Recently, a local news station produced a story with the following headline: “Both the Missouri and Kansas foster care systems are overwhelmed right now.”
I didn’t watch the segment or read the story, shared numerous times on social media by local foster parents or sympathetic friends. I didn’t need to.
When I read headlines like this one, I see the real story …
… four siblings (ages 3, 4, 6 and 7) brought into care due to unsanitary living conditions.
… a sibling group of three (ages 3, 5 and 6) brought into care due to parental drug use.
… a 16-year-old with medical needs beyond the care and control of his parents.
… four siblings (ages 9, 11, 13 and 15) brought into care due to physical abuse.
… a 7-year-old whose father was arrested with no known family to care for him in his father’s absence.
I wish I didn’t see these things. I wish I didn’t know.
When I read headlines like this one, I see words that scare most people away …
… currently in a behavioral hospital.
… issues with verbal aggression and property destruction.
… physical aggression and sexual acting out.
… suicidal ideations.
… currently in detention.
When I read headlines like this one, I see acronyms. Labels. ADHD. Adjustment disorder. Bi-polar. Conduct disorder. Depressive disorder. IEP. Mood disorder. PTSD.
Some children will fight their entire lives to become more than just a label; others never will.
When I read headlines like this one, I’m reminded of stories of friends and acquaintances who’ve navigated the waters of foster care – some for years, some for a few months or less – only to say “no more” because the needs of these kids are too great or because the system designed to protect them is too broken.
The needs are great. The system is broken.
As I type this, I see the faces of my kids – two biological, three foster – and can’t believe how lucky I am to get to be their mom. I’m reminded of all the people – well-meaning strangers, family and friends – who say things like “I don’t know how you do it” or “are you sure it’s worth it?” and think that if they could, for just one moment, glimpse the transformation that occurs when children find stability and hope, then maybe the reality of foster care wouldn’t seem so great.
I like to imagine a world where we don’t have to write stories like this. Where kids from broken backgrounds find health and healing, whether through reunification with their biological family or through the open arms of another, without these impassioned, desperate pleas for support.
But this is not our world. The time to help is now.
Become a foster parent.
If you’re interested in learning more about foster care with no commitment whatsoever, or if you’re interested in becoming a foster parent yourself, then reach out to one of these great local organizations today:
Support foster families.
Though most foster parents strive to find “normal” for themselves and their children, at times, their reality can be anything but normal. If your situation won’t allow you to become a foster parent, then here are some tangible ways you can support foster families in your area:
- Be present. Be a judgement-free friend, even if their experiences sound nothing like that of your similarly-aged biological child. Foster care can be incredibly isolating; the burdens of time, resources and emotions can seem so great that many foster parents consider it easier to isolate themselves than to open up to family and friends.
- Provide a meal. Foster placements often come with little warning; the days and weeks that follow can be a mess of court dates, doctor/therapy appointments, home visits from case workers, parent visits, school enrollments and more. A hot meal at the end of the day can go a long way toward helping foster parents remain hands-on with their children during those formative days of a new placement. (Who am I kidding? A hot meal six months or one year into a placement can’t hurt, either.)
- Provide respite care. Respite is care provided to a foster child for a short period of time by someone other than their foster parents. The requirements to become a respite provider are few (generally a background check and a simple home safety assessment) and are well worth it to provide emergency care or a much-needed break for a foster family in need. To learn more about becoming a respite provider in your area, contact one of the three agencies listed above.
- Share your family’s hand-me-downs. Few foster families would turn down gently-used books, clothes, toys, unused toiletries, etc. Most foster children come into care with few (if any) of their own possessions and every little bit goes a long way toward helping these kids find security in their new surroundings.
- Encourage their biological children. While foster parents are acutely aware of the ins and outs of their child’s case, their biological children – especially younger ones – can sometimes struggle with the changes and demands placed on their family. Consider ways you can brighten their day such as including them in a family outing or providing care for their foster siblings to allow for some one-on-one time with mom and dad.
Don’t settle for not doing anything. The time to help is now.