Long before the TSA was groping and prodding the genitals of travel weary fliers the staff at the Macomb County Youth Home were strip searching the abused and neglected foster children who had been placed in their care. During the 90s my siblings and I spent time in the shelter care unit of the Macomb County Youth Home. Shelter care was a wing of a juvenile detention facility that was devoted to the temporary storage of foster children. Typically, if a foster home wasn’t immediately available for a kid, they’d be placed temporarily in shelter care until a spot opened up.
Kids were strip searched when they first arrived in shelter care, after outings (their term for field trips), and after family visits. Also, while I was there, the staff threatened to strip search us a few times when a fork or a butter knife came up missing after a meal. Fortunately, each time this happened, one of the kids would sift through the garbage and find the missing utensil before we were all forced to drop and bend for the staff.
During the strip search the staff would make you lift up your shirt and bra (if you wore one) and show them your chest or breasts. Then the staff would make you drop your pants and underwear, then turn around and bend over in front of them; giving them an ample view of your vagina/penis and testicles and anus. I remember at least one occasion during my time in shelter care when the staff strip searched everyone of my gender in one room in front of each other. As someone with an iota of self respect, I objected on several occasions to being strip searched. In response, the staff would threaten to send me to the detention unit where I’d get an even worse strip search.
The strip searches never made sense to me. I mean, we were people who hadn’t been accused of committing any crime. On the contrary, we were supposedly placed in shelter care for our own protection. I never felt particularly safe during my strip search however. Rather, I felt embarrassed, angry and frightened. I can only imagine what the children who had been sexually abused must’ve felt. Also, the staff weren’t consistent with the strip searches. Sometimes, a strip search would follow an outing or visit, and sometimes we’d get a less invasive pat down. Also, my siblings and I had been placed in the shelter unit at Children’s Village on a prior occasion and were never strip searched in that facility. The lack of consistency made me less amenable to an argument that the strip searches were necessary.
So, while the public outrage continues regarding the TSA’s suspicionless searches of airline passengers, I hope that people will take a moment to consider the ways in which our government violates foster children.