This week we asked our newest employee, Margaret Elizabeth McKissack, about her child welfare experience and her view of the impact of a loving family on a child. From Dallas, Texas, to Peru and Ethiopia to Guatemala, she speaks to her passion for children, her love for her own family, and her years of work for children around the world. Margaret Elizabeth has high hopes for Both Ends Believing’s Children First software to ensure that every child lives in a loving family. We are so happy to have her join the team!
What sparked your passion to help vulnerable children?
I was a sophomore at the University of Richmond when my mom called to invite me to travel to Guatemala with a group from Buckner International. Over the course of a week, we worked with teenage girls and babies living in a government orphanage. At the age of 20, this trip was my first exposure to the developing world and the dire need of children living outside of family care. I met babies who suffered from extreme health challenges, including shaken baby syndrome and burns. I met a new friend who was my age and had severe special needs; I looked around and realized that these teenage girls were just like me and these babies had no hope for a future if they didn’t quickly get into safe and loving families. On my second trip the following year I met a girl who was in the orphanage on a witness protection program with her young daughter. Her greatest fear was separation from her daughter and not being able to care for her. I knew then that I was called to advocate for children who did not have a voice and to fight for children to experience the love of a family just like mine.
What is your experience in the child welfare field so far?
I attended law school for the express purpose of strengthening my voice for vulnerable children. Upon graduation, I had the opportunity to join Buckner International, a global non-profit serving vulnerable children and families. My experiences included opening Buckner’s Washington DC office and connecting with incredible advocates for children within the US government and around the world. I worked with Buckner teams in Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala, Peru, and Honduras to build meaningful relationships with their governments and the US government to strengthen child welfare systems. I also worked to help build programs for children to move into families through reunification, foster care, or adoption or to preserve the family unit. Most recently, I led a five-year project in Dallas to build Buckner’s Family Hope Center in the Bachman Lake community, where the child removal rate is twice that of Dallas County’s average. This new facility is opening its doors to hundreds of families this month and will work to strengthen them so that they can care for their children and help them realize their fullest potentials. The goal is to keep children in families. Throughout my career, this has been my goal as well. The question for me is simple - if children are already living outside of families, how do we move them quickly so they can start benefitting from the love and care of a mom and dad?
Tell me about your own family. How has working in this field affected your everyday life or outlook on the world?
My husband, Michael, and I are passionate about creating a nurturing home environment for our three girls – all currently under the age of 4! Our girls are already creating tight bonds at an early age and their unique personalities compliment each other so well. As Michael and I are both only children, friends and extended family are very important to us, and we want our girls to love and value the strong community that surrounds and supports them. After visiting Guatemala, I quickly understood the critical nature of this work to help children grow up in loving families or to strengthen families for children because of the impact that my parents, grandparents, friends, and extended family had on me. They provided for my immediate needs, instilled in me a strong faith, and empowered me to reach my fullest potential. Now that I have three very young girls, I understand more deeply the impact of a safe and loving family on the development of a child, and I get to watch that development every day.
How have you seen the benefits of vulnerable children being with a family instead of an institution?
No matter their economic status or physical living conditions, children in families have visible light and hope in their eyes; sorrow and despair are obvious in the eyes of children in orphanages. Most of us take for granted the impact that living in a family has on our lives. As a child, I knew that my parents would respond to my cry or need for help. I didn’t have to worry about doctor appointments or registering for school. I was exposed to life experiences through play or travel. I learned to serve by watching my parents care for others and meet their needs. The list goes on, and the same is true with my own children. I am learning every day how to meet their immediate and long-term needs and prepare them to be contributing, selfless, and generous adults who serve others well. How is this possible without a family? Every child deserves this chance.
What problems do you hope to solve from your work at BEB?
The majority of my experience has been in promoting best practices for serving children and families. This work transforms one child and family at a time and is essential to moving the system forward. I am excited to join Both Ends Believing and be a part of another piece of this puzzle in truly engaging governments to help ensure that every child can know the love and protection of a family – either their own biological family or one through foster care or adoption. I recall standing in large, government orphanages, among hundreds of children, and thinking, “What is the solution? How in the world can we get these kids out?” When a child is one of hundreds in an orphanage, she lacks an identity and a name. Without a name and a story, she’s lost; child welfare workers cannot build a case for the best placement of a child. There may be a family member who’s ready to reunite with the child or a foster or adoptive family could be ready to step in, but the process can’t start until the child is known and found. BEB’s Children First software (CFS) provides the solution, and we need governments and non-profit partners to use CFS to register and place children into forever families. We also need agency partners to help ensure all families are strong and ready to nurture their children. I am excited to join BEB and our partners in solving this systematic problem for children.
What can others not working in the child welfare field do to help support and love these children?
You can be an advocate for children around the world no matter where you live and no matter your ability to travel and serve them directly. A financial gift of any size can help Both Ends Believing strengthen the Children First software and partner with countries where thousands of children are living without an identity. The faster we can share this technology around the world, the quicker children can experience the love of a family. Join us today!