Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Ever since the Netflix documentary on the horrifying abuse and murder of 8 year old Gabriel Fernandez went live, everybody has been all over Facebook with their take on it.
"FUCK THE TEACHER. she is a piece of shit and should not be welcomed in any school."
"I’m just saying the teacher is seeing him everyday. Like it gets to a point where you have to stand up and be the difference."
"R.I.P. Gabriel Fernandez. I wouldn't have failed you."
Here's the thing though: What are these people doing to "stand up and be the difference" for children experiencing trauma? I'm not a huge fan of posting about something without actually trying to do your part to change it. I'm definitely not a fan of blaming public school teachers for horrific abuse cases that they did their best to prevent. If you want to help prevent child abuse and neglect, here are some things that you CAN do:
Become a foster parent. LA county, where Gabriel lived (and died) is one of the most desperate, overrun areas of the United States when it comes to child welfare. High cost of living and a large population combined with widespread poverty leads to large numbers of children entering the foster care system there. Not every city is hurting as hard as LA, but we need quality foster families badly all over. Please don't post about how you would've taken Gabriel in in a heartbeat unless you mean it. There are children just like him in your neighborhood who need a safe place to stay right now.
Support mental health services for parents. Make sure that you are supporting mental health services with your vote and with your wallet. Everyone has loved demonizing Gabriel's mother and stepfather all over the internet, and it's undeniable that what they did to that innocent baby is inexcusable. However, in my experience as a foster mom, no parent ever wakes up one day excited to become their child's abuser. Lots of factors like childhood trauma, lack of education, untreated mental illness and addiction combine to create the perfect storm for destroying a person's ability to parent in a healthy way. If we are only worried about locking people up after they have already hurt their child, then we're not actually concerned with preventing the abuse in the first place. See what services are available for adults with mental illness in your area, and find a way to support the continuation and improvement of those services.
Speak up for kinship caregivers. Gabriel was lovingly raised by his uncle and his uncle's partner for many years before being returned to his mother. His uncles were unable to stay involved in his life due to struggles with poverty and lack of citizenship. The way our foster care system currently works, a family member who thinks a child in their family needs help gets very little support from Children's services. Foster parents receive hundreds, or even thousands of dollars a month to support each foster child child plus clothing vouchers, support groups, and free specialized training. Meanwhile, family members receive no support at all. By calling or writing to your local department of children's services and asking them to increase financial and community supports for kinship caregivers, you are advocating for people to get the help that they need to be able to step in for children in their family if necessary.
Support a foster family. If you're not able to become a foster parent right now, I get it. I wish more people would do it but at the same time, not everyone is able to do that at every stage of life. However, everyone can support foster families in their area. Your helping hand or listening ear could be exactly what your foster parent friend needs to keep on going. We can't do this work alone, so please don't make us.
Let's honor Gabriel Fernandez with more than our empty words.