5 Things You Didn’t Know About Foster Care
What comes to your mind when you hear the term foster care? Does it bring about feelings of fondness or fear? Does it sound familiar or foreign? Do you picture a specific child or do statistics scroll across your brain like a jumbotron? Is your church or family touched by foster care personally or is it unknown territory? We all come to learn about foster care in a different way. Some of us have been in this space for ages and others of us are “green.” No matter what our experience is in orphan care, there is always more to learn. And despite our current level of involvement, God often wants to take us deeper. So let’s dive in and learn some things together!
1 | There is more to foster care than removal
The Church has a biblical mandate to be involved in foster care. But before we jump into involvement, we first have to know what foster care even means. The Annie E. Casey Foundation defines foster care as “a temporary living situation for children whose parents cannot take care of them and whose need for care has come to the attention of child welfare agency staff.” There are four primary stages of foster care: investigation, removal, placement, and permanency.
Investigation begins when someone suspects a child is being abused, abandoned, or neglected and contacts local authorities or calls the child abuse hotline. Child welfare services investigate the accusations to determine if the biological parents of the child need community support or if the child is in danger and needs to be removed from the home.
Removal begins when the investigation has proven that a child is being abused, abandoned, or neglected. This is not a foolproof process. Child welfare staff do their best, but they still make mistakes from time to time. At first glance, it is easy to demonize child welfare workers; however, it is wise for believers to look through the lens of Scripture for as Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7). The church and the state need to find common ground and work together to help children find hope and healing.
With removal comes the next stage—placement. Child welfare’s first priority is to find placement with safe, blood relatives otherwise they must find a suitable, long-term foster home. In the meantime, child welfare will use licensed foster parents who are prepared for emergency placement. Though placement in foster homes is necessary, ultimately the goal of foster care is reunification. When a child is put in foster care, the child welfare team works with the court to supply a plan for the family to get their children back home. This is an awesome place for local churches to step in by offering rehab ministries, parent training, counseling, job training, and more.
Whether through reunification or adoption, permanency is the final goal of the process. As mentioned, reunification with the biological parents is always the aim, but when it’s not possible, child welfare will search for other alternatives. They first look for a biological relative to adopt the child. If there are no suitable family members, then the child is placed with a non-relative adoptive family.
2 | Foster care is older than the USA
It may seem like foster care is a new hot topic. However, temporary care like the foster system dates back further than you may think! Seven-year-old Benjamin Eaton was the first recorded foster care placement in Jamestown in 1636. Fast forward to 1953, the U.S. federal government stepped in and passed the Social Security Act that provided medicaid and other assistance for foster children. Unfortunately, the more the government stepped in to help, the more the Church stepped back! Modern church missions is often focused on kids in other countries, however, almost every state in our own country is desperate for more foster families and the support to go with them. So desperate, in fact, that there are almost always children sleeping in child welfare offices because of a lack of families. The Church cannot take a backseat to foster care anymore. We have to lead the way in helping hurting children find healing homes.
3 | Biological families aren’t the enemy
Often the church demeans parents who are being investigated or who have had their children removed, but those parents need the gospel of Jesus Christ just as much as their children…and as much as we all do! 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” This verse indicates that God wants to use believers as His primary method of communicating the message of reconciliation to others.
Reconciliation is God extending His grace towards sinful man because of the work of Jesus Christ. Just as God doesn’t hold our sins against us, believers should not hold other people’s sins against them. Instead, we should share how God wants a relationship with them—no matter their past. This is extremely challenging when seeing physical signs of neglect and abuse, but we must align with the Father’s heart. When our heart and mind understand that God died for everyone everywhere, then God can use us to bring His hope and healing to biological families.
4 | Not all motives are pure
Did you know that there are over 30 Scripture passages that mandate caring for the vulnerable, the fatherless, and the brokenhearted? One of these, James 1:27, declares that caring for the orphan and the widow is “pure and undefiled” religion. This passage hints at the fact that there can be impure motives for caring for the hurting, including fear, anger, or personal pain.
Fear can stem from an understanding that if the church does not become involved, other groups with motives contrary to the Word of God will step up in their place. Anger—even righteous indignation—can be another impure motive. Anger easily bubbles up when we hear about vulnerable children being mistreated. That should anger us and move the church to stop the madness, but unfortunately we frequently feel the burst of outrage and then ignore the problem. Some people desire to get involved because of personal pain—their own abuse or neglect or the loss of a child.
But if fear, anger, or pain aren’t the purest motive, what is? The purest motive for believers is that we were adopted first by God. God paid the ultimate adoption fee, the death of His son Jesus Christ. We were adopted into His family at the highest price and in return for this great sacrifice, we choose to love others in the same way. So, when we choose to enter into orphan care, we become living displays of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
5 | Not every child finds a family
Each year, approximately 20,000 youth will age out of the foster care system. The reality is that these children are at increased risk of poor educational outcomes, homelessness, and unemployment. The hope is that the Church is more than equipped to wrap around these vulnerable youth! They can create scholarships, help youth prepare for college, assist in purchasing a vehicle, and help with entry level job training, career training, trade school, job references, and so much more. And in some rare instances, church members can open their homes to these individuals and provide the extra support and stability we know every young adult needs between high school and adulthood.
When you begin to study the facts about foster care it can become disheartening. The orphan crisis in our country dates back further than you may have realized. There is more to the legal process than you might have known. The numbers might be greater and the reality might be graver, but we have good news! The church was, is, and will always be the solution to the world’s greatest problems. The local church truly is the hope of the world! God designed it that way. We are more than equipped to step into foster care and make a difference in the lives of hurting children.
As a church leader you might be overwhelmed about where to start, but that’s where our team comes in! Children need families and your church has them. Our role at Backyard Orphans is to guide you in developing a foster care, adoption, and support ministry–one that begins within the four walls of your building but then extends to your community and beyond. Sometimes the key to starting something new is simply to find your best next step, and we’d love to be a part of it. Click here for next steps!
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