May is National Foster Care Month. In honor of this, I thought I should let you know a little about why we became foster parents, and what you can do to change a child’s life.
On our honeymoon, I remember romantically talking about how many children we’d have. Regardless of which number we settled on, we both agreed we wouldn’t stop at x number of biological children.
My husband grew up in a home that frequently had “strays” (as they fondly referred to them). While his parents were not official foster parents, they took care of dozens of other people’s children over the years. This certainly planted the idea of caring for children in need firmly in his soul.
Early in our marriage, we discussed God’s command to care for widows and orphans. While many Christians choose to honor this command financially, both of us felt we were to honor it with our time and service. The Bible contains countless verses about defending the orphan (Isaiah 1:17), clothing them (Matthew 25:36), and feeding them (Deuteronomy 14:29).
My favorite verse is contained within Psalm 68: “God sets the lonely in families…” Isn’t this a perfect picture of foster care? Every day in this country, thousands of children are hungry, hurting, and lonely. Doesn’t every child have a right to a family? That’s exactly why National Foster Care Month exists: to raise awareness of and recruit families for children in need of assistance.
We became licensed for foster care in February of 2009. Over the next five years, we had the privilege of caring for 17 children (thankfully, not all at once!) in addition to our own two biological daughters (shown below with two girls who stayed with us for many months). Was it easy? No. We don’t do it because it’s easy. We do it because they need us. And they need you.
At any given time, there are almost four hundred thousand children in foster care in the United States. In addition, it is estimated there are 12 million alumni of “the system” in the US. The sad truth is there are just not enough stable, loving, willing families to care for all these children.
Regardless of your religious affiliation, you can likely see the cultural implications of this many children in need. Research shows that young people who “age out” of foster care (without ever finding a “forever family”) are far more likely than their peers to endure homelessness, poverty, compromised health, insufficient education, unemployment, incarceration, early pregnancy and parenthood. And unfortunately, these hardships often mean the cycle is perpetuated.
So how do we stop that cycle? Children and youth in foster care are capable of overcoming the repercussions of previous neglect and/or abuse. Across the country, people are serving as foster parents, relative caregivers, mentors, advocates, social workers and volunteers. Thanks to these unsung heroes, many formerly abused or neglected children and teens will either reunite safely with their parents, be cared for by relatives, or be adopted by loving families.
No matter how much time you have to give, you have the power to do something positive that will change a lifetime for a kid in foster care. There are lots of ways in which you can change a lifetime, regardless of whether you have just a few minutes, hours, or weeks to give. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:
- Learn the facts about foster care to better understand the needs of those touched by this issue.
- Send a “Shout Out of Encouragement” to a foster youth or alumni.
- Send a care package to a foster care alumni attending college.
- Donate goods such as suitcases, books, games, computers, sports equipment, musical instruments, clothing, and school supplies to kids in foster care.
- Volunteer with a local foster care program to provide personal, social, and academic enrichment opportunities for youth in your community.
- Tutor a child at your local Boys and Girls Club.
- Mentor a child.
- Become a licensed respite care provider as a way of supporting foster families in your neighborhood. (Respite care providers give regular foster families a break from time to time…)
- Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in the court system.
- Become a Foster or Adoptive Parent! Visit the National Foster Parent Association for more information on programs in your area. To see kids who are waiting (too long) to be adopted out of the foster care system, visit adoptuskids.org.