Part of the Dads Take Over Series: Post by Trent Friberg
I used to think that if I concentrated hard enough, I might be able to turn the light off in my room while still lying in my bed. I think I was around six or seven years old. I remember trying really hard. I loved the Star Wars movies back then. I saw Mark Hamill lift and balance stones under the tutelage of the little, green Jedi Knight, Yoda. I then heard a line at church that if you had the faith the size of a mustard seed you could command a mountain to jump into the sea and it would. Then I KNEW I could if I just prayed hard enough and had enough faith it would happen.
The light never turned off.
I have since stopped trying. It’s sad, I know. But I kind of grew up. I suppose I never really thought the force existed but I wasn’t afraid to try. I mean, what’s the harm in trying, right? Later, my understanding of scripture grew a bit, and my thoughts on the mountain into the sea verse grew a bit, too.
Regardless, the hope that I might be able to flip the light switch without burning the calories it takes to stand up from my bed and walk across the room is gone. It has been wrecked.
The same thing happened with foster care. It wrecked me. I’ll never be the same.
I will now always be aware of the approximately 400,000* kids across America in foster care. Of those, nearly one-quarter of them are ready to be adopted (approximately 101,000*), but only just over half of those will actually adopted (approximately 52,000*). I will never unlearn this. I’m wrecked.
I will also always be aware that of those 400,000 previously mentioned, over 23,000* of these child will age out of foster care, meaning they turn eighteen years of age and are no longer required to be in a foster home. But they leave the system failing to officially be attached to a family unit. A longitudinal study of these kids found they, by the age of 26, were half as likely to be employed, just over half as likely to have earned their high school diploma, were nearly ten times as likely to be receiving food stamps (women only), and over seven times as likely to be incarcerated as an adult (men only).** From 2010 until 2014, anywhere from 251,000 to 264,000 children entered foster care…. EACH YEAR!***
The sheer size of these numbers is overwhelming…staggering really. But focusing a little closer to my home and my context, Washington State had approximately 9,600 children in foster care in 2013.**** Even that number is a little daunting. But what really wrecked me is a courtroom up on the fourth floor of the county courthouse that is filled (overfilled most of the time) every Thursday afternoons with lawyers, social workers, GALs, foster parents, biological parents, and even sometimes children.
I don’t know if it is like this in every courtroom across America. Honestly, I doubt it is. But in our little county, a docket is not set and so when I have had the opportunity to show up for court dates for the children in our care, I have to show up on time for the beginning and then stay until the case is called that involves our child. In the meantime, I have heard stories of parents who work hard and fight like crazy for their kids. There are some parents who reject a life of drugs and substance abuse, desperately wanting to have their children return to their home. I have also heard stories of parents who don’t show up to court, don’t return the phone calls of their lawyers, and who communicate volumes with their absence. And I have heard (and seen) stories of parents who do show up and seem to care little when it is pronounced, “There has been no compliance. There has been no progress.”
Is it wrong that I want to go grab them by the collars of their shirts and shake them? THIS IS YOUR CHILD!
But see, I’m wrecked for them too. For many, this is all they have known. It is possibly exactly how they were raised. It is them using and employing the only tools they have ever been given and have ever seen modeled in parenting. So some part of me softens even for them, as broken and unhealthy and disheartening as that reality is. I’m wrecked so bad that I look into their eyes and feel love and compassion, amidst the anger and the disbelief.
So, you see, I’m wrecked. I’ll never turn off that light switch with the force. And I’ll never be as blind as I once was to the stark reality that children right here, in my town, need love and need care…and in your town, too.
* Information published in Becoming Home, ©2013, Zondervan, citing July 2013 AFCARS report.
** Information reported by The Permanency Project, citing “Midwest Evaluation of Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Outcomes at Age 26 (2011)” as found on 3/12/15 at http://www.chapinhall.org/sites/default/files/Midwest%20Evaluation_Report_4_10_12.pdf.
*** Information published in July 2015 AFCARS report as found on 5/25/16 at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport22.pdf
**** Information reported by The Permanency Project, citing “Numbers of Children in Foster Care on September 30th, by State; FY2004 – FY2013” as found on 3/4/15 at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/children_in_care_2013.pdf.
Trent a four-year rookie to this thing called foster care. He and his wife, Lynne, were married in 1998 and have four biological children and four foster children as well. He has served on staff as a pastor since 2000 at a church that runs about 200 – 220 every week in Washington State. He loves following Mariner baseball, watching movies (romantic comedies with his wife, Marvel and Star Wars with his boys), and spending one-on-one time with any of the kids currently entrusted into their care.