Foster Care: Why the Church Can Stop Outsourcing Child Welfare
It was never God's intent for children to be without a family. It was also never His intent for the government to be the solution to a problem that only the Church could solve.
In large part, the responsibility to care for vulnerable kids and struggling families has been inappropriately placed on the backs of politicians and government employees with the expectation that they do something they were never really intended to do in the first place. As a result, a vastly broken and flawed system has emerged that is overworked, overwhelmed, under resourced and overly criticized.
GOD'S KIDS, NOT THE STATE'S
The government is not in the family restoring and family building business. The Church is. Kids in foster care are not the state's kids, they are God's kids and therefore as the Church they are our kids too. Our responsibility. Our burden. Our mission. Our job. Not the government's.
When it comes to defending the weak, protecting the vulnerable and seeking justice in the midst of chaos and brokenness, no entity is more exceptionally equipped and clearly mandated to take an active lead than the Church. We are those who celebrate a God whose grace is sufficient in our weakness, whose promises bring peace in our insecurities and whose love compelled Him to send a Rescuer on our behalf to engage in our brokenness and fight victoriously for our justice. This is not just what we joyously celebrate within our walls "at church" but also what we are called to tirelessly demonstrate in the lives of those around us as "the Church". That's not the role of the government. That's the Church. That's why foster care is a gospel issue first, not a government issue.
A POSTURE OF REPENTANCE
I'm increasingly convinced that the appropriate posture the Church should take towards the government-run Child Welfare System is not one of indictment and criticism but one of humility and repentance. Confession that we, as the Church, have dropped the ball, passed the buck and outsourced a problem to them that was only and ever intended to be solved by us.
Within that spirit of humility and repentance here's six ways the Church can serve, support and stand alongside the work of the state in ways that offer real help and real hope - and that ultimately begin the long process of removing the burden from one entity and rightfully resting it on another.
1. PRAY FOR CASE WORKERS.
Child welfare case workers step deep into the evil throngs of brokenness, abuse, neglect and oppression on a daily basis. They stand in court on behalf of vulnerable children and do the hard work of documenting the actions of a segment of humanity that most of us go to great lengths to avoid. They're then expected to sleep well at night and function socially, emotionally and spiritually as if it was just another day at the office. Pray for their strength, their wisdom and their endurance. They do hard, hard work.
2. EXPECT YOUR CHURCH TO SUPPORT YOU.
It's unfair and unrealistic to expect the state, or your private agency for that matter, to give you all the support you need as a foster family. They can't. They are buried in investigations, case files, court hearings and the task of ensuring kids are living in the safest environments as possible. Their capacity to provide back end support to every licensed family is limited at best. It's not their responsibility to do so, it's your church's. Again, let's place the burden where burden is due.
3. MEET SIMPLE NEEDS.
While the foster care crisis is huge, even little things can go a long way. Posture yourself alongside your county's office as a resource that exists solely to serve and support the work they are doing - even in the littlest of ways. Find out how many kids are currently placed through their office and organize a backpack drive for them. Do diaper drives for infants placed in foster homes, throw parties for office employees and case workers. Bless them, love them, serve them. Relieve them from the burden. Get creative.
4. EXPAND YOUR PARAMETERS.
There's often an abundance of licensed homes in counties yet still a number of kids waiting to be placed in care. The reason? Most licensed homes have set very narrow parameters - i.e. infant, girl, white, no medical conditions, etc. The challenge is finding families who are willing to take the kids no one else is willing to take. The Church must be willing to expand our parameters for the sake of giving every child a family and forever removing them from the backlogged state system they're currently languishing in.
5. BE IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL.
These kids need stable and committed systems of support, love and nourishment. In part, the lack of these things in their lives is what landed them in the position they're in right now - in need of care from others. The inconsistency of foster families leading to the constant removal and replacement of kids from one home to the next is a strain on the system, a reflection of a lack of commitment on the Church and a devastatingly emotional experience for the child. Let's demonstrate to our states that the Church is here and we are in it for the long haul.
6. WORK TOWARDS PREVENTION.
The math says, "There's x number of kids needing homes and there's x number of churches in our country. We can wipe out the crisis immediately." This logic, however, is flawed. While we may meet the need today an entirely new roster of kids would come into care tonight and need homes tomorrow. We must not only work to close the back door on kids growing up without families but also the front door on new kids entering the system. Preventative, alternative forms of restorative care for families is essential to ensure they stay in tact and kids never enter the system but thrive safely and securely in their own homes.
It's on us, Church. These kids are God's and therefore our responsibility. I'm incredibly proud to be a part of the movement and effort of this generation within the Church towards the care of the marginalized, neglected, abused and orphaned around us. I'm also incredibly hopeful that maybe, just maybe, the next generation of child welfare offices, case workers and state run programs for children and families will be drastically reduced if not rendered null and void because of the work we are doing now. We've got a lot to do...