In the fall of 1998 my husband handed me a newspaper article about a five-month old baby boy who had been kidnapped from his foster home while taking a nap. That story was a catalyst for us. We called the Department of Social Services the next day and signed up to become foster parents.
The experience has been simply amazing. I have gained so much respect for children who have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care. I have gained important insights into our regional and national foster care systems.
More importantly, I have also learned that children who experience foster care need us, all responsible adults in this country, to care enough about them to be in their lives every day, not just in times of crisis. They need us to be pro-active, innovative, and available.
Foster care in this country has become an abyss where 800,000 children have been involuntarily placed. Once in the abyss, they become members of a stigmatized club. A club whose members lack any specific identity until something goes wrong. Then the public rises up in anger, demanding that heads roll, and that the local child welfare agency who is legally responsible for the child pay in some way.
This is where we need to push the re-play button and take the time to go back and re-think the way we are caring for our most vulnerable children. We can do this differently. We can step up to the plate, become involved, disband the club, and begin granting children in foster care the dignity and respect they deserve.
First we can stop seeing them as “foster kids” – a mass of children who are quite simply all the same and whose lives are not important enough to invest in. We can begin to think and talk about them as children. Our children. We can begin to turn around and reach out to them with compassion and humanity. We can make them visible and worthy of our time, investment and involvement – as mentors, philanthropists, program advisors, and interested community members.
800,000 children… Many live in a world where danger lurks. We must stand up on their behalf, become visible heroes, and full time child advocates because they have no power and no voice. They need us to build exciting new programs, compelling safety nets, and vibrant communities of caring around them. They need us to fund our state child welfare agencies at optimum levels. We, as a nation, have been willing for far too long to take from our weakest when times get hard and turn our backs on children in need. We can change this. We have already begun.
I encourage everyone to reach out and become actively involved in your own way. Let us create a new world for kids who experience foster care – a world where people all across this country care enough to be connected every single day. A world where no child is put in the position of bouncing from through a system without enduring family relationships and community connections. Imagine what a difference it will make – individually, locally, regionally, and nationally.