- Created: Monday, 23 November 2015 14:28
When 23-year-old Jonathan Nelson sat down in my Sacramento office earlier this year, it was clear he had an intensely personal request. Nelson set aside his job as a corporate lobbyist for this meeting, and instead told me how he had been a foster child — one of 15 who his parents in Bakersfield had adopted. As if his parents’ arms weren’t stretched widely enough, 12 of those children were medically fragile. One sister was born without a brain — just a brain stem. Another sibling had spina bifida; another Down syndrome — the list goes on. Nelson, who is able-bodied, grew up helping to load his wheelchair-bound siblings into the family van and turning off feeding tubes when a beeping indicated they were empty. Nelson’s parents didn’t set out to adopt 15 children, but when they realized that institutions, not loving, family homes were the most likely destiny for these medically fragile foster children, they adopted.
What Nelson’s parents did was positively heroic — and remarkably rare. California struggles to match its more than 66,000 foster children with foster parents, according to FamiliesNow. Add demanding medical needs — and it’s even harder to find a parent-child fit. It’s also difficult to report how many medically fragile children are in the foster system, because minimal data is collected about them.
Considering the precedent of enormous giving his parents set, I was surprised to hear Nelson’s remarkably modest ask. “These medically fragile children are are out of sight, out of mind,” Nelson explained. “There is a gap in awareness about them. Can you help me make them more visible?”
Nelson, a UC Davis political science graduate, and Gail Yen, a young staffer of mine who was also once a foster child, immediately jumped into writing Assembly Concurrent Resolution 85 with me. The resolution designated this month as a time to remind Californians of the actions each can take to make a positive difference in the lives of medically fragile foster care children. The Legislature easily adopted the resolution, an important first step. Reforms to specifically address the needs of medically fragile foster care children, including special payment mechanisms acknowledging the higher costs of their special medical care, could be next.
Nelson has been using the resolution as a spring board to spark public conversation about these children. He’s been telling people about toy drives and charities. He’s been telling them that even if they can’t be a foster parent, they can support a foster child. He believes these children deserve to be seen; that they deserve — and would really love — a place at the table.
Please visit the San Francisco Chronicle for the full story.