By Terese Scofidio
It was described like this: “a small bassinet, complete with pillow and blankets, stands in the hallway just inside the unlocked outside door.” For all its simplicity, though, this object had a profound impact on thousands of Western New Yorkers.
It was the cradle that rested for years within the entrance of the Our Lady of Victory Infant Home.
The Infant Home is considered one of Father Nelson Baker’s greatest achievements. Built in response to reports of the remains of unwanted infants being pulled out of the Erie Canal, the home provided a sanctuary to women and their babies no matter their background or socioeconomic status. It was a place that offered children a life their birth parents could not. For nearly all, the cradle was a gateway to a brighter future.
Much has changed since the 1900s. The average life span back then was 50. It’s nearly 79 now. We have cars and planes that take us around the world in a matter of hours. And we all carry phones that keep us connected and entertained.
But the truth is, the life of today’s children who are born into poverty or tragic circumstances is remarkably similar – and nearly as grim – to those born more than a century ago. Worse, there is no easy solution for today’s youths. There is no empty cradle.
There are people who are willing to help. Foster families step forward to take these children’s problems as their own. Each foster parent acts as Father Baker did: without judgment and with a heart full of love and acceptance. There are just not enough of them.
Various sources put the number of children currently in the foster care system and awaiting a permanent home at 400,000 to 500,000 nationally. The lucky ones are adopted, but, even for them, there is an average of a three-year wait. Three years without a stable home or the love of a stable family.
In response, our agency, in the tradition of Father Baker, has recently opened an emergency foster care program. This new venture provides temporary housing for children who have been removed from their homes. In the short amount of time it has been open, the stories we have been told, often by the little ones themselves, are heartbreaking. They tell of a harrowing life that none of these children have either asked for or deserve. Within days, our program was filled to capacity. While we hope to expand, much more needs to be done. More foster families are needed!
In a letter written to an adoptive couple in 1928, Father Baker wrote: “We hope that our charitable friends will be glad to adopt a beautiful little infant into their home …” How tragic that, after all of society’s improvements and advancements, the need behind these words still exists.
Terese Scofidio is chief executive officer of Baker Victory Services in Lackawanna.