In God’s perfect design for the world, children were to be born to a mom and a dad who would take care of them, nurture them, and prepare them for adulthood…an adulthood lived in right relationship to God, to others, to themselves. Tragically, sin entered the world and as a result, children often experience dysfunction in their homes. Families are broken. Parents separated. Many children are victims of abuse and neglect. They are often exposed to violence in the home or substance abuse by their parents. As a result, many children enter the foster care system. In fact, more than a quarter-million children enter the foster care system nationally in any given year. On average, about 5,000 children enter foster care every single week in America.
The foster care system is designed to temporarily keep kids safe while their parents or primary caretakers address the problems that led to their children’s removal. The goals of the foster care system are permanency, safety, and wellbeing. These three goals that we should want for any of our nation’s children, and three goals that are in keeping with God’s will for all of us.
The Good & The Bad
Many children in the foster care system are fortunate to be able to return home safely as their parents are able to work through the issues they need to address in order to make their homes a safe place for their children. When a family reunifies successfully and safely, it can be very healing for both the parents and the children. In the last fiscal year, more than 120,000 children successfully reunified with their parents or primary caretakers. As a nation, and as Christians, we can celebrate those reunifications. We can remember that God loves to restore that which is broken, especially a broken family.
Sadly, many parents are unable to work their case plans and earn the right to parent their children again. Still, the system makes provision for children who do not reunify with their biological parents.
Many of the children who do not reunify are freed for adoption into new families. Temporary foster families often become permanent adoptive families. Other times, another family will step in when parental rights are terminated. A child loses their biological family when an adoption is finalized (which can be very hard for children). However, there is also cause for celebration as God has given the child a new lease on life, with new parents, siblings grandparents, and other extended family. Adoption, too, can bring great healing to children and can allow them to thrive in their adult lives, as God intended.
Over 50,000 children are adopted from foster care annually. Again, we can celebrate those adoptions knowing that God is a God of adoption and that each earthly adoption is a picture of His redemptive work in the world. But what about children who do not reach permanency through reunification or adoption? What happens to those children?
What Happens When Children in Foster Care Become Adults?
Unfortunately, many children do not find permanency through reunification or adoption. They find themselves reaching adulthood without the support of a family that they so desperately need. Every year nearly 20,000 youth are
“emancipated” from, or age out of, the foster care system when they reach adulthood. Though many of them have lived in loving foster homes, many have not. Many have bounced around from home to home. Many have lived in institutional settings. Many have been reunified only to reenter foster care as the cycles of abuse and/or neglect are repeated. Those whose roads have been rocky have not, to use the words of Proverbs, been trained up in the way they should go. It is no surprise that many struggle as adults.
According to statistics from the National Foster Youth Institute, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless when they reach 18 years of age.
Simply put, many kids who age out of foster care without permanent connections with loving, stable adults, do not fare well. And why would they? Many of us maintain close relationships with our parents well beyond our childhood. Many of us still look to our parents for advice, support, and more even after marrying and having children of our own. Our need for our parents doesn’t simply magically disappear upon reaching adulthood.
- Only one out of two youth who age out of foster care will have gainful employment by age 24.
- Less than 3% of children who age out of foster care earn a college degree at any point in their lives.
- 7 out of 10 girls who age out of foster care will become pregnant before the age of 21.
- 25% of children who age out of the foster care system will suffer from PTSD.
A Lack of Support
Imagine for a moment being 18 and not having anyone to call for financial help or advice. Imagine not having anyone to call for emotional support when things aren’t going well. Imagine not having anyone to visit during the holidays. This is the every day plight of tens of thousands of former youth who were in foster care. It isn’t the life that God wants for them.
God designed us for relationships. He wants to be in right relationship with us and He wants us to be in right relationship with one another. When we have good, healthy, God‐honoring relationships, we have the opportunity to thrive. If we don’t, we become isolated and experience struggle. Not only do we struggle and suffer, but we cause others around us to suffer as well.
Many youth who were in foster care repeat the child welfare cycle by having children who go into the foster system as well. It is not surprising that many of our emancipated youth end up in homeless shelters, prisons, or trafficked. It is not surprising that many of our emancipated youth struggle throughout their adult lives, and never live the abundant lives that Jesus came to give us.
The Foster Journey
Our Responsibility In Changing The Foster Care System
As a society, we must do better. We must do better at helping families stay strong, so they don’t lose their children to the foster care system in the first place. We must do better at supporting families who are attempting to reunify with their children, both before and after they get their children back. We must do better at raising up and equipping new families to foster and/or adopt these kids before they age out. And we must do better at supporting those youth who do age out, helping them find stable adults to help them through life, and providing services that will help them thrive, and not just become another statistic.
So, what can you do to help? There is much you can do.
Pray For Families
You can pray. Pray that families will be healed. Pray that children in foster care will be safely reunified or adopted into new families. Pray for kids who age out, that God will protect them and will provide stable, loving adults to help them in life. Pray that they will come to know Him because it is only in right relationship to Him that we can truly live as He intends.
Become A Foster Parent
You can become a foster and/or adoptive parent. In doing so, you can prayerfully consider opening your home to an older child, or a sibling group, who might be running out of options before reaching adulthood.
Support Foster Parents
You can support families who fosters and/or adopts by helping them continue when the going gets tough.
- You can become a mentor or a tutor to kids who are aging out or who have aged out.
- You can invite emancipated youth into your churches and your family. This gives them a place to go physically and emotionally when they feel alone.
- You can contact your local child welfare agencies to find out other ways you can support this vulnerable population.
It only takes one caring adult to make a different in the life of a young adult who ages out of the foster system
The question is…is God calling you to be that one for a young adult? Is God calling you to be that one for a child?
If God is calling you to be that one, please, don’t put it off. Children are waiting…and they are in desperate need for you, and so many more, to answer
God’s call and step into their lives before it’s too late.
To learn more about the needs of kids and families in the foster care system, please visit waitnomore.org.