Why Churches Need to Step Up: Increasing Foster Homes in Our Nation

Recently, I have been overwhelmed with some disturbing facts related to our nations foster care system. Not facts related to the process, but facts related to foster homes. Or, should I say, the lack of foster homes across the nation.

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Lets focus on Arizona first. During a 6 month period over 25,000 calls were received by the Child Abuse Hotline that met criteria for a DCS report, increasing the number of children placed in out-of-home care over 1000 for a total of nearly 17,000 children (CASA of Arizona). It is hard to even fathom these numbers. Where do these 17,000 children stay? Just this past week, in one county alone, there were over 36 children waiting to find a foster home to stay. This means 36 children have had their entire lives turned upside down without having a “family unit” to rely on. These children are sleeping in holding centers, and others are sleeping in office cubicles on cots. This is not just for a night. This is for days and days. Many of these children are infants. How can a child process all that is going on without a parental figure, home, bedroom, and other basic necessities to fall back on? A cot, bird bathes, and meals in an office is not conducive to healing, or even childhood in general.  Recently Arizona was sued over many poor conditions in foster care, one being the severe lack of foster homes.

Let’s visit California’s medically fragile foster care homes. In one county in Southern California, there are nearly 250 children awaiting homes in which to be placed. These children, all with medical issues, are currently waiting their days in a hospital bed, instead of with a family. I can’t tell you how wrong this is for these children and our healthcare system. As a nurse I know the daily routine nurses face. They give as much love as possible, but at the end of the day, there are many patients for which to care. This doesn’t leave time to give enough affection needed to these growing minds and bodies. Constant caregiver turnover (nurses work 12 hour shifts) also creates more issues regarding attachment for these children.  As for healthcare, look at the number of hospital beds that are full from children not needing actual hospital care, but have no where else to go. The financial burden this puts on our health care system is tremendous. Many counties and states face a deficit of medically fragile foster homes. Recently, a foster mom friend of mine in Hawaii revealed that on the main island with a population 1 million, there are only 15 medically fragile foster homes. FIFTEEN! That ratio is undeniably low.

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California’s large foster care departments face many similar issues as Arizona’s. In less than a five year period, they lost nearly half of licensed foster homes. This means nearly half of all foster homes stopped fostering for one reason or another. Why? Often, foster parents feel alone in their emotions, not prepared, and not able to fully advocate for a child that more often than not, they know more about than anyone.

So, where is the church in all of this?

77% of Christians believe they should be involved in foster care, yet only 5% are actively involved in foster care in one way or another and only 3% are current licensed foster parents.

Step up church!

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What steps can the church make to help support foster care?

