November is National Adoption Month. Organizations all around the country work to raise our awareness of children who don’t have a forever family or are at-risk. Three responses prevail—complete disregard or ambivalence, an overwhelming feeling that leads to no action, or action.
The question for those who pay attention and want to take action in spite of the overwhelming complexity of orphan care is—what is the best action for them to take?
When I use the term at-risk child, I refer to a child who either lives in institutional housing, foster care, or in an untenable home situation.
So how can we work together to care for these children? Key phrase—Work Together.
State agencies are mandated to respond to reports of abused, neglected and abandoned children many times resulting in the children ending up in state custody.
Child placing agencies of every type help raise up, train and certify families to foster and adopt these children.
Court appointed advocates, family lawyers, counselors, social workers, and so on have worked tireless hours to care for these children usually with the right motives with very little appreciation or compensation.
However, the approach or strategy is often fragmented. Minimum requirements become the accepted standard. Mistrust and competition throttle the system.
The reality is that currrently, around 100,000 children available for adoption live in foster homes in this country. Countless others live in children shelters or group homes. And who knows how many live in broken family situations where abuse, neglect, even abandonment goes unseen or unchecked.
Again, the solution has to evolve out of a resolve to work together.
How to work together and care for at-risk children.
Help families succeed.
Be proactive by promoting and providing parenting classes, counseling, financial advice, and community support aimed at helping families succeed.
Help broken families reconcile.
Even with the best planned strategy of helping families succeed, many will encounter hardships. Bad choices, addictions, poverty, immaturity all lead to broken families. However, many of these families can reconcile and become successful with some help. Too many hurting families who temporarily lose their children to state custody never regain them simply because no one made the effort to help them succeed.
We need foster families and advocates to come alongside the biological family to help them rebuild their lives while their children are cared for in loving homes until it is safe for the children to reconcile with their biological family.
Raise up an army of foster families.
The root meaning of the word foster is to care for or cherish. A foster family should commit to the selfless act of caring for and cherishing a child until they can return to their biological family.
Of course some times even the best efforts to reconcile the biological family fail. When this happens forever families are needed to adopt these children.
I used the term army for a reason. Even though many families successfully foster and adopt several children, this is not the optimal solution. Think of these two scenarios—10 families fostering and/or adopting 10 children each compared to 100 families fostering and/or adopting 1-2 children each. You might ask what does it matter. The answer is these are children who have suffered abuse, neglect, abandonment and trauma. They need families who have the time and attention available in order to help them heal.
I know families who do or have fostered and/or adopted several children. God bless them! I understand the mentality of “If I don’t do it who will?”, but that speaks to the need for all of us to work together and care for these children. It is time to stop leaving the fostering and adopting to a few and instead raise up that army willing to foster or adopt one or two making it more possible to pour their attention into that child.
Equip and support families who foster and adopt.
As families respond to the call to foster and maybe adopt at-risk children, training and support is just as vital to help these families succeed as it is for biological families, maybe even more so. These families need tools that will help them understand what their foster and adopted children need to heal and succeed.
These families need others who don’t foster or adopt to also understand what these children need and to provide wrap-around support for these families. This can include babysitting, respite care, needed items such as clothing, toys, etc, taking care of chores or errands, and sometimes simply emotional support.
Build trust among state agencies, child placing agencies, the faith community and families.
Systematically, trust needs to be built between all of these. My limited experience tells me that a lot of mistrust exists which leads to poor or substandard care for many children. When these entities can work together and toward the common goal of caring for at-risk children synergy happens multiplying the positive results that no one entity can accomplish on its own.
For example when a judge trusts that well-equipped and well-meaning foster families truly want to see the biological family reconciled if at all possible, she can mandate that part of the strategy for reconciliation be for the biological parents to meet with the foster parents for mentorship. That is powerful when that happens!
I am excited to report that we are beginning to see this happen here in the Austin area! I wrote a blog about this initiative this summer. You can read it here. Or you can go to the Travis County Collaborative for Children for more information.