Recently, I have had the blessing and wonderful opportunity to speak to churches about how they can help children in care. During these occasions, I have witnessed lives changed as others heard the call to care for children in foster care. I have seen people moved to tears from the stories I have shared with them about my own children from foster care. I have listened as others have told me of their inability to have children of their own, yet felt the call to help other children. I have even sat by those who have told me through tears about their own experiences when they were abused and abandoned as a child, and wanted to help those children today who are experiencing a similar fate. In all these occasions, I have seen others looking for ways to reach out to foster children, seeking ways to protect them.
For you see, not everyone is called to be a foster parent. As you know, not everyone has the skills to bring children into their home and care for those in need. To be sure, we are all given different skills and talents. For some, these talents might be to care for children in their own homes on a day to day basis. For others, it might be to support those who care for them, while others might be given the resources to share. The Bible is quite specific on the gifts of talents and abilities.
Perhaps there is a church in your area that is looking for a way to minister to others. Maybe your own church is seeking ways to reach out to those in need. Hosting a local foster parent association and support group is one such way a church can serve foster parents. Another way is serving as a location for family visitations. Churches can provide a safe, consistent, warm, and inviting atmosphere for children and birth family members to meet during visitation sessions. Indeed, not only can this be a form of outreach for a church, but the message of love and forgiveness is also being practiced, as well.
There are those times when foster parents will require a short term break from their foster child. This break may be the result of foster parents traveling on vacation, a temporary move into a new home, or that the birth children in the foster home require some much needed time with their own parents. This break is often known as respite care. Respite care may also be used simply because some foster parents are trying to prevent burn out, and need a break from their foster child. Other foster parents are often used for respite, as they are officially licensed to look after foster children.
I recently heard from one foster parent who told me that their church was collecting new and gently used suitcases for the foster children in their area. When a child came into care in their community, the church would work alongside the town's foster parent association, and make sure that each child received a suit case. In fact, there are many such organizations across the United States that provide similar services.
When a child comes into care, all too often he comes with a black plastic bag containing the few items in his possession, gathered together quickly by social workers and even law enforcement officers, in a hurry to collect both the child and his possessions in a quick manner.
For older children in care, this black plastic bag can be an embarrassing symbol of all that is wrong in their life. Later, when a child in foster care moves, whether it is to a new foster home, an adoption family, or reunited with his birth family, the gift of a new suitcase can be a sign of pride, respect, and love.
To be sure, there are ways that a church can help these young adults after they have aged out of foster care. Chief among these is that our church members can act as a mentor to an aged out foster child. There are many organizations across the US that offers opportunities to serving as a mentor. Mentoring will allow these former foster children not only a listening ear as they discuss the many challenges that they face, but wisdom and guidance during times of struggle. For those businesses who wish to assist aged out foster children, discounts on services and goods are most helpful. Whether it is clothing, groceries, computer, phones, and other electronic devices, medications, and even legal and financial services, discounts on these can help those former foster youth who are struggling financially. Those who own a business or service may also wish to consider hiring former foster children, and train them with the skills that fit the particular business or service and helping them develop workforce skills.
Today's churches have a tremendous mission opportunity before them; the mission to help children in foster care. Sadly, with roughly 500,000 children in foster care in the United States, the need is so very strong. Yet, with the help of the church, these children can finally find the help, support, and love they so desperately crave, and so very much deserve.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 13 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 45 children come through their home. He is working with Never Too Late, a group home for youth in foster care. Find out more about this group home here.