COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A former foster child is using her voice and powerful story to spotlight a voice missing in South Carolina, a Child Advocate. Foster families are fighting for the new role, too, to help vulnerable children stick in stable homes.
Naomi Lett was in and out of home after home over the course of 15 years where she grew up in Minnesota.
She tearfully told her story saying, "you just feel… absolutely powerless…and um, unheard," in hopes sharing it can lead to happy endings for more children in her new home state, South Carolina.
Lett's mother struggled with mental illness; that's why Lett says she and her siblings learned to survive when their mother would leave for days at a time. They were often hungry, so they found drinking sugar water would ease the pangs.
"I knew if I gave him sugar water, that he wouldn't be hungry anymore. And so that story is an example, I think, of the fact that…at what point, who does it stop with, you know?" remembered Lett.
Looking back, Lett feels the missing piece for her family in Minnesota was a Child Advocate because she recalls several meetings with a caseworker to no avail. The 'Office of the Child Advocate' that Senate bill S. 805 would create would designate the role as a fighter for children's issues and problems, and an investigator acting independently from any department like the Department of Social Services (DSS).
Foster parent Zach Cooper has been following the bill's progress. Cooper's large family includes 2-year-old foster son, 'E', for short. He has experienced issues with DSS but says a child advocate could help resolve these.
"When we live in the tension of...tomorrow, something could go very wrong one person could make a really wrong decision that's not in the child's best interest," Cooper said, "and that changes the trajectory of his entire life."
Cooper claims the advocate could have the ability to work beyond the case worker's grasp, beyond department protocol.
"Children are probably our most vulnerable population that we have and when we take away from them for no fault of their own the natural supports that they have, we have traumatized that child," said Cooper.
S. 805 is sponsored by Senator Katrina Shealy (R- Lexington). So far, it has passed the Senate but now must pass the House in order to become law.
Shealy is pushing for it to pass, this way: "We have to take care of those who can't take care of themselves. And the children that fall into these categories, those are the children that we need to be responsible for. This is something we've needed for a long time."