Three Ways to Support Society’s Most Vulnerable Children 

Inspiration

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There’s never a shortage of causes begging for the church’s time, resources, and attention, and the pandemic has only furthered that. When we think about caring for those closest to God’s heart, vulnerable children come to the top of the list, but it can feel confusing to know where to begin. While it can be tempting to want to dive into the deep end with a specific cause or organization, it’s vital to first take a step back and learn more about the landscape of our community’s most vulnerable children.

When we look at society’s hot-button issues that negatively affect families—substance abuse, homelessness, untreated mental illness, domestic violence, and incarceration, for instance—we ask ourselves, “Where do children go when their parents are suffering with these issues, when they have nobody in their lives who can care for them?” The answer is never a mystery.

The answer is foster care.

The foster care system is multifaceted. Agencies caring for the more than 400,000 children in foster care are thoroughly overwhelmed. It’s daunting to educate yourself, let alone invite your congregation into the enormity and messiness of the needs. While it will never be easy to engage the foster care system or the foster care agency, when we focus on the very ones Jesus looks toward—the children—it’s worth discerning next steps. Here are a few ideas of how we can show up to help our community’s most vulnerable kids:

1. While it may sound trite, educate yourself about the specific reasons kids are entering foster care in your community.

Call your local government child welfare office and ask how many kids are in foster care in your county and how many are in foster care within a certain mile radius of your church. This helps to break down the statistics to emphasize that these are real kids needing real (safe, often temporary) homes, even though kids in foster care are invisible to most of society.

2. Intentionally elevate the perspectives of those who have lived experience with the foster care system or are close to the work.

This includes former or current youth (usually teens) who are willing to offer the value of their story. (It’s extremely appropriate to compensate those sharing their valuable story as they reveal their trauma for the learning and increased understanding of others.) It’s invaluable to seek out the voices of those impacted by the system, including staff working with children in foster care, child-welfare-involved parents whose kids have been cared for in the system, and, of course, foster parents. Hearing the voices of those with lived experience helps to prevent us from being motivated by a savior complex and humbly invites us to listen to the experiences of those with personal, front-row experience. Taking the time to truly listen is always time well spent.

3. While you’re educating yourself about the specific reasons kids enter foster care in your community and lifting up those impacted by foster care, you may find it tempting to want to dive in and highlight the need to recruit more foster parents.

After all, kids need safe families, and the church is a place where we have a lot of families. Also, chances are great there’s a crisis shortage of foster parents in your very community. Before standing up front and inviting others to consider being a foster parent, it’s imperative that you become aware of those already fostering within your congregation. Honor and care well for them before inviting new people to come forward. While not all people are called to foster parenting, there’s a plethora of ways to invite your congregation to wrap tangible and emotional support around families who are fostering. (Some ideas may include mentorship of the kids, offering meals, lawn mowing, or random acts of kindness, such as coffee shop gift cards left on their door.) In supporting the entire family, you can help protect their sustainability on the fostering journey. Foster parenting is incredibly isolating. The church has a real opportunity to link arms with those opening up their front door and their hearts to our society’s most vulnerable kids impacted by neglect and abuse.

While this is hardly an exhaustive list, learning more about and intentionally engaging with kids in foster care invites us to walk the tightrope between reality and hope, the very place God invites us to be.


a love stretched life

jiliana

Jillana Goble is the author of A Love-Stretched Life: Stories on Wrangling Hope, Embracing the Unexpected, and Discovering the Meaning of Family. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband. Five kids call her Mom, three of whom entered her family through foster care.

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