The Garbage Bag Suitcase is a truly powerful memoir of a young girl who was chronically neglected by her substance abusing parents. Shenandoah is treated abusively by her stepfather, and neglected by her beautiful but drug addled mother and moves homes in the middle of the night many times over with a mother that is not fit to parent. After years of this abuse and neglect, the young girl bravely makes the choice to commit herself to foster care at age of 13. It’s a sad, brave and very real story that is not at all uncommon, but is rarely told.
Truly heartbreaking and poignant, The Garbage Bag Suitcase is a story of a young woman’s success despite aging out of a child welfare system that is badly broken. The Garbage Bag Suitcase in the title is a reference to the number of times kids in care often move houses. There’s often nothing else available to stuff clothes and belongings in when children are moved from home to home while in foster care. So they grab a garbage bag and stuff clothing into it to move. It’s one of the saddest symbols of foster care.
I read this with deep interest because we adopted our children from the domestic foster care system (but as infants) and I often volunteer as a support person with adoptive families so I have a bit of familiarity with the topic matter. Foster care is not always like this and foster carers are not always unkind. In fact many that I have met in Canada are amazing people who take to heart the idea of simply helping as a village to raise children in need. But this is not Shenandoah’s experience. Her experience is real and it is a tragedy, and it is in bad need of repair.
As Shenandoah was small her mother moved her so often that she never stayed long enough in any school district for any adult to really tweak to what was happening to her. Such a brutal but honest statement on how children fall through the cracks. What is interesting here is how this person, the author, manages to survive this horrendous neglect and maltreatment to become a successful business person, author and parent. I am overwhelmed by her resiliency and why she survived, with scars, when we know hundred of children age out and fall into drug use, teen pregnancy, or prison.
When Shen comes into care she first stays at a relative’s home for a time. Her relative is in fact a foster caregiver, but this arrangement doesn’t work out when they decide she’s not alright living in a foster home primarily for boys. More children in foster care should share these stories so that people understand clearly what is lacking and where the problems exist.
I know this a memoir but I almost wish this was also more deeply studied in a subsequent book. Policy makers should read this memoir and they should take it to heart and strive to do better for children who have nobody to speak up for them. It’s a small miracle this person made it through this system in tact, battered for sure and bearing scars for life but frankly an astonishing accomplishment.
- Paperback: 196 pages
- Publisher: Mission Point Press (February 4, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1943995036
- ISBN-13: 978-1943995035
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches