“I’ve never done this,” Sarah said.
“I’ve never done this before,” she said again.
We were at the local McDonald’s play area. Her 3 kids and my 2 were busy playing in the slide above us.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve never been on a play date with another mom at a McDonald’s Playland, just drinking a Coke and talking about whether or not 10-year olds should have a cell phone like other moms do. I have a social worker who comes to check my meds. I have another person who comes to my house to make sure I’m learning how to keep my house clean. And the local school is on my case to make sure my kids get to school every day. But I don’t have a trusted friend.”
Sarah is 28 years old and has a part-time job. She lost her two older children who were removed due to child maltreatment and now she is fighting to be a better mom to her other 3 little ones. But she struggles and lives in fear of Child Protective Services and Foster Care intervention.
The Reality of Foster Care
The CDC reports that a primary indicator of child maltreatment in families is social isolation. Single moms, primarily, are alone, isolated and afraid. Many are afraid and tell me: “If I tell you that I am struggling, you will take my kids away” and “when I need help, I have no one I trust to keep my kids for me.”
The child welfare system is set up to protect children after blatant child maltreatment has already occurred. A child is abused (trauma), then abruptly removed from their parent (more trauma) and put into a stranger’s home (more trauma). The outcomes of this government-run system are bleak. And the trauma that is experienced during this process can have irreparable damage to a child. It is seen in national statistics:
- 50% of kids in foster care will not complete high school
- 80% of prisoners today were once in foster care
- 90% of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system
While there is a great need for more Christian foster parents, I need to ask this question: Why would we wait until kids are already harmed and in need of foster care, before we step in to help?
There is a better way. We need more families to help keep kids safe and out of foster care. No child should ever be harmed. Scripture is full of verses calling followers of Jesus to intentionally move towards the needs of others, especially as it relates to the most vulnerable among us. (Is 1;17, Ps 46:10, Js 1:27)
The early Church was “branded” as those people who would care for the vulnerable, the first to share their food and shelter with another. They were eager to set aside their comfort for the comfort of another as they shared their very lives.
Friends, this is the ancient path we were to walk in; authored by God himself. Somewhere along the journey we dropped the ball and lost our “brand identity”.
What if we became those people who committed to come alongside socially isolated parents? What if we engaged with a new message; one of hope and healing found in Gospel-driven actions that communicate ‘We are family’? What if we stood upstream and all along the river ensured that no child would fall in while on our watch?
What if we empowered women to become the best parents they could be because we know that God has entrusted this child to her care? Yes, she may need extra support, but that is why we care. We are those people.
What if we thought about a relational connection before we thought about correction? In James 1:27 we are called to “visit” orphans and widows. This is not a “to-do” list. It is a call to us to become the kind of people who look out for those who need care. It is a call to a culture of proximity, getting close enough to love and be loved.
Let’s become those people.
Hope for the Future
Sarah and I have kept in touch. I have learned so much from her. And while we started as client/professional, things are different now. She is a friend. I had some things to learn and I needed her as much as she needed me.
I cannot guarantee that we will fix the system or fix any parent. But I can guarantee that if you get close enough and love well, you will begin to understand that this beautiful parent is just like you and just like me – with gifts and talents created in the image of our Great God. They need to hear “you are precious and made in the image of a loving God who delights in displaying his glory in and through each of us – broken vessels in need of a Savior.”
Let’s reclaim our “ancient brand” and become those people who serve one child, one family at a time. For His glory and our great JOY!