Raising Awareness: The Reality of Foster Care
Friends, it’s Foster Care Awareness Month! It’s a time when we remember that foster care is the everyday reality for hundreds of thousands of humans in this country.
From kids in care to biological families.
From foster families to social workers.
From school teachers to ministry leaders.
From law enforcement to judges.
Foster Care Exists in an Imperfect World
The system is easy to paint with broad strokes, and we’ve all either heard or said, “Foster care is broken.” And in many unfortunate instances, it is. In an imperfect world where systems are run and managed by imperfect people, it’s hard to expect perfect results. And in an effort to give you a complete picture, it’s necessary to talk about the tough stuff because this system is tough. The reality of foster care is tough. But the picture is incomplete if we only talk about the messy bits. And if you’ll stick with me, I think you’ll see that the story of foster care isn’t just a sad one.
Foster care exists because parents and caregivers go through ugly things like illnesses or even deaths leaving kids in a position where there isn’t anyone who can take care of them. Foster care also exists because parents and caregivers create unsafe and painful living environments for children either by neglect or abuse. Either way, kids are forced to pay a very big price. And these kids are funneled into an imperfect albeit necessary system—a system with some glaring inadequacies. So is foster care broken? The easy answer is yes.
Foster Care is Broken
1. We need more foster parents.
The discrepancy between the amount of kids in care and the amount of foster homes prepared to serve them is shocking. In our country’s biggest cities, kids are sleeping in hotels and in police stations while they wait for a better option to present itself.
2. Reunification isn’t always the best option.
Not every biological parent out there is interested in the best interest of their child. My husband and I completed our foster care licensing this past March, and nothing will strengthen your resolve to serve and love kids from hard places than hearing about those hard places.
3. There are systemic injustices within the system.
Abuse and neglect happen in families of every color and income bracket. But in a lot of areas, child welfare is more inclined to investigate reports of child endangerment when the families are Black, Latino, or poor.
4. We need legislative improvement.
When counties, and states, and nations fail to do the best by the children in their care, they fail the next generation. We need updated laws. And we need new ones. And we need for the ones we have currently to be enforced.
5. The system is failing its teenagers.
Every year, 23,000 teens age out of care without support. 70% of girls have kids by 21. 50% struggle with substance abuse. Only 3% graduate college. The majority of prison, homeless, and sex work populations consists of former foster kids. The system failed them. So did we.
Foster Care is a Beautiful Picture
I say all of that to say that the foster care system needs to be fixed and reformed. And we can only do better when we know better. But if we only see it as “broken,” then we do it a great disservice. Broken isn’t the only thing that foster care is. When foster care works well, it is a beautiful picture of grace, redemption, and of the transformative power of second chances.
A family is split because of neglect, addiction, abuse, or even by a parent’s inability to care for his or her children due to a medical emergency.
Other people step in to care for that family—people like . . .
Respite care providers
Court appointed special advocates (CASAs)
Doctors and nurses
Neighbors who bring meals
Friends who will listen to a foster parent vent
Trauma informed therapists
People who will pray for everyone involved
When foster care works, a broken family is reunified and is stronger than it once was—all because of the team of people I just listed. Foster care is the business of helping and healing kids who have experienced loss and trauma—kids who deserve dignity, safety, and an invested adult who’s willing to say: “Hey, I see you. You’re not invisible to me.”
Foster care is the business of heart transformation. Of redemption. Of unmerited grace.
Does every case look like this? Absolutely not. Many cases don’t. I know I’m painting a rosy picture, and in a perfect world, this is what foster care would always look like.
But then again, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need foster care.
Those Who Serve in Foster Care are Heroes
So, in the end, Foster Care Awareness isn’t just about examining all of the places where foster care has broken down. We could spend all day talking about that. BUT we could also spend all day talking about all of the ways that foster care gets it right! And this month, we honor and celebrate all of the people who play a role in making this imperfect system work as best it can. And in the middle of our busy days full of work, and home, and life, we pause to remember that there are real life superheroes at work in the world. They are doing the ultimate good—serving hurt people in their distress. They are laying down their lives, their comfort, their right to privacy or normality for the sake of kids and teenagers who deserve a safe place to rest their heads at night.
There’s Room For Everyone to Serve
Foster Care Awareness Month is almost over. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity for learning and engaging with it is. If you have a question, ask it. If you don’t understand, educate yourself. If you want to help, find something that you can do. It may come as a surprise, but becoming a foster parent isn’t the ONLY way that you can serve and love in this space. It may also come as a surprise, but the effectiveness of the foster care system isn’t just the responsibility of the system itself. It’s the Church’s responsibility. It’s the government’s responsibility. It’s everyday peoples’ responsibility. It’s my responsibility. Maybe it’s your responsibility too.
Foster care is broken.
Foster care is beautiful.
There’s room for everyone at the foster care table.
And we should be doing better.
If we can’t say it during Foster Care Awareness Month, when can we say it?
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