Kale Chips and the Foster Care System

There is a troubling movement afoot at my house, and I’m reaching out to you all for help.

My wife, out of her deep love for our family and her desire for us all to live long and happy lives, works hard to introduce us to healthy food.  I genuinely appreciate this. If left to myself, I’d eat Chipotle burritos, chicken fingers, mac and cheese, chocolate milk, and Dr. Pepper for nearly every meal (not all at once, of course).

However, a few months ago she tried out a new recipe for making kale chips.  She mixes up a bunch of seasonings, dumps it all over a pile of kale leaves on a baking sheet and puts it in the oven . . . to wilt . . . on purpose.  This makes the house smell bad. I love my wife dearly. But I do not love the smell of hot, wilting kale.

When these little beauties are perfectly singed, they are removed from the oven.  The first time they came out, I would have bet the house AND a burrito that those things would sit on the counter untouched until they had to be thrown away days later.  And then, even the neighborhood rabbits (who eat EVERYTHING) would avoid our part of the alley where the trashcan sits.

Then something strange happened.  The kids started eating them. Not only do they eat them, they LOVE them. They even come home from school sometimes and ask if they can make kale chips.  On more than one occasion, the smell has awoken one of my older daughters from a teenage coma to stumble downstairs and exclaim, “kale chips!?”

The dog even begs for them.  The dog.

I truly don’t understand it.  They are terrible. They smell and taste bad.  Nobody should eat these things. And certainly nobody should love them.  

There are a lot of folks that see the foster care system the same way I see kale chips.  They see it as exclusively terrible. They see it as something to be discarded.  They talk about how it hurts kids, destroys families and abuses the foster parents who are trying to help.

The thing is, many of those statements are often true.  The foster care system and its brokenness contributes to lifelong pain for thousands.   The system has a certain unsavory smell that is often repulsive. And nothing I’m about to write is meant to minimize that in any way.

But, it’s important to hold another reality in tension at the same time.  It is this same system that protects children every day, saving lives, creating environments where hurting and broken adults can get help for addictions, and get access to resources they’ve never had before.  Yes, there are terrible foster parents and terrible social workers. You hear about them in the news all the time (just set up a google alert for the phrase “foster care” and you will see). But there are thousands of faithful foster parents, child welfare professionals, and service providers who are delivering healing by the truckload and aren’t making the news.  

It’s ok to say that the system is falling short and then try to do something to help.  But let’s not lose sight that there are a lot of kids and families who are safe and thriving because of what the system — or rather those in the system — have provided.  

So how does it change things when we consider things from this perspective?  Here are two thoughts:

  1. We can acknowledge that, while the system may be broken, the people in it need and deserve our support.  They are doing vital work in the toughest of environments. Many of them are as frustrated as anyone. Write a kind note, take a worker to lunch, and provide the support that gives them the strength to make things better.
  2. Often, when we see holes in the system, we say “They ought to fix that”.  When we find value in the system rather than just deficiency, it makes it easier for us to ask “Is there something we can do to help?”  After all, these are kids and families from the communities that our churches are trying to love with the love of Jesus.  We have a job to do.  I’ve seen churches over and over again step into these holes without judgement and make a real difference for kids and families.

So, I still don’t like kale chips, but watching my nine-year-old daughter inhale them reminds me that I don’t know everything.  There’s another side to things and it’s helping my family be healthier. Perhaps I should try them again  . . . maybe with Dr. Pepper this time?

This post originally appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We keep it short and sweet and fill it with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care.  To sign up, go to http://bit.ly/1rwn6eO.