Why I care about Fostercare
It has come to my attention that May has been designated by someone, somewhere, as "National Fostercare Awareness Month". This seems like as good a reason as any to dust off this old platform and try to string together some coherent thoughts.
You might be thinking something like "Why should I care about kids in fostercare? They aren't my kids. I'm looking after my own kids. They're not my problem."
On one level that would be correct. Kids in the system aren't my kids. I didn't conceive or give birth to them. I'm not legally responsible for their well being or obligated to care for them. Here are a few reasons why I chose to ignore those facts.
1. Love compels me, Jesus commands me.
"For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" Galatians 5:14
"Love your neighbor as yourself" is also found in Matthew 5:43, Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22: 39, Mark 12:3, Romans 13:9, Luke 10:27, Leviticus 19:18, and James 2:8.
I'm assuming this is really important since it is repeated so often. We are called to love and care for those within our reach. Kids in fostercare are part of our communities, they live in our cities. They are our neighbors. Not only that, they are the vulnerable, the marginalized, the outcast, the fatherless, and the "orphan" that the Bible regularly exhorts us to seek justice for.
I have been loved extravagantly and sacrificially by a God who willingly plunged himself into the muck and the mess of this sin mangled world. I have been neighbored by Jesus. He doesn't ask us to do anything that he has not already done first.
2. When vulnerable children are not cared for our whole society suffers.
According to every statistic I've ever read kids aging out of foster care, or who have been bounced around the system for years, are at a phenomenally higher risk of every social ill we can think of. Criminality, incarceration, homelessness, dependency, addictions, violence, mental illness, being victimized, and sex trafficking. This is not because something is inherently wrong with the children but rather because they have been denied the things they needed to become fully functional, healthy adults.
I'll share with you one tangible, close to home, example of the high social cost of failing children. A child who was born into a broken family filled with abuse and alcoholism spent the remainder of his childhood in about 25 different foster homes. He was failed by everyone. His most basic needs for attachment, nurture, security, safety, and love weren't met. Unsurprisingly he eventually turned to gangs, crime and violence. While out on probation he took the life of another man; someone's father, son, and brother. An entire family was rocked and grief-stricken. The pain was multiplied.
A terrible childhood is not an excuse for murder, however, it is a cautionary tale about the cost of wrecking kids. We all pick up the tab in one way or another.
Only 44% of children in foster care graduate from high school compared to 81% of their peers.
Patterns of brokenness are repeated unless there are people and resources ready to step in and throw a wrench in those spinning cycles. It's messy, it's hard, and nothing is guaranteed but the cost of doing nothing and ignoring the crises happening around us is even higher. We are the village that these kids need.
3. It's worth it.
We recently hung up our foster parent hats after 10 yrs of being a fosterhome. We are now shifting our energy into raising the houseful that the Lord has blessed us with and finding new ways we can act as a support role to active foster families. I'm not going to lie, being a foster family has not been easy. The system is a mess and so are the situations that bring kids into care but in the middle of all that mess are some really beautiful, amazing, precious kids. Kids that deserve to be loved fiercely. Kids that need stability and safety. After a decade of navigating the child welfare system I can tell you it's been worth it. None of the love was wasted. None of the sleepless nights or daytime tears were futile. The deep joy that lives alongside deep sorrow is something spectacular to experience. These kids are worth loving. So are their first families. They are both our neighbors.
So what do I do now?
I gave you three reasons why one would care fostercare, it only seems fair to give you some ideas on how you can put that concern into action.
-Become a Foster Parent.
I don't really like having to add the "not everyone can be a foster or adoptive parent" caveat because that just seems obvious. However, I do believe that more could and should.
You don't have to be super human, or a saint or some sort of parenting expert. You just need to care and make yourself available. Everything else you'll learn as you go. If my family can do it, with all our quirks and imperfection, anyone can.
If you are not in a position to open your home to a child in need, there are other ways that you can help. Now that I'm not a foster parent I feel more free to list these ideas without sounding like I'm begging for help myself.
- Be a source of emotional and spiritual encouragement.
Foster families tyically face a barrage of nay sayers and doomsday warnings from various concerned family, friends, and even perfect strangers. Be someone who will get excited along with them as they wait for a new arrival and be a shoulder they can cry on when that child leaves. Avoid "you chose this" admonitions or "this is too hard for you" sort of sympathy. Understand that they did choose this life and its hard. They need support not criticism. Discouragement can hit hard, especially when you're exhausted. Remind them that what they're doing matters. Sometimes a kind word is all you need to keep going.
- Help foster families in practical ways.
*Take a meal over to an overwhelmed foster mom. Be warned that she might cry when you drop it off because she hasn't had a decent nights sleep in years and is exhausted beyond what she ever thought possible. If she's going through a tough time or recently said a heartbreaking "goodbye" take over a gift bag full of comfort snacks, a favorite beverage, some chocolate, some bath or body product if she likes that sort of thing. Something that says "I know this is hard, it's ok to cry into a tub of ice cream while sipping wine".
*Find out what you need to do to become a social services approved respite caregiver or babysitter. This is a HUGE need since we can't drop off our foster children with anyone or call the neighborhood teen to babysit like we can with our bio kids. It's essential that we have people we can call in case of emergency or when we desperately need a date with our neglected spouse. This might be the number one way you can help a foster family in your community. Be willing to jump through the hoops, get a background check, or whatever is required in your area and make yourself available. They need you. They really do. You might have to remind them a time or two that you are ready and willing.
*Drop off a baby gift or a box of diapers. It's practical and it shows that you notice the new child in their home and see that this child has value. You see them. They aren't just "another foster kid". Gestures like that mean the world to foster parents. Maybe even throw a "shower" for new foster parents. That would be pretty incredible.
*Spend some time with foster siblings. These are the unsung heroes of foster families. The permanent or bio kids of foster parents share in both the heartaches and joys that come with foster care. They also share their parents, their rooms, their toys and their time. Sometimes their portion of a parents time and energy is meager because the needs of the little ones who come through the door are immense and all-consuming. These kids would probably love to come over and do some crafts, go to an event, or go out for lunch and have someone's uninterrupted time and attention. A luxury not found at home. We love it when trusted adults invest in our kids. There are many gaps to fill and we need all the help we can get. As foster parents, we feel guilty and inadequate so much of the time. We second guess how our choices affect our own kids everytime we see them go without something or witness their hearts breaking when a beloved foster baby leaves. What a relief it would be for someone to take one of our older kids to their basketball game and stay to cheer them on when we're cooped up at home with toddlers and fussy babies. Invite them over, take them out, let them know that what they're doing as foster siblings matters too. Sometimes messages coming from a different voice has more impact.
*Shovel the walk, mow the lawn, pick up some groceries. These are all easy ways to help support families who are in the trenches and doing the hard work of fostercare.
- Be a mentor. There are many ways to invest in the life of vulnerable kids outside of the nitty gritty stuff of parenting them. Volunteer at a group home or program for at risk youth.Volunteer some time at a crises nursery. Be involved in church ministries aimed at children and youth. Chances are there will be some kids there that need some extra attention. Coaches, teachers, Youth Pastors, Big brothers and Sisters. You are all important. Keep in mind that kids that need love the most may be the hardest ones to like. The more people a kid has on their team the better. They need to know that someone sees potential in them, that someone knows they can succeed, and that someone sees their worth and reminds them of that. You might be the only person giving them that message.
These kids, and foster families, need community. They need a village.
You are part of that village.