In the number one inspirational American movie of all time, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, George Bailey decides everyone in his life would be better off if he were dead until his guardian angel shows him what life would be like if he had never been born. So many people suffered without a George Bailey in their family, their little town, and even other places in the world. When George Bailey saw this, he realized how truly blessed he actually was and just how much he blessed all of those around him. In the end, everyone was there to save George and they all lived happily ever after.
Right now, the staff at the Osage Nation Social Services Department are all feeling a bit like George Bailey because they are faced with the reality of looking at a Christmas without adequate funding to serve Osage children in tribal custody, Osage children in pre-adoptive placements, Osage children on the Family Preservation Program caseload, and Osage children identified as needy during child welfare investigations this past year. The current number of children on the list for this service is nineteen. However, keep in mind that this number can increase at any moment in time if it becomes necessary to remove additional children from an abusive or neglectful situation. Another thing to remember is these kids are where they are today through no fault of their own.
Without access to a full budget, Social Services Department will only have one-fourth of the tribal funds requested this year to ensure that these abused and neglected children have gifts under the tree wherever they wake up on Christmas morning; i.e. a youth shelter, a foster home, or maybe even their very own home. The Social Services staff does not feel valued during this extremely frustrating time with the possibility that some of these children will have to suffer this holiday season rather than get to celebrate like most of the rest of the world. On one hand it’s sad to say, but some of these Osage children feel they have no family and they tell their social workers, “Social Services is the only family I feel I have left”. They say, “…you (the social workers) are the only ones that care about me (us).” This is all because these children have learned they can count on their social workers and their tribe to be there for them and to make sure their rights are protected and their needs are met. But not this Christmas.
Since FY 2008, Osage Nation Congress has approved funding requested by the Executive Office for the Social Services Department to be able to provide Christmas, birthday and graduation gifts for Osage children on the program’s caseloads. Prior to that, ONSS put out Angel Trees and sought out donations from local businesses, church groups, and individuals willing and able to help out. Although everyone was thankful for the generosity shown by our caring donors, the system was not reliable and often created unfair situations when one child’s angel provided 2 or 3 times as much for that child than another. It was pretty much “the luck of the draw” for every child. Social Services did its best to even things out and to ensure each child felt equally as important as the next. There were lean times and there were times when the donations were abundant. But there was always something that didn’t quite feel right. Perhaps it is because it is not the Osage Way to go around asking for hand-outs, especially when the government has plenty of money to take care of this $6,825 annual budget (FYI—more than half of the 2008 appropriation was returned to congress because the caseloads were lower than expected at Christmastime last year, meaning we didn’t need as much money as we estimated). Without immediate relief from the Osage Nation Congress, the Social Services Christmas Project for 2009 leaves us feeling a little bit like George Bailey did on the night his car hit a tree. Maybe these kids would be better off if this project had never existed in the first place.
The project has gone much smoother when the program has its own funds to take care of the Christmas project. Staff’s stress levels are greatly reduced when we know what we have to work with in advance. Last year, the shopping went much more orderly than ever before which gave the staff more time to wrap and deliver the gifts all over the Osage Reservation. The project has put many a smile on many an Osage child. But not this Christmas.
If you would care to help the Osage Nation on this project, please contact Social Services at 918/287-5335.