It wasn’t until I became a foster parent that I realized how little my pro-life church, and perhaps every church, was contributing to curbing the modern orphan crisis of our time. And I understood why. I didn’t get into foster parenting because I wanted it to be my life’s work; I got into it for more-selfish reasons. I wanted to be a mother. After 15 years of infertility, foster parenting was likely my only hope because of my age, my husband’s disapproval of private adoption, and just plain old time. I wanted to be a mother, now. My biological clock was done ticking.
Our journey with foster care began as an adopt-only desire. But after we took into care our first three-year old, who became our forever daughter, we could not be blind to what was happening all around us. Required training hours forced us to hear the horrific reality that over 400,000 children are “orphaned” via the foster-care system throughout the United States; over 100,000 of them are legally free for adoption. So we started accepting more children. Soon one became two, and then two became three, and I remember once we had seven children under the age of nine in our home at one time. I remember in that moment thinking about Mother Teresa. “I want the child. Please give me the child. I will accept any child.” This urgent plea to protect children in the womb certainly extended beyond it, and in fact was likely critically tied to it.
As people of faith, we are called to be more pro-life, not less. And so I wondered why we had this crisis in America with foster children. I mean, if there are nearly 20,000 Catholic parishes and over 380,000 evangelical churches, how could it be so hard to make sure that 100,000 children had a forever home and that 400,000 children had a support system around them to give them everything they needed, until they didn’t? Think about it. Among 400,000 churches, Catholic and Protestant combined, 400,000 children should be served. That’s one child per church.
Think about it. Among 400,000 churches, Catholic and Protestant combined, 400,000 children should be served. That’s one child per church.
When I began adding to my family through foster care, there was a deafening silence from my local parish. While we were caring for over 15 children, ages newborn to ten years old, not once did my parish reach out to help with meals for my family; not once was I offered a few hours of babysitting so I could get a dozen other things completed that had been left undone while we cared for these babies; not once were we offered clothing or supplies to manage the variety of ages or circumstances that accompanied each placement. It was in these moments that I began to realize that while we are very good at raising our pro-life voices against abortion, we are really struggling to live out a truly whole-life culture, especially on the issues surrounding foster care. We have little awareness that this is indeed a crisis likely tied to our zeal and our passion to eradicate abortion.
We are there for those mamas who choose to listen to us and choose to protect the lives of their babies. We offer support, housing, supplies, financial assistance all throughout these pregnancies and maybe for the first six months, or even a year. But what next? What do we do when the stressed-out single mama with her third or fourth baby (whom we helped save) loses her job or can’t make her rent, or can’t buy diapers, or gets hooked up again with those friends who do drugs? How do we step in? How do we prevent those babies from becoming “orphaned” through the foster-care system? And what happens when they do? Because they do.
What are our churches doing to support the foster families in our pews? Could there be a foster-support ministry in the parish that helps with meals, tutoring, babysitting, respite care for evenings or weekends, collection of supplies, or mentoring for older foster children? Could existing ministries, such as pro-life or over-55 or teen ministries, come together to offer parents’ nights out for busy couples, or mothers’ days out for overscheduled mamas, free of charge? Could there be angel trees at other times besides Christmas that collect school supplies for school-aged foster children? Could the men’s ministries do a drive for suitcases for the local foster-care association so children coming into care don’t carry their only belongings around in a black garbage bag? Could teens or college students offer free tutoring to struggling elementary or middle-school students?
I understand that not everyone is called to be a foster parent, but today’s churches have a tremendous mission opportunity right here in our own communities. Not all church members are equipped to take on the daunting duties of daily care for kids affected by loss and trauma. But by God’s design, we are all given talents and abilities that can support those who care for them, whether that be through our own financial means or through a myriad of other resources available to us through our churches. Scripture is quite clear on our obligation to help the orphans (James 1:27) and that He’s given us different varieties of gifts and talents with which to serve (1 Corinthians 12:4–6).
With roughly 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, the time is now for us to extend our pro-life mission to the children who are already here. With the help of the church and her communities of faith, these children can be part of homes and families that will give them the love and the care they have lost, yet so very much deserve. With help. With your help. With the church’s help, we can solve the orphan crisis of our generation.