Heritage Foundation Forum: How Faith, Foster Care, and Adoption Go Together

This week, the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC hosted, “How Faith, Foster Care, and Adoption Go Together.”

The opening remarks of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevins are rich and meaningful, and well worth watching – they begin at 6:07.  (Many in the CAFO community will remember the Orphan Sunday message he expressed a couple years ago … and we anticipate he will speak at CAFO2019 in Louisville.)

My remarks come next (at 42:08), followed by Becky Weichhand, President of the Congressional Coalition for Adoption Institute, and Jimbo Savley, Executive Director of Small World Adoptions.

For those who’d prefer to read — although we don’t have copies of the other speakers’ written remarks – I’ll include mine below (as drafted).  Drawing on important studies and data, they argue, “If we want to solve deep great dilemmas and hurts of our day ­– from refugees to returning prisoners to children in foster care to orphans worldwide –  then faith-motivated individuals and organizations are our indispensable allies.”


Heritage Foundation Forum:  How Faith, Foster Care, and Adoption Go Together

June 20, 2018

Several years ago, a boy was taken into the Child Protection System of the county where I lived.  We’ll call him Adam.  Adam was 4 years old, but he could hardly walk, no better than a toddler.  And not only was he unable to speak or express himself with words.  But when adults spoke to him, it seemed he had almost no ability to understand human language.

At first, the experts concluded that he had a severe form of autism.  But as the investigation went deeper, what they realized was that Adam was the way he was because he’d been left in a room, alone, virtually every day and hour of his life.  The absence of love and touch and nurture had stunted his development in virtually every way.

Now, I think it is important to affirm that government played a vital role for Adam.  It rescued him from severe neglect.   (It’s important to recognize that neglect actually takes the lives of more children in the US each year than abuse.)  Because of America’s child welfare system, Adam survived.

But what is it that might enable a child like Aiden not only to survive, but to thrive?  As we all know, what a child needs most of all is love and nurture and belonging.  And these are things government simply cannot provide on its own.  That can only happen one welcoming home, one caring family, one committed relationship at a time.

The great news is, that is exactly what happened for Adam.  He was welcomed into a very loving foster family.  The older siblings helped play with him and interact with him.  The mother worked with him day after day to help him develop speech – using flash cards and even helping his lips to form words.  After about a year, they adopted him into the family permanently.

A while back, Adam and his family were at my house.  I knew Adam’s story, so it just amazed me when I saw him not just walking around the back yard, but running and leaping and sword-fighting with my kids!

Later, when I was getting desert out in the kitchen, Aiden came through the room.  I wasn’t quite sure if he’d respond, but I asked, “Aiden, would you like some ice cream?”  And he looked up at me with a big grin and said, “Yes, please!”

I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than seeing a child who has known great hurt and deprivation slowly blossoming in the love of a family.  It can be hard; very hard, and costly on every level.  But so very beautiful.

Now, like many, many families that serve children in the foster system, the family that became Adam’s family was motivated by their faith to embrace the beautiful, costly road of loving him.

They saw in Scripture a clear mandate to care for orphaned and vulnerable children.  And even more profoundly, they believe that God’s love looks a lot like adoption and foster care.  As they and many families like them would express it, “God welcomed us into His family at great cost when we needed it most.  So we’re just giving a little reflection of the way He first loved us.”

That’s the root of it.  And I think it’s worth saying this.  Love and nurture and belonging are not only vital in bringing healing to a wounded child.  Although perhaps in different forms, they are just as essential to bring good in the life of a homeless person or a recovering addict or a returning prisoner.

Each of those roads, too, can be very beautiful and very costly.  And very often, the people willing to walk them with the hurting person are motivated to do so by deep faith.

So here is a thesis:  If we are serious about addressing the deep human needs of our world today, then we simply cannot afford to ignore or exclude those who are motivated by their faith to service.

This is true regardless of our own personal faith convictions.  If we want to solve deep great dilemmas and hurts of our day ­– from refugees to returning prisoners to children in foster care to orphans worldwide –  then faith-motivated individuals and organizations are our indispensable allies.

Let’s touch briefly on three reasons for this:

Faith motivates extraordinary generosity. 

  1. Regular church-attenders donate to charity more than three times the percentage of their income compared to those who don’t attend church.  Not only do they give more to religious organizations, but religious people also give more to non-religious organizations.
  2. This willingness to give has been particularly notable in the field of care for vulnerable children.  Since 2010, charitable giving by Americans to all causes has risen by just under 30%.  During that same time frame, giving to Christian adoption ministries has risen by 81% and to orphan care ministries by 90%.
  3. This generosity extends beyond money, too. Research shows that faith-motivated individuals also share their time as volunteers, their blood as donors, and much more at significantly increased rates as well.

Faith motivates sacrificial service.

This can be seen all over the world. For example, the World Health Organization reports that 40 percent of healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa is provided by faith-based groups.  (The World Health Organization, “Building From Common Foundations,” 2008.).

We see this commitment to service powerfully in the realm of adoption and foster care:

  1. Barna Research has found that practicing Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt as the general population.
  2. These findings also showed that practicing Christians were more likely to adopt older children, children with special needs, and other children considered “hard to place.”
  3. Practicing Christians were also nearly three times more likely to have seriously considered foster care. So it is not surprising that Pew Research found that 65 percent of non-kin foster parents attend religious services weekly – compared to 39 percent for the general population.
  4. When actively recruited and organized and supported, this service can have a profound impact not just on individual children, but system wide. For example, in Arkansas, more than 40% of foster homes are recruited by a single faith-based group – the CALL of Arkansas.

Faith motivates supportive community

Caring for children who’ve come from hard places can be very, very difficult. So having a community that wraps around and encourages and supports in practical ways can make a world of difference.

My wife and I experienced this in a big way a while back.  That day, our foster agency let us know there was a premi infant that needed a home immediately.  We’d not been expecting that, but gladly said yes.  But there was one big problem. Our youngest child was five at the time.  So we’d long since gotten rid of all baby items.  We had none of things we’d need to care for that precious little guy.  But somehow, people at our church found out about this.  And they started showing up, one after another – with bags of infant baby clothes, and diapers, and butt cream and lots of other things we needed.  There were lots of meals, too – two dinners that night…and lots more over the months that followed.  All of this was not only immensely helpful – we needed these things – but even more, they helped us feel that we were not alone on the beautiful and difficult road we’d chosen.

  1. Barna Research indicates that more than 40% of churches provide support groups for adoptive and foster families;
  2. A similar percent provide meals and other tangible support.
  3. Of course, this often happens informally in the organic life of a faith community as well…just as it did for us.

The take-away from all of this is not that faith-based organizations and communities have all the answers.  It is simply that if we are serious about addressing deep human needs – and perhaps especially those of children and families in the US foster system – then individuals and organizations motivated by their faith to service are irreplaceable allies.

The need is great.  We need every willing partner, especially those that offer extraordinary generosity, sacrificial service and supportive community.  Those are the kind of things that can make all the difference for an Adam…and for all of us.


*Photo Credit:  Jeff Clow at https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffclow/8132217514/sizes/c/