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This past Wednesday, July 20th, our program participated in a Poverty Simulation hosted by Seattle University. In this simulation, we were all given a role to play: I was Raymond Rogers, a 9-year-old boy. Once everyone found their families (which included people from other organizations besides Duke Engage), we were provided with information about the lives that we were going to be simulating: the different ages, relationships, occupations, and struggles of each family member. In my case, my mother was absent and my father was left as the sole wage earner. My 20-year-old sister had a one-year-old baby of her own and by the end of the simulation chose to forgo her university education to take care of the baby because childcare was just too expensive for our small budget.

We were then instructed that we would be simulating a month of time in just one hour, with four 15-minute segments representing each week. In the third “week” of this simulation, my father and sister left me home alone to take care of the baby while they worked and paid the bills, and, shortly after, the police came over and took me and my nephew into juvi because leaving a 9-year-old and a 1-year-old home all alone was clearly not safe.

What I found most fascinating about this situation is that out of all of the individuals in the simulation, I was the only one throughout the entire workshop who ended up being taken in by the authorities. This is especially powerful because I am working at Amara, where many of the children seeking foster homes are taken by CPS (Child Protective Services) from their homes due to neglect. Amara is a foster agency that works with families in Washington State in the foster-to-adoption process (see last blog post for further detail). I had not even thought about staying home all alone with the baby in the simulation because I wanted to be able to help my family. Not only does this indicate the immense impact of poverty on children, but it also revealed to me how tricky birth parents’ situations may be at home when CPS removes these children.

I was able to reflect upon the challenges and obstacles that these parents may face. The entire reason that I was left home alone in the first place was so that my family members could go out and provide food and a home for us. I gained an appreciation for families who live in poverty and somehow manage to care properly for their children. It is extremely impressive that on top of their own fiscal challenges, they are able to look after children and often provide loving, supportive homes. Although this was just a simulation and I did not come close to feeling many of the emotions and struggles of those who actually experience poverty, the simulation was an incredible learning experience that makes me really appreciate the Duke Engage mission to better understand the communities with whom we are working.