As this weekend draws to a close my husband and I are laying in bed physically and emotionally exhausted. We just spent the past two days caring for an additional 4 foster children in our home while their foster family took a respite weekend. So, we had 8 kids between the ages of 21 mths and 9 years old in our home. They ate like horses, left a tornado like mess and made a lasting impression on our hearts. Especially the girls.
I think that a lot of shame resides in the hearts of children in foster care. We could sense that in these kids. When asked about their history in foster care, one responded with “I’ve only been in foster care for a year and a half.” and another child said, “I’ve lived in 3 different foster homes.” and could not seem to recall a time in her young life when she hadn’t lived in a foster home. It breaks our hearts to hear their stories. It hurts us even more when we see the way they won’t make eye contact, the way they carry and treat themselves. These kids do not have anyone fighting for them. Of course they have their own case worker and CASA, but they don’t have parents. Children learn what they live. These kids are being taught that the system, designed to protect them from harm is actually doing it’s own form of disservice (to them). The system, designed to give the birth parent rights priority, is leaving the kids hanging onto a thin thread of hope. Each move tells them, “I am not worthy of a family.” and “I am unlovable and broken.” Each additional day that ticks by for a child in foster care is another day that child does not have permanency. Another day waiting.
Yes, there are laws and timelines that each person involved is required to follow. I have witnessed first hand how these guidelines are implemented. Usually, it falls into the hands of a judge. I often hear at court “well, we are required to have a hearing on this case every 90 days, so lets schedule exactly three months from now a review hearing…”. That review hearing is basically just a fancy way of saying, ” we followed the rules! We met for the review and decided that since the birth parent attended two parenting classes and one drug and alcohol class, we need to give them 90 more days to try to get their act together.” and then 90 days later, “well, it looks like mom and dad haven’t attended any classes but they have produced a court ordered UA (dirty but with a script from a doctor so its inadmissible in court) and have established a residence (for a week), so lets review this case in another 90 days.” THIS CAN GO ON FOR YEARS!!!! Am I being a bit harsh? In some instances, yes. But really, who is suffering here???
On the flip side there are waiting children living with foster families who initially signed up to take a child in need into their home temporarily. Some want to adopt, but most want to just be of service to their community. Some of these families decide that the behaviors junior exhibits are too much for them or the child stayed longer than anticipated and the family can no longer do foster care or they just get burned out from the system. Then the kids get moved. Again and again. Sometimes there is a family (like ours!!) that wants to adopt the children whom they have fostered for years but continue to wait on the state to decide when it would be a good idea to terminate parental rights or finalize adoption paperwork. Say that a family doesn’t want to adopt, but has cared for that child for years. Now, that child is an older, more difficult to place child because many adoptive families prefer younger children. What if that child is part of a large sibling set and they’ve been separated for years because their current foster family didn’t have room for all of the siblings? You see how this gets complicated and ugly as the child waits for permanency?
It is no wonder these kids walk around wearing an invisible, but palpable cloak of shame.
I am not entirely sure of a solution. It is a multifaceted problem. Our government is too involved in a system that the church should be the head of. God calls us all to care for orphans and widows in their distress. If every church in the United States stepped forward and offered to become a foster or adoptive family, there would be no more orphans. If they church body advocated and supported foster and adoptive families more heavily I believe more families would come forward to care for the least of these. Sadly, this is not the case. Not yet, anyway.
What can you do, right now? What is your church doing? Will you advocate for these children?
If not us, than who?