By: Jonathan Reid Imagine…. You are a child “safely” tucked into bed for the night, when suddenly, the arrival of a stranger at your house startles you awake. Straining to listen, you overhear him tell your mother that he has to take you away…into something he calls “state custody”. “It’s best for him,” the man says to your mom. “What does that mean?” you wonder. Soon, this unknown man invades the darkness of your bedroom. It’s all happening so fast; it’s difficult to process. The man quickly stuffs a few articles of your clothing into a black garbage bag. Then, despite your mother’s loud protests, he takes your little hand and leads you outside. “Don’t worry,” he tries to assure you. “Everything will be okay.” Trying desperately to be brave, you fight back tears as he straps you into the back seat of his sedan. Off you go into the dark night, watching your home fade from sight. After what seems like an eternity to you, the stranger parks the car in front of an unfamiliar house in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Now in the front hallway of this house, the man introduces you to yet another complete stranger. “Don’t worry, you will be safe here.” You watch him give this new stranger the garbage bag of clothes, and then, in a flash, he is gone.
The new stranger seems nice and attempts to put you at ease; but, the flurry of questions that assault your young mind all but drown out her words. “What is happening? Why do I have to leave home? What did I do wrong? Doesn’t my mom love me anymore? Who are these new people? Will they hurt me? When will I see my family again? What about my friends? Where are they taking my brother and sister? ….When can I go home?”
Welcome to your new reality. Welcome to foster care.
Unfortunately, the heart-wrenching scenario described above occurs all too often in the United States. Every day some 1,200 children and adolescents join the 400,000 others already living in foster care. These children have been removed from their primary biological caregiver/s due to some experience of neglect, abuse, or abandonment.
As you can imagine, entrance into foster care is a traumatic experience. Having already endured the pain of abuse or neglect, foster youth must face the added confusion of being removed from the only places of familiarity and family they know. They are often uprooted from their schools, separated from their siblings, and subsequently bounced from foster home to foster home. Sadly, studies bear out what we instinctively know to be true: such instability has a negative, often devastating, influence on these young lives.
As we consider the plight of these children, we must avoid the tendency to reduce them to a mere statistical category, a societal group. Such reductionism obscures the fact that each foster child is a real human being with a real name, face, personality, and future. More significantly, every single one is a person uniquely created in the very image of God and thus endued with an inherent dignity and value worthy of our care. Simply put, foster children are real kids in real crisis who need real love. In particular, they urgently need compassionate and committed families willing to love them through foster and adoptive care.
In a wealthy country of 315 million people, many of whom profess the Christian faith, one would expect this need to be easily met. Unfortunately, this is not so. To the contrary, virtually every state in the U.S. has a chronic shortage of safe, nurturing foster families. The result? Too many children placed in congregate care (think group home); too many children placed in subpar foster homes; too many adolescents transitioning into adulthood with no family to call their own.
So, is there any hope for this tragic reality? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” In fact, Fostering Hope New England is a startup ministry founded on that very conviction. We believe that the people of God will, when exposed to and equipped for the need, open their hearts and homes to these children. In fact, they must, since the credibility of their profession depends upon it. God calls his people to demonstrate the authenticity of their repentance (Is.1:17) and faith (Ja.1:27), in part, by caring for the vulnerable child. This follows naturally from a Christian’s faith in the gospel-a gospel marked by the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross. An authentic experience of such selfless love invariably produces a heart impulse to image that same love in the world. The Gospel thus uniquely equips the Christian to persevere in the kind of sacrificial love so vital to meeting the physical, emotional, and, most importantly, spiritual needs of the foster child.
Based on that foundational conviction, Fostering Hope believes that the current shortage of foster families must be explained by a lack of awareness and vision among God’s people. We are blessed to see the Spirit clearly moving his people toward foster and adoptive care in certain parts of the country; and, we see the beginnings of such a movement here in New England. Our desire, though, is to see it blaze throughout our region. Thus, our mission is to engage, equip, and support Christians, specifically by creating awareness, casting vision, and coordinating solutions. As a culture of care grows, a Christ-like, “gospel love” will influence an entire segment of our communities-from biological parents to social workers to the children themselves.
If you are burdened for either New England in general or the vulnerable child (or both), we covet your prayer support. As a startup organization, we also covet your financial support. Check us out at fosteringhope.org to discover more. In the meantime, may the glory of God’s adopting live shine radiantly both in New England and around the world.
CBMW Guest Blogger Jonathan Reid is the executive director of Fostering Hope New England. He lives in Providence, RI with his wife Virginia, their two sons, and two foster children. He is a member of Grace Harbor Church in Providence.
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