I recently heard this statement and decided it’s the best way to describe how I feel about a lot of really important issues: Where there’s a WE, there’s a way.
At IF: Gathering 2019, psychiatrist Curt Thompson said this:
Our brain is more than happy to do lots of things that are really difficult, as long as it doesn’t have to do it by itself… We think we can do life alone, on our own, but our brains don’t know how to do that. My brain only knows how to flourish in the context of doing life with others. I don’t know who I am unless I see it reflected in others.”Dr. Curt Thompson
Indeed, WE is pretty much the only legitimate way forward. We know that when WE need help. But what about when someone else needs help? Does the WE still apply?
Of course it does… until being part of the WE takes us outside of our comfort zone and challenges us.
Eleven years ago we told someone who had adopted several children that we wanted to “save a child” just like he had. It’s only after more than a decade of caring for hurting kids that I can see the ignorance of our statement. But our friend didn’t ridicule us. He simply encouraged us to become licensed foster parents so we could learn what it really meant to “save a child.”
The Need Is Great
May is National Foster Care Month. Each year, advocates write articles, share quotes, and tell stories in an attempt to bring more people into the WE of caring for hurting kids.
One year just before we moved to Nicaragua, I wrote what I thought was a particularly compelling piece about how there were less than .01% of families, in the Maryland county where we lived, who we licensed for foster care. (If just 7% of professing Christians, worldwide, would open their homes to hurting kids we would never have another kid sleeping in a group home or a county office!)
My post got picked up by a local media outlet and then the hate started to pour in. I was actually called “worse than Osama” for suggesting more people should open their homes to these kids. I’m sure I could have improved my plea, but calling me a terrorist? Wow.
When our family returned to the States, we took a break from fostering. We all needed to process our experiences abroad and heal from our own hurts.
The Need Is Still Great
Now, it’s four years later and we’ve hit yet another Foster Care Month. We are once again becoming licensed foster parents… this time in California.
I wish I could say the stats were different here. But they aren’t. The needs are just as great. At this point, we have requested to only host teen girls. (It’s pretty ironic, since last time we told the county we only wanted little kids and then they gave us lots of teen girls!)
In our training, we asked how often they receive placements of teen girls. The workers looked at each other and said they haven’t had a family willing to take teenagers of any gender in over a year.
I get it, taking in kids that age isn’t exciting (for most people). The average adoptive family wants baby and toddlers, not middle- and high-schoolers. So where do the teens go? To a group home. (And lest you think that sounds like a happy place… it’s not. It’s essentially our modern way of referring to an orphanage.) The last time San Diego County published stats for this stuff, there were about 250 kids living in group homes. That is 250 too many.
Kids growing up in places like this have the odds significantly stacked against them for their futures. WE have an opportunity to change this!
But we’re just one family.
And when we welcome our first teen girl into our home next month, our agency will once again “not have any families willing to take teenagers” until another family steps up. This is where
WE All Must Care
While it’s true the Bible says some are called to teach, others to preach, others still to heal, and so on (Ephesians 4:11), it is very clear that all Christians are commanded to care for widows and orphans. This is *not* a calling, but a command. Two completely different things. (Some people get callings, but everyone gets commands.)
I was not *called* to care for orphans. Eleven years ago, I felt the same as most of you about it. But after repeatedly reading verses like James 1:27, Psalm 82:3, Deuteronomy 24:19-22, Isaiah 1:17, and Matthew 25: 39-46, I could no longer ignore the command. After praying about it, we initially looking into adoption, but ultimately decided the need for foster care in our community was too great to consider otherwise. And because we were able to do so (given the space in our home and adaptability of our kids), we became licensed foster parents.
WE Can Do Something
Having said that, not everyone has the capacity to welcome hurting kids into their homes. But we all can support those who do.
The National Foster Youth Institute reports that between 30-50% of foster parents stop fostering within the first few years after licensing, citing a “lack of support” as the most common reason.
Parenting is hard, no matter what. Add the complex issues of foster care into the mix and it’s really hard. (And also really really worth it!) So, help with meals and transportation and laundry and homework are just a few awesome ways you can support a foster family in caring for hurting kids.
For example, California does not allow any foster kid (no matter the age) to stay home alone. (They must be supervised by an approved caregiver who is at least 21 years old.) Now, our girls are 17 and 19 so we’ve been enjoying date nights and alone time outside of our house for quite a few years. The idea of losing that freedom is not exciting (especially when we are about a year from being empty-nesters!).
So to preserve the health of us and our marriage, we need to find some friends who are willing to get fingerprinted and TB-tested to become our “approved alternate caregivers.” This is a vital example of how people who aren’t actively fostering can support those who are.
Here’s another couples’ list of 10 Things You Can Do to Support Foster Families.
What Can You Do?
In my next post, I address 10 common myths about foster care. In the meantime, here are three things to do…
- Get informed: Learn the facts about foster care to better understand the needs of those touched by this issue.
- Make it personal: It’s easy to ignore the problem when it’s not staring you in the face. Instead, look into the eyes and stories of kids waiting for families in your home state.
- Talk about it: Get together with some friends and watch the upcoming HBO documentary to get an inside look into the foster care system from those it affects. (Preview below.) Then talk to people in your community who are fostering or have been in foster care.