This is the third of a four part series on what it means when we say we are aiming for more than enough before, during and beyond foster care in every county in the country. Here’s a quick review the four facets of more than enough…
- More than enough foster and kinship families for every child to have an ideal placement (first post)
- More than enough adoptive families for every child waiting for adoption (second post)
- More than enough help for biological families trying to stabilize and reunify (this week’s post)
- More than enough wrap-around support from the church for foster, kinship, adoptive and biological families
If you’ve listened to enough sermons you have certainly heard this quote from 1924 Olympian, Eric Liddell in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire:
“God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
These are the words of a man that understands that when it comes to running, he was made for this.
One of the concepts in foster care that we in the Church have been slow to accept is the idea of coming alongside of biological families. The underlying assumption about foster care for many is that it exists to remove kids from “bad” families and put them into “good” ones.
Many people get involved in foster care to protect children. However, once you’ve been involved in foster care for a while, you realize that this is a good motivation but an incomplete one. Foster care at its best is also about family restoration. Perhaps some of our bias against biological families comes from the assumption that most children enter foster care because of physical or sexual abuse. However the latest available data tells us the most common reasons children enter care:
- 62% Neglect
- 36% Parental Drug Abuse
- 14% Caretaker Inability to Cope
- 12% Physical Abuse
- 10% Housing
- 9% Child Behavior
- 7% Parent Incarceration
- 5% Alcohol Abuse
- 5% Abandonment
- 4% Sexual Abuse
- 2% Child Drug Abuse
- 2% Child Disability
- 1% Relinquishment
- 1% Parental Death
You’ll notice that neglect is not the same as abandonment. Sometimes we think of them as synonymous. But a neglectful parent is not necessarily a parent who doesn’t care. Often, neglect happens due to addiction or lack of education about what appropriate care of a child looks like. These are issues that can be addressed. You’ll notice that, by comparison, a relatively small percentage of children in foster care are there because of physical or sexual abuse.
When the church really began to revisit its role in taking care of vulnerable children in recent years, most people could get behind the idea of adoption and foster parenting (or at least behind the idea of other people in the church adopting and fostering). Where we have lagged behind public child welfare over the last 15 years (and thankfully are now catching up) is this idea of restoring and reunifying families. The truth is, if there is any concept that we in the Church should have been embracing all along, it is this one.
After all, we are the ones who believe that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17 ESV). We are the ones that believe in the redemption and transformation of broken things and we believe they can be made whole again. It is common for us to encounter people in the church on a weekly basis who, in Christ, are overcoming addiction and brokenness of all types and believe the God we serve is the One who “will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25 ESV).
The data from 2017 suggests that, 49% of the 247,631 children exiting foster care were reunited with their biological families. Twenty-four percent were adopted, 8% were emancipated, 10% went to live with a guardian and 7% went to live with another relative.
I believe that 49% reunification number could be significantly higher if the church does what it is capable of. No other institution has the built-in structures to facilitate reunification like the Church. The Church is generally pretty good at things like addiction recovery ministry, marriage and parenting ministry, and transporting people all over the city (to visits, appointments, etc). We have full-time paid staff in many churches dedicated to facilitating community among small groups. We have mentoring ministries, women’s ministries, men’s ministries, personal finance ministries and prison ministries. For far too long we have passed off the job of restoring families in foster care to the government when we are the ones that have all the tools to do it.
For many, the thought of interacting with biological families is scary. Most of that fear comes from never having (knowingly) met one. Certainly, the idea of building a relationship with a person who physically abuses children is daunting, but as we covered earlier, that is not the story for most of the children in care. And even when it is, we should certainly be wise, but fear has no place here. As William G.T. Shedd wrote, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
We have all known brokenness. The God who restored each of us can restore anyone and one of His primary tools for doing that is His people. If anyone ought to be about family restoration, it should be us. Church, we were made for this.
NOTE: If you believe that more than enough before, during, and beyond foster care is possible in your county, be sure to sign the MORE THAN ENOUGH declaration at MoreThanEnoughTogether.org. More Than Enough is a collaborative movement facilitated by the CAFO community.
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.