13-year-old Kevin’s family has been chronically homeless for years. He and his family frequently are evicted for not paying rent, then move in with a friend or family member, and repeat the cycle.
14-year-old Kalyn has a mother who’s addicted and a father who’s unstable. She rotates between living with them and with other family members who make it clear she is a burden.
12-year-old Aniya’s parents are selling drugs out of their home. She is restricted from any activities outside school. Drug buyers come in and out daily.
What I’ve just described are real situations of real kids (names changed) right here in Springfield. Some of these are now resolved, but others are not. I could tell you many more.
If you’ve spent much time with kids in Springfield, these scenarios may not surprise you. But there is something that should surprise us, something that concerns us all:
All four of the kids I mentioned show up to school on a given day, take care of their business, and stay out of trouble. You would pass them in the hallway and have no idea they are coping with the situations I described. Some of them are on the honor roll. All of them do enough to move up a grade each year. Because they do not get in trouble, their teachers and school administrators do not know.
The thing that should concern us most is this: Nobody knows.
Nobody knows until it becomes a headline, and then we all shake our heads and wonder how something terrible could have happened.
The best term I can come up with for kids in these situations is “silent tragedy.” Kids are living in precarious situations, finding a way to cope, perhaps not even realizing their life isn’t normal, and doing it alone.
You might think that the situations I described are an anomaly. I wish they were. But they aren’t.
Our staff and team talk to kid after kid after kid, year after year, who lives in these kinds of traumatic situations. We meet so many kids over the course of a year, and discover so many are living a silent tragedy, that we estimate, at a minimum, that this is one out of every seven or eight Springfield kids.
There are 8,000 kids in Springfield City Schools.
That’s 1,000 kids – at a minimum – living in silent tragedy.
For all of the kids whose situations we know, there are many, many more that nobody knows about.
I don’t frequently like to focus on the negatives. I am enormously hopeful about our community and about our kids. They are resilient and full of potential and made in God’s image!
But as a wake-up call to our community, we need to realize the silent crisis that is happening in so many kids’ lives, and not wait until that crisis becomes a headline to act.
What is the solution? I wish there were an easy one. There’s no magic wand to wave away painful situations that kids and families have to bear. But we do believe that kids should not have to bear them alone.
These kids don’t have a campaign sign in their yard that says, “My family is self-destructing.” They aren’t wearing a button that says, “I need a mentor.”
The only way to begin to address the silent tragedy in our city is to show up, to listen and to love, to build authentic, long-term relationships with kids and families, and to bring the faithful, healing presence of Jesus with us.
You can’t fix the tragedies. But you can show up. (If you don’t know where to show up, volunteer at one of our afterschool programs.) Listen. Be a friend. And maybe a kid won’t have to bear heavy burdens alone because you did.