Understanding the Problem
Foster care begins when a family has experienced ongoing distress that results in an unsafe environment for a child. Distress takes place within disengaged communities that are unable to prevent the outcomes that separate families. Typically distress signals are used to communicate that assistance is needed. Without support from communities and churches through building authentic relationships with hurting families, needs go unseen and unmet. Instead of entering into a families distress at the point of crisis, communities and churches should enter into the picture much sooner through relationship. Until pursuing relationships are valued and prioritized, the sad reality will continue to be, families in distress will go unnoticed until abuse or neglect has taken place. Once removed from their home, children should no longer be at risk for their safety. Though this is often true, they also face the risk of the failure of the system through experiencing isolation, instability, inconsistency and desertion.
Isolation takes place where there is a lack of support for a child that has been removed from their home. When children enter the foster system, they are not simply removed from their parents, but are removed from everything that is normal to them. Oftentimes they are moved to a new home, a new school, a new city, and the anxiety that all these transitions cause can leave the child feeling isolated and alone.
Instability most often takes place when there are not enough families to foster every child in the foster system. When children are removed from their parents and brought into foster care, the goal is to place them in a stable foster home. However, many cities lack enough available foster homes, therefore children end up staying in shelters, or spending nights in CPS offices. This instability only increases the trauma they've already endured.
Inconsistency happens when foster parents and social workers are isolated and pushed to exhaustion, which leads to an inability to sustain care. The foster system is a culture of its own with its own language, laws and values. When families and workers decide to enter into the foster system they are embracing the burden of brokenness that comes with it. Ripples of the abuse and neglect experienced by the children will in turn be experienced by those caring for the kids. The care they provide is emotional, sacrificial, and exhausting. When the community is not there to support those families and workers in their mission, kids are the ones who ultimately lose out; starting over with new homes, new workers, and removing them again from the stable relationships they need to heal.
The absolute worst thing that can happen to children and young adults is desertion, which leaves them without any family. It is never the intention of the system to remove a child from their home without a plan for a stable, loving, permanent family to return to or be welcomed into. Yet, there are many children currently in foster care who are still waiting for that family and many who have aged-out of foster care without it, leaving the children deserted by a community and system intended to serve them according to their best interest.
How To Help Children in Foster Care
To foster means "to promote development." The foster system alone cannot stop causing harm to an already hurting child. What is needed within and alongside the foster system is the involvement of individuals, communities, and churches. Our engagement is the solution allows the system to work as intended.
One step all of us can take is to intentionally walk alongside struggling youth and their families. Often times, abuse or neglect are more likely to occur when a parent is isolated from social support and struggling with increasing levels of stress relating to; poverty, single parenting, homelessness, etc. Being a supportive presence for an at-risk youth or single parent can prevent a family from entering into the foster system.
Advocating for a child who has entered foster care is one of the best ways they can be supported. When children enter foster care, they are suddenly thrust into a whole new world. They need people to come alongside them, offering them a constant, healthy relationship in the midst of chaos. These relationships can go a long way by bringing immediate care, as well as a support that can influence their outcomes after foster care.
When kids are removed from their homes they may be placed with family or friends in kinship care, or into a foster home. There is currently a long line of children in cities throughout America waiting for a safe and stable foster home. What if that line was flipped? What if there were more foster families waiting than the number children who need their care? You can help make the dream of flipping the line a reality by becoming a licensed foster parent.
Sustainment happens through helping families and workers stay healthy and prevent burnout. Taking care of children who have experienced trauma can be an incredibly difficult job. When foster parents and caseworkers are cared for kids experience more stability. Consistency matters greatly in the life of the child. Consider taking part in sustaining foster families and caseworkers.
Sometimes children in foster care end up needing permanent homes within their foster families. However, the primary goal for any child who enters foster care is reunification with their biological family. If your desire is adoption, there are already children in foster care who are legally free and waiting for permanent homes. There are also young adults aging out of foster care without a permanent family. The ways to serve broken children and their families are numerous. How might you remain steadfast in helping a family or child flourish? How can you represent the overlap between foster care and the gospel? How can you help foster children in desperate need of love, support, and care?
Check out our mini-course below, Counting The Cost of Foster Parenting, to learn more.
Counting the Cost of Foster Parenting
The foster care system exists to provide children with a safe place to live when their parents are unable to care for them. In most cases, the child returns to their parents (or another family member), but often children are adopted by their foster parents. No matter the outcome, foster parents are...Learn More