  1. PRAY. What is the easiest thing the church can do for the foster care system? Pray. Pray for the children in foster care. Pray for foster parents. Pray for biological parents. Pray for foster care workers. Pray for the judges. Pray for the CASA or GAL (court appointed child advocate). Pray for new families to open their homes to children in need. Pray for the system.
  2. Provide space and support for education. Provide space for licensing agencies to hold classes, meetings, and education for current and potential foster parents. Also, provide childcare for parents who attend these trainings. Often these classes, meetings, and educations are held in the evenings. Provide food for the parents and children.
  3. Create support groups for local foster parents. Support groups are very few and far between. This is how the Dropping Anchors Crew came to be. We met each other through “seven degrees of separation”. We didn’t have strong local support groups and were often left feeling defeated and alone. After we formed and realized how having this support changed our lives, we began the Dropping Anchors Blog for other foster parents that didn’t have local support available. Having people on your side that understand the ins and outs of the foster care system and all the emotions involved is the number one need of foster parents.
  4. Support current foster families in your church. Don’t wait for them to tell you what they need. Many are just able to keep their head above water for the first few weeks as they navigate the emotions of a child just placed in their home, new routines, new doctors, visits, court dates, and more. Don’t judge the children’s behaviors. Think of being a small child with all these huge emotions and changes. You can’t explain these emotions, so it often comes out in behaviors. These children need your love and support as well as the foster parents. Jump in a be there for them. Bring a large dinner or freezer meals to the house, but don’t come in or stay. Like I stated, many are just able to keep their head above water for the first few weeks. They don’t need an added stress of worrying if their home is clean enough or the fact that 2 kids are fighting, one is crying, all while the youngest is drawing on the walls with markers. Just politely bring the food, give a quick hug and prayer on the front porch, smile, and wave goodbye. They will feel the love. If you have a strong desire to come in, then clean. Don’t sit down for a chat. Clean.
  5. Donate. Create a clothing/toy/children’s supply closet that foster parents in your community can come to when a child is first placed in their home. Donate gift cards for local retail stores to foster parents when a new child arrives. Many children come with only the clothes they are wearing. This leaves foster parents having to often purchase clothes, school supplies, toys, beds, cribs, and other needs in a moments notice. It can get pricey very quickly and often placements occur with little notice or time to plan. Just think about having to purchase three bed frames and mattresses in a four hour time frame, in addition to the clothing, school supplies, and more for three children. One of our Dropping Anchors Crew mamas knows this scene all too well. For medically fragile foster homes, gas cards are often extremely appreciated. Many children have weekly appointments that are over an hour away. Yes, foster parents to receive a subsidy but it’s often not enough to cover basic items. During my first sons placement, the subsidy didn’t even cover my car’s gas bill for all his medical appointments which averaged three appointments per week over an hour away. The rest of his needs, formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, and other daily needs were an out-of-pocket expense for us. So, when you hear “foster parents are in it for the money” I can assure you this is not an accurate statement.
  6. Get Involved. Team up with organizations such as Safe Families to find out the needs of your local foster care agency. You can also find other agencies such as Together We Rise that support children in your local foster care system through providing them bags to place their belongings in, along with a comforting teddy bear. You can also raise money for these organizations to continue their efforts in helping foster children and foster parents.
  7. Talk about the current state of foster care. Don’t brush this under the rug. Talking about the issue will bring it to light, and in turn may open other’s eyes to this. Preach about it in sermons. Talk about it in small breakout groups.  Hold conferences for your county where you focus on the current state of your county’s foster care system, the children in the foster care system awaiting adoption, and more. Partner with local foster care agencies and get the word out.
  8. Become a licensed foster parent. You know your guest bedroom that sits empty? Yep. The one you are thinking about right now. That is the one I am talking about. Let’s go back to the beginning of this post a moment: Envision those 36 children in Arizona sleeping on cots for a moment. Wouldn’t the scene look much better if instead of envisioning cots in an office, you were envisioning a child, or sibling group, sleeping peacefully in their own beds in your guest bedroom? What about the medically fragile children sleeping in hospital beds? Doesn’t the vision of you holding them while giving them the love all children deserve look much better? Now is the time to change the way we view foster care. I challenge you to take the first step.

Madi

{Photograph by Julia Morris Photography}

Love is a choice, and at the end of the day,
choosing to love a child will never be a mistake.

~Kelly Hess

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How to take the first step:

Call your local foster care agency (Child Protective Services, Department of Social Services, Department of Health and Human Services, etc.) and ask to speak with the licensing worker. This person will be able to tell you the exact requirements and needs of your county.  From here you will learn how to start the process to begin becoming a licensed foster parent. To find the number to your local foster care agency, a quick internet search of “how to become a foster parent in (state or county desired)” will bring more resources to your fingertips than you will need.

Additional Resources:

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Alisha Signature

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About Alisha Palmer

Alisha and her husband Shane have been therapeutic and medically fragile foster parents since 2012, caring for many children from medically fragile infants to therapeutic teenagers, and numerous in between. In 2015 they adopted their two amazing daughters from the foster care system. She is a foster care and adoption advocate who strives to encourage others to step out of their comfort zone and into this world, providing love and stability to children during their darkest times. Follow her on Instagram @fosterloveforeverhome.
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11 Responses to Why Churches Need to Step Up: Increasing Foster Homes in Our Nation

  1. Thank you! What a well written and thought out message. We do need to step up! I’m so grateful that we have found a local support group and that we live in a county in PA that can reimburse foster families. In Fayette County, there is not currently any reimbursement, so families are completely on their own. Challenge accepted… Step up church step up! We are called to make disciples of the nations…these children are the future…you never know who you may come in contact with (parent or child). Show them HIS unending love!

  2. Leslie says:

    Can you share the source for the stats on the church? (77%, 5%, 3%?) That is amazingly sad. I wanted to share, but was searching for the citation! Thank you!!

  3. Prayer is so essential. We so often think of it as the least productive thing to do but it is the most important. A couple families in our chuch caught the foster care bug and began to meet with some serious opposition from others in the church. We prayed and prayed and soon saw some reconciliation church wide. Now there is a foster care revival of sorts happening in our body. Families I never thought would even consider it are wanting to take the first steps to open their homes to kiddos from hard places. Prayer is so important!

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  7. Becky Wiese says:

    Hi Alisha–

    Just wanted to give you a heads up that this blog (“Why Churches need to Step Up: Increasing Foster Homes in Our Nation” will appear on The Forgotten Initiative’s Forgotten Fridays blog. I believe Jillian already contacted you about it–but wanted to let you know today’s the day! (And sorry I’m communicating this way–couldn’t find another direct way to do it!)

    Thanks for your contribution!

    Becky@theforgotteninitiative.org

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