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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Bowman

What you need to know about foster care and how your church can help


Photo: Tadeusz Lakota

By Natalie Bowman


Foster Care.


These two words are almost always paired with another two words – broken system.


While this description is accurate, it hardly encompasses the vast complexities that make it true. At the start of my social work career, I was a foster care case manager for over two years. I saw many children placed in foster care homes at all hours of the day. Regardless of the time of day, placements always brought conflicting emotions. Each child arriving at each foster home would sometimes have a small bag of personal items, but it was never much. It was truly heartbreaking to watch these children comprehend that the home they suddenly found themselves in was the home in which they would stay for an undetermined amount of time. They had little to no say about what was happening to them, and their blank expressions while foster parents completed placement paperwork spoke very clearly that they felt powerless in their situation. Something needs to be done to help these children. This “broken system” needs to be fixed, and I believe, along with the rest of the Danbury team, that the church could be a positive and impactful solution.


Before I share practical ways the church can realistically help, there are five things you need to know about the state of our foster care system. These facts are based on the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) found on the Children’s Bureau Office of the Administration for Children and Families website. The statistics reported are up to date as of Nov.1, 2022. I am including the website here for your reference. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/report/trends-foster-care-adoption


  1. At the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, there were approximately 391,000 children in foster care.

  2. There has been no major decrease in the number of children entering foster care each year. The number of children in foster care by the end of each fiscal year has been maintained or increased since 2012.

  3. Though there are 391,000 reported in foster care by the end of FY 2021, there were more than 600,000 children served in foster care throughout all of 2021.

  4. During FY 2021, 65,000 children saw parental rights terminated. Of those children, 54,200 were adopted.

  5. Of these children, 114,000 were deemed as “waiting” in the foster care system. This includes both children whose parents’ rights have been terminated and/or those for whom the goal is adoption. This number does not include children who are 16 years old and older whose parental rights have been terminated and who plan to age out of the system.


These numbers show one thing. There is an overwhelming number of children who need stability, whether this is returning to their biological home with parents who have received appropriate support and guidance, or adoption through foster care. Hear me when I say this – I firmly believe that if a parent is truly motivated to gain back custody of their child, they should do whatever it takes as quickly as possible. For some, it is very difficult due to life circumstances, lack of resources, and caseworkers who are overworked and/or overwhelmed with the number of clients they are supposed to be helping. These are most definitely factors that prohibit the return of children to their parents. However, I also believe that permanency should not take longer than one year to accomplish. On average, children in foster care stay in foster care for almost a year and a half, but many stay much longer. Based on reports from the Children’s Bureau, almost half (48%) of the children who exited foster care in FY 2021 spent 1-3 years in care, with 12% staying in care for 3+ years. To put this in perspective, 12% of the 215,000 children exiting the system in FY 2021 is 25,800 children.


Twenty-five thousand eight hundred children stayed in a foster care home before some sort of outcome was achieved for 3+ years. This is 3 or more years not knowing what their future looks like while trying to learn how to trust the consistently changing people in their lives. Can you even imagine? I know I cannot. This begs the question, “what can the Church do to help these children?”


  1. There are approximately 380,000 churches in America today. If every single church would support 1-2 families in their congregation who become licensed foster homes, that would completely cover the 391,000 children in foster care.

  2. The church can support foster families by creating meal trains, donating diapers, clothes, hygiene products, books, and toys to these families when they receive placements.

  3. Members can become qualified to babysit children in foster care – this is simple to accomplish through background checks, CPR/First Aid training, and usually a few other requirements depending on the agency.

  4. Churches can contact local DFPS offices to find out ways to support biological parents. Some parents are trying to get their home set up to be a safe environment for their children and may need help purchasing items for their home. Some need help finding jobs. Some need help with transportation to required services through DFPS.

  5. Churches can volunteer to connect with agencies and schools to provide donations, either materials or monetary, that children will need for school, after school activities, and events that cost money, such as camp, if foster families can’t pay for these experiences out of pocket.

These are just a few of the many things the Church can do to help support children in foster care and the families who welcome them into their home. I’ll end here by encouraging you to talk to your pastor and church staff about becoming engaged in foster care in your area. It is so important for the Church to act. These children need to know just how much they are loved – by people and, more importantly, by God. The opportunities to share the love of Christ with these precious children are endless. Don’t wait.


 

References:


If you are interested in finding out more about the children in foster care in your area, check out this link - https://cafo.org/foster-care-statistics/


For data mentioned in this article, please refer to the following links: https://www.aecf.org/blog/child-welfare-and-foster-care-statistics

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