by Rich Nilsen
The Christian Church has dropped the ball. Do not get me wrong, the Christian community, as a whole, is pretty amazing and doesn’t get the credit it deserves for all the good work done both domestically and overseas. Take Catholic Charities, for example, which is arguably one of the most productive organizations in the world. Similar accolades can be bestowed on other Christian foundations such as Samaritan’s Purse, the charity founded by evangelist Billy Graham and now run by his son Franklin. The list is long, and doesn’t include all the small churches throughout the country that have an amazing impact on their local communities.
The bad news is that there is a vital component of our society that has been neglected, ignored, or whatever negative adjective you wish to apply to the dire situation.
Early last year my wife and I became foster parents. Since then, I’ve been shocked at the lack of knowledge from many people that I encounter. When I tell them that my wife and I are now fostering two little girls, the most common question that follows is: “what does that mean?”
What it means is that there are children that have been removed from their home due to neglect, a dangerous environment, and/or a terrible mistake by one or both parents. The options are to either go to a group foster home or to a loving family willing to bring them into their home and treat them as one of their own.
We read in the Holy Bible that what “God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”* The message is as straightforward as it gets.
According to The Global Orphan Project, there are an estimated 390,000 children currently in the U.S. foster care system.** Of course, that number changes every day and not always in the right direction.
In Tampa, Florida, alone, six to eight children are removed from their homes every day. These are children with unique gifts, special talents, and lots of love to give. They’ve lost their home through no fault of their own.
The Hartford Institute states that, based on the best data available, there are 350,000 churches in the United States. Most are Protestant as Catholic Churches account for roughly 24,000 out of that large number. There are about 12,000 additional churches that would not be considered a Christian denomination.***
Studies show that between 63 million and 112 million people in our country regularly attend church service. The Catholic Church alone is believed to have 68 million members, but only a fraction of them would fit into the ‘regular attendee’ category.
The bottom line is that there are no shortage of Christians available to address the foster care issue. One family stepping up from every church in America would nearly eliminate the need for foster care placement overnight. One church family.
So how does one go about becoming a foster parent? My wife and I completed eight weeks of training through a Pinellas County (Fla.) organization called A Door Of Hope. This consisted of a three-hour class one night a week. As a full-time professional, I wasn’t looking forward to that evening session when that Monday obligation rolled around. But in the process, we met some good people and we learned a lot about what these children go through. It seemed like over half of the training involved the issue of trauma. You learn how to deal with a child who had been traumatized to one extent or another. It wasn’t fun but it was necessary.
The following video, watched over 4 million times on YouTube, was part of our training.
Towards the end of the training, you have to get your house prepared. If you are going to be accepting young children, as we intended to, then you have to baby proof the house. There are certain changes you have to make to your home, but nothing too difficult. A licensed official will do a preliminary check of the home during the process and let you know what you need to work on. Once you’ve completed the training and your house is in order (literally) you will then be approved for a foster care license.
Within three hours of getting our license, we received our first placement call. The need is great, no matter what city in America you live.
We accepted the second call that we received. It was for two beautiful, blond-headed little girls. One was 20 months old, the other six. Our daughter was five at the time. We had them for five months, and the experience, although very trying at times, was awesome.
The goal of foster care is typically to reunite the children with the parent, after the parent(s) has fulfilled their case plan. That could involve things like attending domestic violence classes, having a certain type of housing available, etc. With our first set of foster girls, the single mom completed her case plan, and the girls were successfully reunited with both her and their older sibling. We have remained in touch with the entire family and they are doing very well.
We are now in the process of fostering our second set of girls. They come from a very messed up situation, but the one thing is clear: they have good hearts.
It’s time for the Christian Community to recover the fumble. There are some really good people who are already fostering, but there are plenty more who haven’t been introduced to it. They don’t know anything about it. They don’t know how great the need is.
In the book of James we are asked: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
There may be 200 active members in your church. There may be far more if you attend one of the rapidly growing non-denominational Christian churches in this country. Is there one church family, or one more family, that will step up to the challenge?
* James 1:27 NIV
** based on 2013 data
*** Hartford Institute research “Fast Facts About American Religion“
Publisher’s Note: Although this article is directed towards the Christian community, any family can step up to the plate and become loving foster parents to a child in need.