Why Do the People Raising Our Children Earn Poverty Wages?
Over the years, Valadez has cared for hundreds of children—and mentored their parents, including frazzled teenage moms—at all hours, day and night. She currently works from 7 am to midnight, five days a week; in 2010, she took twenty-four-hour care of three young brothers when their mother, Reina Carrasco, was sent to a state-mandated drug-treatment program.
Carrasco was a good mom in a bad situation. The boys’ father provoked daily fights; she became depressed, shrinking to a sickly 100 pounds, and found solace in marijuana.
“I trusted her unconditionally,” Carrasco says of Valadez. “If anything happened, I wanted them with her—not even my mom, not my family.”
Valadez and her husband welcomed the boys and comforted them with home-cooked meals. “I feel great because the children need it, because I helping the community,” she recalls. The state compensated her for only twelve hours of every twenty-four-hour day.
Carrasco, who’s been clean, in school and working for the last two years, still takes her children to Valadez. “She’s teaching them over here—the numbers, the colors, puzzles…. On top of that, they’re learning Spanish!” she says. “I think, because of her, I am where I am now.”
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On the way to Shanita Hargrove’s house, we drive past Stratford Place in Newark’s South Ward. The street is barricaded, blocked by police cars. Mary Szacik, Cabañas’s co-worker at New Jersey Communities United, describes the area’s bad reputation, though it seems less dangerous than forlorn.
Hargrove is a protector—of children, and of her neighborhood, too. These days, active in the union, she also looks out for her fellow providers. “Does she always wait in the doorway for you?” I ask Szacik, who, being white, is conspicuous on Hargrove’s block. “Always,” she says.
“The world outside, I want the children to know it’s different here,” Hargrove explains. “I provide some relief from that.”
She believes in the lasting impact of care: “That negative atmosphere—you keep that as far away as possible, so the child is not filled with the toxins of the world. Once it’s there, it’s like mold: it continues to grow until the child becomes toxic. Then it creates problems for the teachers in schools, and that child becomes a teenager, abusive toward the teachers and staff. And then, once the teenager is out here, what’s going to happen?”
She tells me about a young man from the neighborhood shot dead by the police. He was not a good boy, she says. He was loved but damaged by his family, and everyone suffered for it.
We sit quietly with the story, looking at baby Jade. Hargrove’s expression softens.
“Don’t you just love her eyes?”
At least once a week, our blogger Greg Kaufmann reports on the struggle against poverty in America. In his latest dispatch, he calls for Congress to hold hearings that will give indigent citizens a chance to tell their stories.