It is time to pay attention to children that are at-risk in our communities. Ignorance of or just plain ignoring the situation is not an option. The current system can’t alone meet the need.
Too many recent stories of children killed while in state custody living in foster homes like this one—Man Charged after Death of Toddler in State Custody.
Or this one from a couple of months ago—foster-mother allegedly kills a two-year-old foster child in Central Texas. Cause of death? The foster-mother slammed the young child to the ground causing head trauma. She went into a coma and died two days later.
I don’t know about you, but that causes two extreme emotions in me—anguish and anger.
The anguish grips my chest as I see a small two-year-old fatally wounded. Tears flood my eyes thinking about a young life snuffed out and young parents trying to make sense of it all. Anger rages through my veins at the evil demonstrated. I resolve to do my part to change a system meant to care for these children yet falls way short.
No wonder negative stereotypes exist about foster families if this is what the public sees.
If you haven’t tuned out yet, don’t tune out now. This involves you as much as anyone. We all are part of the solution.
Yes, state agencies, even though overtaxed and underfunded, need to make changes. Private placing agencies also need to improve their process of vetting and supervising foster families. However, these organizations will always be understaffed, underpaid, and under-supported.
New Kind of Foster Family
So what do I mean by this—new kind of foster family? First, I didn’t come up with that phrase. I heard it from Julie Kouri who is an orphan care advocate in the Austin area. A little more about what she is helping coordinate in a moment.
Here is a quick list of characteristics that come to my mind about a new kind of foster family. Please note that I in no way condemn anyone who fostered children in a different way. I simply think that it is time for more families to consider what their role is in orphan care.
Strong, healthy home.
All families have issues. We certainly do. Maybe a better description is well-grounded. Placing agencies should have a waiting list of well-grounded, certified families for kids in foster-care.
I am not talking about being wealthy. I am talking about not fostering children as a source of income. The money provided by the state is for the child. And it should be solely for that child.
Not a lone ranger.
I have heard more than one foster parent express guilt that they needed to ask for help. They should not even have to ask. A system should be in place to support every foster family. I am not talking about state and private agencies. They are already exist, some doing better than others. I am talking about community support, especially the faith community.
Not trying to save the world.
Many foster parents have a gift of mercy and compassion. They want to bring every at-risk child home even if they already have a house full. On the surface this is admirable. However, it usually is not the wisest. Parenting any child is hard and time-consuming. Magnify that when parenting a child that has endured trauma.
Instead of a few families parenting many children, we need many families caring for one or two children.
Therefore, a foster family needs to understand what trauma does to a person, especially a child. This helps curb unrealistic expectations, such as, expecting the foster child to be grateful.
Embraces continuing education.
A new kind of foster family sees their role important enough to continue educating themselves to know how to better care for at-risk children. Not out of a need to stay current on certification but from a heart of compassion and love for the children.
Downplays a personal agenda.
A couple of common motivations to foster stem from a social justice mindset or a desire to build a family. I don’t discredit either of these at all.
We never had our own children because of infertility and wanted to adopt. Also when I see an injustice I am motivated to respond. However, foster care or orphan care in general should be more than either of these motivations.
If you are a Christ follower, caring for orphans reflects the very heart and nature of God. If you belong to Him, your heart should reflect His heart.
What is happening in the Austin area
I earlier mentioned Julie Kouri and her role with a large-scale collaborative project to dramatically improve the caregiving system for children in foster care in Travis County and to improve their lives and outcomes.
The TCU Institute of Child Development is spearheading this new Travis County Collaborative for Children, and we are partnering with CPS, the Travis County court system, CASA of Travis County, many child placing agencies and RTCs, local church ministries, professionals, schools, and others to bring our leading-edge, research-based trauma-informed caregiving model (called Trust Based Relational Intervention® or TBRI®) to Travis County.
Stay tuned for more information about this exciting project.
Question: What role do you think you can have in caring for orphaned and at-risk children in your community?