Children in limbo - some wait years for a stable, loving home
Lou's House of Beauty is no ordinary hairdresser's. True, it blends right in at the corner of Imperial and Main in the Los Angeles ghetto of Watts. Its door is barred by an iron gate, as are many other doors in the neighborhood. The lettering on its sign looks homemade under the lemony California sky, and the walls inside are covered in ``jungle'' wallpaper -- zebra, leopard, tiger, yellow, black, and brown.Skip to next paragraph
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But for 18-month-old Crystal Thomas and three-year-old Craig Gray, Lou's House of Beauty is a sanctuary. Crystal's crib-cum-playpen sits on the floor next to a counter equipped with sink, hose, and hair dryer. Scattered around the floor are Craig's toy truck, some tiny cars, a ball, a worn-out teddy bear. This room is the first place in their short and bitter lives where Crystal and Craig have been hugged, rocked, played with -- tenderly talked to and cared for, and where they have had nothing to fear.
Louise Eubanks, hairdresser, licensed nurse, and foster mother, is sitting in one of the barber chairs, holding Crystal in her lap. Craig is playing on the floor at her feet, making truck noises.
``Crystal didn't weigh but 3 pounds 7 ounces at birth,'' says Louise in her quiet, gentle voice. ``They found cocaine in her bloodstream. She was born addicted. Her body was rigid -- stiff as a board. When I first got her she would shake all over and cry all night. She wore me out.''
Louise lays her cheek against the child's. The tiny face is smiling, and the large, dark eyes are bright. ``But now she's so fine!'' says Louise, more to the baby than to anyone else. Crystal looks up at her and giggles -- to all appearances a normal, healthy, happy child.
When Crystal was born, her mother gave a false name and address and disappeared from the hospital, leaving the baby behind. She was later located and is now in a drug rehabilitation program.
``Crystal's mother's never seen her and don't want to see her,'' says Louise. ``The grandparents don't want to see her. Her daddy denies her. But she's gonna to have a good life. She's not gonna suffer nothing. I plan to adopt Crystal myself.''
Craig was taken from his mother, also a drug addict, by the L.A. County Department of Children's Services.
``His mother used to put out cigarettes on his bottom,'' says Louise. ``And she broke both his arms. She's 25 and has three other kids, all from different fathers. She was on drugs, and sold it, too. Her mind was a mess.''
Craig, too, appears to be a normal child, and is very affectionate, even with strangers. But his speech is barely intelligible, and Louise plans to put him in a speech therapy class soon. ``When he came he was a year and something,'' she says. ``He thought it was a way of life to be hostile. For about a year he wouldn't even laugh -- and he's still a handful.''
Since 1975, Louise has cared for eight other foster children, all for periods of a year or less. ``I'm on contract as a short-term foster parent,'' she says. ``I keep them till the parent gets their life style together -- gets out of jail or off drugs.''
As a rule, the first priority of child welfare agencies is to reunite children with their natural parents. To this end, the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services is providing counseling and other rehabilitation services to Crystal's and Craig's families. Since Crystal's mother wants nothing to do with her, the way appears clear for Louise to adopt the child. Craig's mother, on the other hand, is trying to get her baby back, according to Louise.
``The county's working with her, and so am I,'' Louise says. ``I think she's going to stick with the rehabilitation program. She's trying. If she's willing to cooperate, she'll have a good life with her kids.''
Whatever happens, Louise plans to keep in touch with Craig, as she has with all the other children she has cared for. If his mother abuses him again, Louise explains, he will go back into foster care.
Some 32 percent, or 88,000 children in foster care in the US, are black. Why?
The primary reason is that the need for foster care and poverty are linked. And of all low-income families, 32 percent are black -- a figure that coincides with the 32 percent of black children in foster care.