After nearly 6 weeks of fostering, I can confidently say that fostering is not for me. To be honest, this is a post that has been rattling around in my head for awhile, but I've been reluctant to share for a number of reasons.
I've had numerous conversations with friends and family who tell me some variation of "I love the idea of fostering, and we've thought about it, but it's just not for us." They will then talk about the various reasons why fostering isn't for them, either too trying on their already busy schedule, too difficult to fall in love with a child only to have to give him or her back, fear of the unknown, or any number of other perfectly reasonable reasons.
A lot of it may very well boil down to a simple reason: "We'll end up caring too much." And I get it; that is a perfectly sane concern and emotion. As followers of Christ, we are naturally inclined to care for others, so we can naturally fall into caring too much. I get it.
During our mandatory 11,000 hours of foster training required by the state of Oklahoma, (Okay, I may have exaggerated...) we learned some startling things about the state of Oklahoma. I'll try and find the sources and append them to this at some point, because science.
One study claims that Oklahoma leads the nation in infant mortality from neglect or abuse.
Another study says that Oklahoma has the highest amount of child displacements from drug-related causes.
That means Oklahoma is in a very problematic position for the welfare of children across the nation. Want to know another statistic they didn't share in the class? Oklahoma is considered one of the most religious states in the union. One study ranks Oklahoma as the 5th most religious state in the country.
This information, when compiled, tell a pretty unfortunate story. In a state where a massive majority of people believe the Bible, we still lead the country in infant death from neglect and child displacement from drugs. Don't we believe the Bible when it tells us that "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..." (James 1:27)
But this isn't intended to be an indictment against the church. Just something to get you thinking. What can be done for those children who die from neglect or abuse? What can our churches do?
Who Is Fostering?
In a state in the buckle of the Bible belt, you would think the foster system would be predominately believers hoping to put James 1:27 into action, right? Actually, in 2015, Oklahoma led the nation once more in abuse and neglect from foster parents. That's right, more foster parents abused or neglected their foster children in the state of Oklahoma than any other state. In fact, the number of individual cases in Oklahoma exceeded the number of cases in California, and California has more the 10x the population of Oklahoma.
During our aforementioned foster classes, I talked to many of the other prospective foster parents of the course of the training to get a feel for who they were. There were believers in the room, sure, but after talking to people and observing, I would estimate only 30% or so were followers of Christ. In fact, one woman we talked to a lot identified as Wiccan, and another woman in the class was in a marital relationship with another woman. I don't share this to be judgy or speak against any people of a different faith, I share this to shed light on something worth considering for the believer:
If Christians don't step up to take care of these children, someone else will. To say it another way, while the church is full of people who can't foster because they care too much, there are children being neglected and abused and raised in negative environments all across our state.
I'm pretty opinionated, I admit, so bear with me. I would almost go as far as to say if we are able to provide a good home for these children, we are obligated to do so. Now, I get it. Not everyone is called to bring children into your home and care for them. If you know that God is calling you to something else, this post isn't for you. Do what God wants you to do. But it's time for the church to start making a difference in the lives of these children. Who else can benefit from this?
Not Just for Kids
I don't want to just be angry through this whole post, because that's tiring. I want to share a happy story and a testimony to my wife, who is just simply the best.
We have been fostering for nearly 6 weeks now, and one girl has been with us for nearly a month. For most of this month, Hailee has had the opportunity to talk on the phone to the little girl's biological mother every single night.
Every night, Hailee gets to tell her that we are praying for her, and when the mother tells us some new milestone or step, or something good that has happened, Hailee gets to tell her that those occurrences are answers to our prayers, in some cases with great specificity.
Now, in foster care, DHS is obligated to continually seek a kinship option, so children don't have to remain separated from their families. This is great, as we don't want to break families up. When our girl's worker told the mom this, she told him that she would rather her daughter stay with us. He responded something like, "Why? How can you trust them over family? You don't even know them!"
The mother replied, "I don't know them, but I know that they pray with my daughter every single night. I know they take my daughter to church with them. I know that when I met Hailee, she had her Bible in her hand, and she read it while I was visiting with my daughter. Nobody does that. I have friends with kids in foster care, and none of them have experienced anything like that."
I get chills even typing this. Now, this mother is daily encouraged by Hailee and by knowing she is prayed for. She is reaching out to Hailee to learn about where she could go to church and even get biblical counseling to help her through this journey. She is seeking the Lord for the first time in years, or maybe even the first time, ever.
Now, this isn't a self-righteous post looking for a pat on the back. This is an encouragement to those who may be on the fence about joining the foster program. Those of you reading this who keep looking for reasons not to do it.
I will be the first to tell you: fostering is not for me. Who is it for? It's for the children. It's to give them stability and love, if only for a little while. It's for the parents. We pray for and talk to and teach parents that they don't have to live in the cycle. Until we work on breaking the generational curse, we'll never fix the problem in our state.
So no, fostering is not for me.