Since 1988, the month of May has been dedicated to advocacy and awareness regarding the needs of children, youth, families and professionals whose lives are involved in the system. Although it originally began as a month dedicated to acknowledging the good works of foster parents, the mission and theme has expanded to promote overall awareness of the foster care system.
Why is National Foster Care Month important? Because as believers, we know the Lord asks us to care for the least of these. We know children and families whose lives have been disrupted by abuse and neglect are struggling. We also know that the system is often overburdened. Caring for the least of these includes caring for at-risk children and families.
Here are a few things to know about the foster care system:
1) Children enter foster care due to abuse and neglect. When a child abuse hotline call is received by the State of Missouri Children’s Division, trained investigators respond to the concerns. It is important to know that not every hotline results in children being removed from their home of origin. Often, if needed, services are put into the homes to assure safety and keep families intact. If a child is removed, this means the investigation resulted in significant concerns for a child’s well-being and safety.
2) Removals, even from an unsafe situation, are traumatic for children. This is often misunderstood. Separation is hard. Not knowing where they’re moving is hard. Not fully understanding the reason why they’re being removed is hard. Nothing about being taken out of one’s family is easy. It doesn’t feel like a “rescue.” This is why becoming “trauma-informed” is vital for families entering into the world of foster parenting.
3) The primary goal for children entering the system is reunification with biological parents. This is federal law by which all states must abide. Courts and agencies are mandated by this law to put in place treatment plans and resources to help in the restoration of the family. Adoption may become a goal, but only after a year or more of considerate efforts are made to reunify.
4) There is a huge need in Missouri for foster families willing to take sibling groups, older youth and kids with social/emotional/behavioral challenges. Child welfare agencies are continually targeting their recruitment efforts toward families who will accept children and youth who fall into these categories. If a sibling group is separated into different foster homes, there is a greater risk for them to remain separated (unless reunification occurs). Siblings need to be together, if at all possible. Older youth and those with social and emotional challenges need placement into family settings but are often at risk for being placed in residential type of settings. While these settings provide structure, they are not the same as a family home.
Agencies like MBCH Children and Family Ministries, along with Missouri’s Children Division, work diligently to provide services but they need involvement from the community to better serve at-risk families, foster youth and foster families. What can churches do to support families and children involved in the child welfare system? Seek out agencies who work with at-risk families and ask them what your church can do to offer support. It may look like offering cookies and coffee to agency staff in show of appreciation for the difficult work. Child welfare professionals deal with trauma on a daily basis. A random act of kindness goes a long way to boost morale for them.
Agencies often need space for trainings. Offering your church as a place for training prospective foster families or hosting team meetings is a great way to help build up the foster care community. Consider adding a ministry to your church that specifically seeks out opportunities to love on at-risk families, foster youth and foster families. Become a trauma-informed church! There are plenty of resources available to assist. MBCH Children and Family Ministries Church Engagement Program offers a variety of trainings to church to better equip them to care for foster children within the church, as well as, recognize and prevent abuse.
National Foster Care Month is just one month of the year, but the needs are year-round. As the body of Christ, churches can make a missional impact on the foster care system. We can be the hands, feet and heart of Jesus in our own communities.