Sometimes a name reveals more than you realize at first glance. “My father, Bill Foster, was a real foster child,” Serrin Foster explains. “He experienced both the best and the worst of foster care. Horrifically and brutally treated by some, he was later placed with a loving couple and stayed with them for the rest of his life. The problem was that he was never relinquished for adoption by his biological mother, so throughout his childhood he was terrified that if he wasn’t good enough, he’d be thrown back out on the street. The good couple who took him in for the rest of his life would find food under his pillow after he had fallen asleep because he was so terrified about where he would find his next meal.”
Serrin Foster is the president of Feminists for Life and has been dedicated, for the decades I’m known her, to speaking beyond the “pro-life” chorus. She goes to the peripheries, as Pope Francis might put it, and talks to audiences who might be unfamiliar at best with more than a caricature of the “pro-life” arguments.
And yet her eyes seem to light up, and her inviting love gets going all the more when you talk to her about foster care — you can even tell when you talk to her over email. As you can tell from her description of her late father, this is deeply personal for her.
And it should be deeply personal for all of us. That was the takeaway from a National Review Institute event I just hosted in Washington, D.C., about foster care, bringing in a variety of speakers from throughout the country who play different roles in being solutions to the foster-care crisis in the United States. The day before, Emilie Kao from the Heritage Foundation had left her audience at another adoption event with the visual of ten football stadiums full of children to illustrate the scale of the problem we’re talking about today.
Those are orphans. Children without a home. “This can’t be tolerated,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City and incoming chair of the Catholic bishops’ pro-life office said during my Fostering Hope event. He said that considering opening hearts and homes to foster children is another way families can be “open to life” and made clear that foster-care and adoption must be pro-life priorities.
The most compelling testimonies to focus minds on these issues come from the those who are living in, or have lived in, foster care. Foster says to “think creatively to get these stories out.” In today’s social-media world, that’s not just a rallying cry for people with access to big media. Feminists for Life, on their womendeservebetter.com website, have resources on foster care worth sharing, for instance.
If every church in America found one family willing to be a foster family, we would not have the crisis we have today.
Because of some of the things that happened to him over the years in bad home situations, her father couldn’t handle baths or bodies of water. At Heritage, I listened to a mother talk about something similar involving the son she and her husband had adopted out of foster care. The opioid crisis has added an urgency to the crisis in the U.S., and children are suffering so much trauma in addition to addiction.
When I ask Foster about priorities, she says: “Children first, of course.” That means being adults about the debate and not letting it fall into the same kind of ideological silos every other issue tends to once it hits the political arena. That means keeping our emotions in check in our rhetoric and setting our differences on other topics aside. I’ve heard more than one former foster child tell me that they had been literally starving at some point in their lives — for food and for love. This needs to be a priority. In homes and in churches and other communities in prayer and in a spirit of radical hospitality.
If every church in America found one family willing to be a foster family, we would not have the crisis we have today. Children would have homes. This was one of the takeaways from our forum. That’s something for people of faith to take as an examination of conscience, and an action item. That’s something for activists who find themselves arguing with people of faith about marriage and family life to consider as well. People who believe, say, the Beatitudes are people who might just make for good homes for these children. Maybe we can have a truce on some of those issues while we get some children into loving homes.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.