Brad and I were watching Planet Earth last night (which is, by the way, our dogs’ favorite show) and came across a scene with penguin parents and their chicks:
Narrator: The urge to parent is so strong that mother penguins who have lost their chicks will often fight over the right to care for an orphan chick.
Me: That’s what we need in the U.S., parents fighting over the right to care for needy children.
Narrator: This usually ends badly as the mothers will trample or suffocate the chick they are fighting over.
Me: Oh, well, we don’t need that exactly.
This got me thinking a lot about how we care for “orphans” in the States. In 2006, there were 510,000 children in the foster care system, with nearly half of those children waiting to be adopted. Kids who enter foster care go through all kinds of trauma:
- the trauma of living in dangerous or abusive situations prior to foster care (though this isn’t always the case – sometimes kids are taken away because of neglect, which may just mean the house was dirty or the mother was always working and couldn’t afford to take off work to be home for her kids after school)
- the trauma of being separated from parents and siblings
- the trauma of some foster families (many children report being abused by foster parents or foster siblings)
- the trauma of the system (foster children have to go through a lot of paperwork and court cases; then at age 18 they lose all support from the foster care system)
- the trauma of change (most foster kids bounce from family to family or to children’s homes or psych wards)
It’s safe to say that foster kids need a lot of love and support – in most cases, a lot more than what they’re getting. There are lots of wonderful things happening in the foster care world also. The young woman I mentor is a foster kid. She loves her foster mom and calls her “Mom,” telling me that she wants to stay there for as long as possible. The next door neighbor has taken a special interest in this young woman and lets her come over after school almost every day, where they will work on homework together or take care of the neighbor’s horses. It’s incredible to see this girl, who has suffered a lot of abuse, thriving in her relationship with these older women. To me, it is a picture of what the Church should be.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
When I think about foster kids, I have such a vision for the church to be the answer for these kids. Each of these children is known and loved by God. If the church played a huge role in loving these kids and taking them in, so many things would happen:
- We could raise a new generation to love and follow Christ.
- We could give 510,000 children hope and a future.
- We would become more loving and patient people.
- We could transform the families who get their kids back.
- We would represent to the onlooking world just what the love of Jesus is all about.
- We could drop the abortion rate…
“Those who would like to see abortion grow rarer and become nonexistent had also better be ready to take in some teen moms and adopt some unwanted babies. To be pro-life in our neighborhood means we have to figure out how to come alongside a fourteen-year-old pregnant girl. This is why we loved Mother Teresa so much. Mother Teresa embodied her politics. She didn’t just wear a T-shirt that said, ‘Abortion is homicide.’ She loved moms and unborns so much, she could say with integrity, ‘If you don’t want to have the baby, you can give it to me.'” Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
Are we willing to say that? Working with kids who have been abused and hurt is not easy, but then again, Christ never called us to the easy way.
Some more great resources on foster care:
Department of Children and Family: Every state runs foster care a bit differently, so check out your state’s website for more information of foster care or becoming a foster parent.
Foster Care Campaign: May is National Foster Care Month. Learn more on this website.
Aging Out: A documentary on what happens to kids in the foster care system once they turn 18.