We don’t have to look far to see brokenness in the world. I’m reminded of brokenness each time I log onto twitter or check out the news or speak to friends. The world is broken on so many levels. There’s the macro brokenness like disease, famine, and poverty. There’s the mezzo community-level brokenness stemming from specific causes like natural disasters, disease outbreaks, or systemic ills. And there’s micro brokenness – individual pain that friends and family and clients and self experience.
I’ve always had sensitivity to brokenness. I hate when I see others in pain. It’s one of the reasons that I got into the helping profession. And I think I’ve been more keenly aware of the brokenness in the world since beginning my job on the foster care side of social work. I knew when I got into social work that it would be my job to take on the pain of others, to carry burdens with communities, families, and individuals. And I have. I’ve seen the brokenness of teenage moms and of youth caught up in gangs, and of kiddos struggling with mental health issues and stigmas – but none of that compares to what I see with my foster care kids.
I’ve met children who were locked in closets and bedrooms for the majority of their childhood. I’ve met little girls and boys under the age of ten who have sexually transmitted infections. I’ve met teenagers who have bounced around from residential facility to residential facility because most foster families prefer taking younger children. I’ve met kids who were beaten, burned, and locked out of their homes. I’ve met 12 year olds who haven’t gone to school a day in their life. I’ve met kids who haven’t ever slept in a real bed and who haven’t been guaranteed a meal each day, let alone three.
And I am only meeting a tiny segment of these resilient children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services studied the foster care system and released the following data:
In 2009 (the most recent data collected), there were 423,773 children in foster care in the U.S.
203,411 of those children didn’t have any fit or willing relatives or kin to take them, so they were placed in traditional foster homes.
67,804 of those kiddos weren’t able to be placed in a traditional foster home because either there wasn’t a home that was willing or equipped to care for a child “like them” (age, race, different ability, emotional/behavioral needs…)
More than half of kids who are placed into the foster care system remain there for at least a year to over five years. That means many children who come into care at age 12, will still be in foster care at age 17.
Most of these foster care kids look just like my friends’ kids. Most of them like to play and run and dance and sing and be told bedtime stories and have an after school snack and talk about their day with adults who care. Most of these kids like to watch sports and want to own a pet. Most of these kids seem normal, but their lives have been anything but normal.
Some of these children will get to go home to their parents. Some parents whose children enter the foster care system redeem their lives and the lives of their children. But while those lucky kiddos wait for their parents to complete the court ordered processes, they still need foster parents that will love them and let them have space to talk about their pain and worry and desire to go back to their mommy or daddy. Those kiddos need foster parents that will show them consistency, that won’t give up on them, that won’t send them away to a different foster home. Those kiddos need foster parents who can look past odd, deviant, and rebellious behaviors and love them like a parent would love their kids; unconditionally.
And then for those children whose moms and dads can’t overcome their own abuse, addictions, and relationships, they need not only all the above mentioned foster parenting, but they will need forever homes; they will need to be adopted.
We don’t have orphanages any longer in the United States, instead, we have the foster care system. Many children in the American foster care system are modern day orphans. They need Moms or Dads as much as children in Russia and China and Ethipoia. And I believe that Christians are called to step into the brokenness of orphans’ lives to help – including orphans in the American foster care system These sweet kids’ lives are broken. These kids come from communities that are broken. The foster care system is broken. The Church is broken. But I believe there is hope.
… Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of Modern Day Orphans: The Call