide them with the additional support they need. As stated in the fable; we know what’s happening, we are trying to stop it, but we still need to get to these children sooner.

We need to vote yes on the Children Services Levy.

Working together, as a team, we can make a difference in the lives of our children; children who are definitely at-risk. As a team, with the direct service providers at JFS, foster families, kinship care providers and many others, we can rescue more children.

Vote yes on the Children Services Levy.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist