On the surface, the crisis in our foster care system seems easy to resolve. There are about 600,000 children in the system, and there are about 60 million evangelical Christians who believe that pure religion is to care for the orphan (James 1:27). Surely, if 1 in 100 Christians could take a foster child into the safety of a loving Christian home, we would immediately solve the problem. However, this would be true only if a lack of foster homes were the only problem in the system. While it is true there are not enough foster parents available for these vulnerable children (the number of foster families today represent only about 20% of the total number needed), the problem goes deeper than capacity. We also have a problem of stability.
Foster placements are breaking down so often that the average foster child experiences 3 placements per year. The emotional, psychological, educational, and spiritual disruption this causes a child is a terrible injustice in our society.
This lack of stability is partly because there isn’t enough capacity, and case workers must place children with any family who may be available in the community. In a more ideal system, case workers could place children in homes best suited for their needs – matching them with similar-age children or geographically familiar surroundings, for instance.
But the most significant reason for instability in the system is the lack of support for foster parents. All families need the supportive love of grandparents who can step in when a parent is ill or traveling for work. Couples need downtime to catch up on rest and ensure they don’t neglect spiritual and emotional self-care. If this is true of “normal” families with relatively well-adjusted biological children, it’s even more crucial when a family answers the call to minister to emotionally disrupted and psychologically scarred children. Thank God for foster parents who are brave enough to craft a new, safe environment of love and acceptance so that these children can become whole, and God can restore their souls. But the Church would never think of sending couples into a difficult mission field without careful planning for their strategic support and constant care. Couples God anoints and calls to become foster parents likewise need a well-equipped and intentional community of faith to provide loving support and care.
Only one possible solution is on the horizon for the twin problems of foster care capacity and placement stability: the church of Jesus Christ. This is not something the state can do; increased federal allocations would not resolve the issue either. There is a need for a structured, scalable plan to mobilize the local church.
Based on the research we have done at CompaCARE, a new program of AG Family Services to promote foster care, here are six basic things the local church can do to enhance capacity, promote stability, and increase the quality of foster care in our communities:
- Encourage more families to take James 1:27 personally by entering the ministry to the foster children of our nation.
- While foster parents undergo their training to become licensed, recruit a team of volunteers to support their ministry. Just as God calls some to foster, He is calling others to support those who foster. Everyone in the Body can do something.
- The moment the foster placement becomes finalized, find out as much about the children as you can, and begin to anticipate the physical needs they may bring with them. If the children are babies, collect the things people normally give new parents at a baby shower. If they are school aged, find out what they need for school. If they have medical, dental, or other health issues, arrange for transportation help to get the children to their medical appointments.
- Appoint an advocate for the family to monitor the foster parents’ adjustment to the placement, coordinate donations, recruit volunteers, and provide ongoing spiritual and emotional support.
- Arrange for a weekend respite for the foster family within the first 30 days, and then regularly once a month. Even if the foster parents don’t take the weekend off, knowing they can will provide emotional support.
- Build a network of friends and volunteers around the foster family who will serve as the proverbial communal village – committing to take care of and pray for these children together.
Research on more than 1,000 foster families in Georgia provides ample evidence that churches have the answer to this foster care crises in the United States. These foster families received the loving wrap-around support of their local churches under the guidance of trained volunteer foster family advocates. With this support system, the average success rate of placements over one year increased from 37 percent to more than 90 percent.
The problem in foster care is one of capacity and stability. A mobilized, trained, and equipped Church can drastically increase the quality of placements and forever change the way foster care operates in our nation.
Dr. Johan Mostert
Director of CompaCARE, COMPACT Family Services
Dr. Mostert heads up COMPACT’s resource and empowerment strategy to better assist and mobilize local churches and Assemblies of God districts to more adequately redeem and serve vulnerable children and families in their communities. He also assists in the enhancement of the agency’s professional programs while serving on its senior leadership team.