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No matter who's to blame, the kids suffer

There she was on the front page of the Tampa Tribune, a homeless mother living with a dozen children in a motel, from the littlest baby to the 11-year-old, dirty and hungry and all sharing one room with a grimy carpet and two beds.

Of all the faces in the photograph, the most arresting was an older boy solemnly holding a baby with a bottle. All those kids, all that need.

Then you read the quotes from their mother about how the system is responsible, how no one is helping her, how she can have as many children as she chooses (15, all told). They are a "gift from God," she told a reporter, and let the religious right chew on that one awhile.

Because surely 37-year-old Angel Adams, who is black and unemployed and appears to have strong opinions about the system and what is owed her, will become the sound-bite poster child for Rush and his ilk. They can throw in three different fathers, one in prison. See? they can say. Why should you have to pay for this? They can talk self-reliance and individual responsibility and our deplorable welfare state.

Don't have 15 kids if you cannot pay your rent, a blogger wrote.

Take the kids and let her rot.

And predictably: Get a job and get your tubes tied.

And here's the thing: Even if you sense some racial undertone lurking here, unless you are more Mother Teresa than Mother Teresa herself, it is hard to argue the overall point.

Nick Cox, regional director of the Department of Children and Families, is in one of the photographs with one of Adams' babies sprawled asleep across his shoulder. When I called to ask his take, he was frank: "Mom really thinks she's entitled to us all supporting her, and that's very troublesome," he said. With his law enforcement background — he was a longtime homicide prosecutor — his first thought was to get these children away.

But here is the twist in this story: "As bothersome as mom's opinions are, she's very bonded to these kids," Cox said. "And vice versa. Those kids love her." The ones who are in school are doing "outstanding," and teachers report the mother is engaged. He said he wished his kids were as polite as these.

"In my heart of hearts, I believe keeping this family together is really important," Cox said.

So everyone, including the DCF and Hillsborough Kids Inc., worked to get the family into A Kid's Place, to pay off what she owed in back rent to public housing, to find her the house where the family will soon live and to get them into a program designed to strengthen families. It would not be an exaggeration to say the system bent over backward to help Angel Adams — more grist for the talk-radio mill.

So what's the answer? One side of the aisle will tell you it's funding programs and education to catch these problems early, to give young people with nothing a chance. The other side will talk entitlement and how you, a hard-working American who sacrifices for what you have, should not be forced to foot this bill. And aren't they both right?

But in the end there are 12 kids who never asked for this, to end up in a Busch Boulevard motel room guilty of nothing but existing in the world. That you can't walk away from, no matter how angry the details might make you.

No matter who's to blame, the kids suffer 04/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 23, 2010 9:51pm]
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