Our nation’s foster-care system is in crisis. Thousands of children “age out” of foster care each year without ever having known the love and support of a forever family. Birthdays are forgotten. School performance drops. Social workers are overwhelmed and lose hope of the possibility that the children in their care will ever know anything more than the shuffle of the system as they bounce from home to home.
However, as the foster care crisis continues, there is a growing movement of churches seeking to answer God’s call to care for the orphan. Due to efforts such as Focus on the Family’s “Wait No More” campaign and the Christian Alliance for Orphans’ “Orphan Sunday," followers of Christ have begun to explore adoption as a tangible expression of their desire for justice, concern for the vulnerable and appreciation of their role as children adopted into God’s family.
As believers gain interest in adoption, their first question is, “Where do I begin?” The unfortunate truth is that many will never pursue the answer to that question. Estimates show that although about 30% of Americans have considered adoption, only 2% have actually completed the process.
So what is the problem? First, even in the best circumstances, adoption can be a long and arduous process. There are classes to attend, fingerprints to submit and interviews with social workers. Prospective parents question their ability to care for a child who may have experienced trauma and a great deal of loss. Are they too old, too young, too poor, too busy?
All these questions and more can take the curious churchgoer from a place of compassion to a place of inaction, not because of a lack of concern, but a lack of understanding, support and accountability.
Recognizing the need to connect people with tangible resources, several church-based ministries are building the bridge between followers of Christ and the state. For example, in Colorado, faith-based organizations such as Project 127 have created a system that plans to eradicate the need for long-term foster care in their state within the next three years. The C.A.L.L in Arkansas has worked with local child-welfare agencies to provide state-approved, foster-care training within the church setting, which creates a long-term, supportive network for families. To address the needs of foster youth in their state, Oklahoma has recently joined the trend with their 8046 Campaign, a partnership between government offices, local churches and faith-based adoption initiatives.
While the collaboration of church and state may seem difficult to some, others see great potential. Regarding her work with communities of faith, Dr. Sharen Ford, manager of permanency services in Colorado, simply states, “We have the kids, they have the families.”
Although the specifics of each partnership may vary, one of the most important aspects is that there is a healthy, respectful collaboration between the state and the church in which the common goal is providing quality solutions for children. Another key element is that the roles of both parties are defined yet complementary. For example, in many cases the church will recruit prospective parents and the state will train those parents and match them with children. The church then serves as a community around adoptive families, offering the ongoing supportive care that is essential to newly developed families. Ideally, with the church serving to provide long-term support and continually recruiting new families, social workers can focus more energy and resources on supporting at-risk families, thus decreasing the amount of children who enter the foster-care system in the first place.
While the foster-care crisis is far from over, these unique partnerships provide a sense of hope. The collaboration between church and state is not only possible, but can be highly effective in providing long-term security for our country’s most vulnerable citizens.
(Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.)