On a recent nationwide ecumenical Zoom call to prayer about Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court case about Mississippi’s abortion law, foster care and adoption came up frequently, as if it were second nature. That’s because for some people of faith, it is. Pro-life is about all life. In No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives, journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley highlights leaders in a “foster-care revolution happening across the country, even in some places you might not expect,” who use a “combination of evidence-based practical help and spiritual support.”
For one example, Riley takes readers to Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Col., where 100 or so people are attending a foster-parent training run by Project 1.27, launched by a pastor and now run by a woman who is both a foster mother and an adoptive mother. The name comes from James 1:27, about looking after orphans and widows in their distress — a verse that has lit a fire under many large Evangelical churches in the past decade, prompting them to take a strategic approach to mobilizing their communities to make this their work. If you yourself do not feel called to be a foster parent, you can support the families who step up to the plate. At that particular training, each table has eight or ten chairs, and around them are a foster couple — and in one case a single woman — and at least four other adults who constitute their practical and spiritual support system. “Some have brought their parents and adult siblings,” Riley writes. “Others have come with their grown children, or co-workers, fellow church members, and neighbors.”
Those volunteering as foster parents through Project 1.27 complete 20 hours of training, though only twelve are required by the state. Jason and Michelle Watts have fostered eight children, adopting one, at age twelve, about a decade ago. He had behavioral issues, as is often the case with foster children, because of his “nightmarish upbringing with his biological parents, which included being starved.” He’s had run-ins with the law, but the Watts are hopeful and ready to open their home again. They find the faith-based training invaluable, even though they’ve been state-trained in the past and have the experience of fostering.
Project 1.27 and groups like it that are part of the “More than Enough” movement associated with the Christian Alliance for Orphans, which both motivate and equip families to welcome into their home children who often have experienced severe trauma. The goal of More than Enough is to get at least one family in 10 percent of churches in the United States involved in foster care. Enough isn’t enough, because caseworkers need options — not every family is going to be the right fit for every foster child, and vice versa.
The licensed counselor who is leading the training talks about “the sights and smells that can trigger foster kids to react,” adding that “the smell of beer on a foster parent’s breath may make a foster child think that she is about to be abused.” One of the foster children the Watts cared for would lose his temper when he was asked to do dishes. “It turned out that someone in his biological family had smashed a beer bottle over his head when he was doing that chore.” Jason wishes “he had known more about the brains of the children he was caring for.” As Riley points out, foster parenting is difficult. About half of foster parents quit during their first year because they do not get the kind of training and support groups like those that Project 1.27 provide. Charity Hotton, of Utah Youth Village, explains how confusing foster children can be, because “they love you one minute, and then they hate you the next.” These faith-based approaches seek to avoid “disrupted adoption” — where after months or years with a family, a child is sent back to foster care. “A child is initially told that he has found a ‘forever family,’ and then that family decides that they can’t deal with him after all.”
When they were previously fostering, the Watts family had a neighbor who would greet their biological daughters but shun their adopted son, and the church they attended was not welcoming toward foster children, treating foster parents as the child-welfare system tends to: as babysitters, not parents. In their current church, of about 100 families, at least six are fostering. “It may seem like a small number,” Riley writes, “but when everyone knows someone engaged in this work, it can change the whole community.”
In No Way to Treat a Child, Riley issues a challenge that should motivate the rest of us. “Plenty of problems likely will not be solved in our lifetimes — poverty, racism, international conflict. But in the wealthiest, most enterprising, and most generous country on earth, finding safe, loving, and permanent homes for our most at-risk children should not be among them.” We are getting into a heated season about abortion — which all too often is all about adults and not the child who has a right to not just life but also love. This Dobbs moment could be a rallying cry for children — so that the hearts of this nation might be softened to find solutions for children and families who will love them, in communities who love the children as well. It’s possible. It’s happening. More of it, please.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.
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