Take a look at this picture. Take a really good look. It. Breaks. My. Heart. Just try to imagine what those children were feeling. Try to
imagine what that mother was feeling. It is beyond imagining.
A friend sent me this picture a couple of weeks ago—before all the news coverage of adoption dissolutions, disruptions, and “re-homing”. Like the current coverage, this story was picked up by the national press and spread across the US. And like the current coverage, we have no idea how common was this occurrence. And like the current coverage, how often it happened doesn’t lessen the heart break. Those faces, combined with the faces of the children in the recent “re-homing” story, haunt me.
I wanted to know the rest of the story. With a little help from my friend Mr. Google, I found out some of what happened.
The Story Behind the Picture
This picture was taken August 4, 1948, and published in a Chicago newspaper. After the picture appeared in papers throughout the US, offers of jobs, homes and financial assistance poured in.
The mother, Lucille Chalifoux, was shielding her eyes from the camera, not sobbing as I first thought, according to the newspaper reports from the time, but then how do we really know. She was 24, married to an unemployed man 16 years older, and pregnant with her fifth child in six years at the time of the photo. Who’s to judge her true feelings?
What Happened Next
No one knows how long the sign stood in the yard. Apparently shortly thereafter the father abandoned the family, and records show he had a criminal record. Lucille went on governmental assistance. A fifth child, David, was born in 1949.
The story line is not complete, but David was either removed from the home or relinquished in July 1950. He was covered in bed bug bites and in rough shape. He was adopted by a loving by strict home and ran away at 16, spent 20 years in the military, and has been a truck driver ever since.
Rae says that she was “sold for $2 [in Aug. 1950] so her mother could have bingo money and because the man her mother was dating did not want anything to do with the children.” Milton was standing nearby crying, so the family took him too. Sadly, their new father was horribly abusive. Rae ran away at 17. Milton was removed from the home due to abuse (unclear at what age) and eventually ended up in a mental hospital diagnosed with “schizophrenia and having fits of rage”. He was released in 1967 at age 23. He eventually married, moved to Arizona, and is now divorced.
No one knows what happened to Lana, other than she died of cancer in 1998. SueEllen was adopted, but I’ve not been able to find out any additional information other than she had two sons. She told her children that she was sold by her mother.
What the Kids Have to Say
Pictures tell a story, and this picture tells a mighty sad story– a story that left a lasting impact. The scars run deep… something always worth remembering when we speak of adoption dissolutions and disruptions.
- SueEllen: Dying of lung disease said, “[My mother] needs to be in hell burning.”
- Milton: “My birth mother, she never did love me. She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much that she didn’t care.”
- David: “[Our mother] got rid of all us children, married someone else, had four more daughters. She kept them. She didn’t keep us. … We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. She could’ve been thinking about the children. Didn’t want them to die.”
Lest You Think This Doesn’t Happen Now
There are children just exactly like these four children currently waiting for a family in the US foster care system. They are just as frightened and confused as these kids. Their faces should haunt us as well. Here’s what they look like by the numbers.
- 399,546 children are in foster care.
- 101,719 children are waiting to be adopted
- 52,039 children were adopted from foster care in 2012.
- The average age of children waiting to be adopted was 7.8 years. The average age of those adopted was 6.3 years.
- Only 21 percent of children who were adopted were aged 10 and older. About 35 percent of waiting children are older than nine.
- 56 percent of children were adopted by a foster parent, and 30 percent were adopted by a relative.
- 92 percent of the children adopted with public agency involvement received adoption assistance benefits (adoption subsidy).
Do their faces haunt you too?
Image credit for the 4 Children for Sale photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS and Hammond Community.net