He’s labeled as the “bad kid” in most situations he’s in. He doesn’t like to listen when authority figures tell him what to do. He often talks back or makes sarcastic comments, and he often gets into trouble at school. He picks fights with the other kids, and it doesn’t take much to set him off or make him angry. Sometimes you even catch him stealing food from the school cafeteria or the local gas station.
She’s the girl that you don’t want your kids spending much time with. She knows more about the world than you’re comfortable with or maybe even more than you know. She “gets around” with the different boys at school, if you know what I mean. She can’t stay single for very long and does anything she can to get the attention of older men. She’s emotionally manipulative and easily upset.
There is something that both of these kids have in common. They’re foster kids, and they’ve experienced worse abuse than what most of us can imagine. He was beaten as a child and told that he would never amount to anything. His parents did drugs his whole life and bought his first drink for him when he was twelve. They weren’t around much, and he had to learn to take care of himself. He often didn’t have access to food, so he learned to steal.
She was violated by someone she trusted for years starting at a young age. She was called names and shamed for the way that she looked for as long as she can remember. They’ve both been in and out of more foster homes than they can recall, so they don’t even bother getting attached anymore. It’s easier to disrupt the home that they’re in than go through the process of getting attached and having to feel abandoned time and time again.
The number of children in foster care is skyrocketing. There are nearly 428,000 children in the United States who are currently in foster care (childrensrights.org). The reasons many of these kids are in care can vary widely, from their parents not having adequate heating to severe abuse. Recently, more children have been entering the system due to the rise in serious drug use.
These children have been abused in some way or witnessed abuse. they have been traumatized. Trauma changes a child’s brain structure, often permanently. Professionals have found that children who have experienced severe trauma have the same bodily reactions as soldiers who have been through extreme combat. They have PTSD.
They experience the same intensity (many professionals are saying they experience even more extreme intensity) of flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, etc. of adults who have been in war environments. Trauma changes every area of the brain in young children.
One example is that children who are not emotionally attached to a caregiver or touched when they are young sometimes can’t metabolize their food and are often underweight or experience difficulty eating. Foster kids are also much more likely to enter the prison system, drop out of school (only 3% earn college degrees), and experience unemployment when they age out.
We wonder why these kids have behavior problems and are often labeled as “the bad kids.”
So what can the church do? Getting involved is the first step. Each state is in desperate need of foster parents. In my state, many foster children spent the holidays in shelters or residential facilities because there weren’t enough foster parents to care for them. Foster care is hard work, both emotionally and physically.
However, these kids are our nation’s’ orphans, and for the most part, we, as the church, have been neglecting them. James 1:27 does not just apply to kids in Africa or the children we sponsor through Compassion, as great as caring for those children is. Foster children in America need people who are willing to do the hard and dirty work of not just sending money to orphans across the globe but actually caring for the ones here at home.
If you are not currently in a position to foster, there are many other ways for you to help. You can get approved for respite care through your local Department for Community Services office. Whenever full time foster parents need a break, they will ask for respite. When you sign up for respite, you will be contacted to have foster care children in your home for a short period of time in order to provide full time foster parents with a break.
Foster care agencies often accept volunteers, whether to help with the overload of paperwork they have, to help with fundraising, or to help raise awareness. Orphan Care Alliance is a Christian organization that reaches out to children in the system. You can volunteer to be a life coach or a mentor to children aged 12-21 in the foster care system.
Another option is volunteering to serve and help the biological families of children before they enter the foster care system. Helping with basic needs, such as food, clothing, and housing, may prevent some children from having to be removed. You can sign up your church for their Gateway program and be contacted whenever a family is in need. You can get involved with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and be a mentor to children in difficult situations.
Being a mentor for a foster child provides a great avenue for discipleship. Many foster children have never been to church, and most of them have no concept of unconditional or fatherly love. They need to see it lived out, and they need to personally experience it. Foster kids will respond best to one-on-one discipleship and individual attention.
The Heroic Life Discipleship Curriculum is one discipleship program for all ages and provides a great resource to talk children through the gospel at home, in a Sunday School lesson, or in other ministry settings. This curriculum is hands-on, including supplemental Bible activities and crafts for kids.
What children in foster care need most is to know that someone cares. They need the church to invest in their lives and point them to the love of the Father who will never leave nor abandon them.