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It seems that her face, an angelic, wistful, and questioning portrait, is circulating everywhere, calling out for someone to help us find Relisha. Vigils, newspapers, police press conferences, television interviews, City Council hearings, all question what happened to this quiet little eight-year-old girl who resided in a massive emergency homeless family shelter with nearly 600 other children. Much like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, she is now visible to the entire city, only after she physically disappeared. There is a reward for information leading to her return.

In tortured exchange, we must consider the worst. After all, the worst has already happened. The reported abductor killed his wife and then himself. We pray incessantly that the end of this child’s very life is not the remaining sequence of this nightmare. We continue to call out for someone to help us find Relisha. We fear that there are other Relishas. We seek to find someone to blame. There are so many suspects.

But I think that as we hold on to a possible miracle, we should acknowledge that opposing forces serve as the backdrop for this tragedy. Five powerful forces collide, creating a visceral vacuum that swirls around the loss of this innocent child. 1) The Advocates: well intentioned and prescriptive voices focused on individual rights, social equity, and the law; how do we generate fairness for the homeless, in an ultra wealthy, flourishing city? 2) The Government: bureaucrats responsible for distributing taxpayer dollars and efficiently providing assistance to the poor; how

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much can it really do without also fostering a desperate dependency on public support? 3) The Media: investigators, challenged to seek out the truth; how objective is the press in the context of a market which momentarily profits from tragedy and emotional turmoil that the public and avoidable loss of a child always brings? 4) The Political Leaders: representatives tasked by the community to develop both a symbolic and practical plan of correction which is fueled by political will; how does the legislative process address competing community priorities and build consensus? and, 5) The Parents: day by day survivors in a capitalistic, contemporary economy without sufficient workforce skills, education, or immediate access to affordable housing; how does one cope with vacant self esteem, anger, and other traumatic effects?

These forces all oppose one another. The full impact of the insidious opposition is a type of systemic paralysis and lack of an integrated, smart, city-wide, public/private response geared to prevent another child disappearance. Another wake-up call in a series of alerts that all eventually lose any sense of urgency. This intense opposition is highly distracting and does not encourage the transparent, authentic exchange necessary to ensure that we collectively and vigilantly keep our attention centered on the status of all children who live in our adult world. To avoid the routine of childhood loss in our city. To insist that children truly are visible when they are present, regardless of their social status. To better manage the complexity of our adult responsibility to keep all children safe. While we all continue to struggle to get beyond the powerful forces of our entrenched opposition, will someone help us find Relisha?

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Name: Dr. Sheryl Brissett Chapman

About: Dr. Sheryl Brissett Chapman, Executive Director, is a passionate, internationally recognized and award-winning advocate for children, youth, and their families, who struggle with extreme poverty, abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and disabilities and related trauma. An author and expert in child and family welfare, she believes in the sheer power of “community” as it reinforces unimaginable resilience when it provides the basic support to those in its midst who have need. Dr. Chapman envisions a healthy, happy childhood for each and every child, regardless of the circumstances of their birth or the socio-economic status of their family.

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Founded in 1915 as an orphanage in the District of Columbia, NCCF is a private, nonprofit child and family welfare agency with a commitment to serving poor, disadvantaged, abused, neglected and/or abandoned children, youth, and their families.

Current program services include emergency shelters and transitional housing for homeless families, a high-intensity therapeutic group home, therapeutic and traditional foster care and adoption, independent living for youth transitioning to adulthood, teen parent services, and community-based prevention services that promote academic achievement, parental involvement, economic and vocational stability, and healthy families. Our programs have become social service models, redefining both NCCF’s reputation and the agency’s position in the human service continuum in the Washington Metropolitan Region.

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Founded in 1915 as an orphanage in the District of Columbia, NCCF is a private, nonprofit child and family welfare agency with a commitment to serving poor, disadvantaged, abused, neglected and/or abandoned children, youth, and their families.

Current program services include emergency shelters and transitional housing for homeless families, a high-intensity therapeutic group home, therapeutic and traditional foster care and adoption, independent living for youth transitioning to adulthood, teen parent services, and community-based prevention services that promote academic achievement, parental involvement, economic and vocational stability, and healthy families. Our programs have become social service models, redefining both NCCF’s reputation and the agency’s position in the human service continuum in the Washington Metropolitan Region.

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