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The series, which profiles young Dasani and her family as they experience various dimensions of homelessness and institutional forms of support and challenge, has received a significant amount attention in the mainstream press as well as across local contexts including our twitter stream, classroom discussions, hallway conversations, and, in one instance, a bus ride debate.
I am still very much mulling over the intricate layers of information and analysis of child homelessness that Elliott’s narrative offers, so in the meantime I thought I would share a collection of resources that I have gathered to help my own ongoing analysis and sense-making:
- The original article: Invisible Child — Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life
- A conversation with Andrea Elliott on NPR’s The Brian Lehrer Show
- NYTimes’ The Learning Network spotlights “Invisible Child” for their Reading Club — featuring lessons and insights from youth involved with Youth Communication (which publishes Represent magazine) and the Possibility Project (a youth theater group)
- Sliding into Homelessness: An essay by Zakkiaya Bowen — another collaboration between NYTimes The Learning Network and Youth Communication‘s Represent magazine, including discussion and teaching resources. (Read another piece by Bowen here: Choosing Who I Let In
- Making Ends Meet: Children’s Books That Explore Social Class, Homelessness, and Poverty – a post from earlier this year by Mary Ann Reilly on her blog Between the By-Road and the Main Road
Additional Resources (taken from the Reading Club and other sources)
- Lens Blog | In Brooklyn, Photographing an Invisible Child
- Learning Network Guest Post | 10 Ways to Talk to Students About Sensitive Issues in the News
- Times Topics | Homelessness
- DoSomething.org | Homelessness and Poverty
- Youth Communication | Pieces on Homelessness
- Youth Communication | Pieces on the Foster Care System
- The Dasani Effect: How You Can Help the More Than 1.6 Million Homeless Children in America
While looking for some reading to pass the time over Thanksgiving Break, I came across the novel, Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital a non-fiction account of twelve patients encountered by Dr. Eric Manheimer during his time as the medical director at Bellevue. Though I wasn’t aware when I picked it up, the second chapter entitled “Tanisha” is the story of a young girl in the foster care system who found her way to Bellevue.
Though I could spend this entire blog simply summarizing the chapter, I will instead encourage you to read it, and will devote this space to a reflection on Tanisha’s story. Though I had no idea this story was hidden in this book, and it was only a small portion of the entire book, its memory lingers with me.
Tanisha had spent sixteen of the seventeen years of her life in foster care, with the exception of one home, that of Abuela, the only loving and supportive home that Tanisha ever had, only to be removed after Abuela’s death. Tanisha was then placed in an abusive home followed by neglectful home in a cyclical pattern that was without end. Though Tanisha’s stories of abuse, neglect, and horror haunt me still, there are so many positive, yet cautionary lessons that are to be taken away.
First and foremost, Tanisha was a fighter. She advocated for herself. She did not give up on herself. She was strong willed, intelligent and even when placed in vapid surrounds, kept herself sharp and alert. It is what allowed her the ingenuity and wherewithal to walk herself from Flatbush to Manhattan and to ACS in order to avoid either being killed or killing someone in self-protection. I say this only to say that there are some positive results to this story, but not all of the children put into foster care who experienced these same misfortunes would necessarily find the same conclusions. To do so takes a uncrushable spirit like that of Tanisha.
Secondly, “Dr. Eric” as he is so lovingly called, went far above and beyond what is expected? required? of doctors. Tanisha wasn’t his patient, but he went out of his way to learn about her story, to not give up on her, to find a way to extend her stay in Bellevue in order to afford her a safe place to stay, to buy her notebooks and both model and encourage her to write down the thoughts and feelings, but also to follow through on that act…reading what she wrote, taking it seriously. I want to call his actions heroic in some sense, but instead, perhaps they could be more appropriately labeled as “aware” or “available.” He never gave up on finding Abuela’s daughter and talking to her, telling her about Tanisha, taking the one in a million chance that perhaps they would be willing to take her back into the family. His actions, if nothing else were most certainly out of the ordinary. I wonder, and am glad I won’t have to know, what would have happened to Tanisha had it not been for the hospital staff and most notably, Dr. Eric.
Because it is impossible to avoid this revelation, Dr. Eric goes out of his way to find Abuela’s daughter who had held the family together, and to offer Tanisha’s story to her, and ask her to consider being a foster family to Tanisha. They found ways to keep Tanisha in Bellevue in order to avoid her being put back into the system before a decision could be made. They never gave up on a happy ending for her, and in the end she did get her happy ending. And the reader walks away feeling as if justice has prevailed.
But I think more critically now. Tanisha is one girl. And granted not every child in foster care has this traumatic experience. But for those who do, what about the many children who cannot get themselves to Bellevue? Who cannot find their way to a Dr. Eric to be listened to, protected, and advocated for in a way that they were unable to do for themselves. Where are they now? How many are there? How do we reach them? What outlets do they have now to reach out to people who can provide them the support and help they need? I hope others will have a chance to read this chapter and reflect upon these same questions as they pertain to court-involved youth, in particular those involved in the foster care system.
To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care is the recently published book by Cris Beam that offers a layered, multi-faceted, and poignant exploration of New York City’s Foster Care System by focusing on the lives of the children and their families — both bio and foster — who are deeply affected by institutional and system-wide policies and practices. Beam writes based on her research — for this book, she spent five years interviewing and spending time with foster families — and from personal experience and positions the texts as an attempt to better understand why, despite the “more than a million adults [who] are directly or indirectly employed to ensure [foster children’s] well-being, and $15 to $20 billion a year [that] are poured into overseeing their health and management,” no one thinks the system is working. Beam’s book does not offer neat solutions. Instead, her rich descriptions and thoughtful prose offer different points of entry into the seemingly entrenched set of challenges that affect the people caught in the system at every level. Read the first chapter of the book here.
Arts, Media, and Justice: Multimodal Explorations with Youth is a volume edited by YMEJ member Lalitha Vasudevan and Tiffany DeJaynes and brings together a collection of chapters authored by practitioners and researchers who worked with youth in a variety of arts-based and media settings. Central to all of the chapters is an emphasis on how, through exploration with the arts and media, young people involved with the juvenile justice system may be engaged as agentive partners in reimagining education in their lives. Ranging from photography and theater to media making and creative writing, the contexts depicted in this volume hold important implications for educators, the field of youth development, and policy makers in how we might better support young people who find themselves embroiled court-involved — the thoughtful and illustrative writings of the authors suggests that rather than emphasizing punitive measures, we might create conditions in which exploration of self and world may occur in meaningful, collaborative, and potentially transformative ways.
(**All proceeds from book sales go to supporting the work of alternative to detention and alternative to incarceration programs in New York City. ***)