I’ve heard it said that Christians do not have to help kids in foster care because those kids (most of them, anyway) are technically not fatherless, that is, they have fathers and mothers, but their parents have chosen a path of life which has caused them to be deemed unsuitable parental figures, at least temporarily. The argument to support this idea is that if these kids are helped, it sets up a handicap for our society in which parents who fall short of their god-given duties can simply be absolved of these duties without any further backlash or need for recompense.
So, should we help?
There’s something we have to understand before we answer that questions. There will always be sin. Sin will always lead to the breaking of human bonds. When the human bonds between parents and children are broken, people will always suffer. Suffering people need God’s love as much as- or more than- those who rejoice. The only people who can share God’s love are the ones who know Him.
Yeah, but do we have the duty and obligation to help those suffering because of failed parenting?
Yes, we do.
But won’t our help perpetuate a cycle of brokenness?
Not if we do it the way God intends.
Because God’s way for the family perpetuates a cycle of loving obedience to God which is ultimately God’s goal for each of our lives.
So, what is God’s intended cycle for the family?
Children were made by God to be a part of families run by parental figures. Ideally, a parent-child relationship which is lovingly strict will help nurture the child’s will to obey their parents not because of fear for their parents but because they sense their parents’ own blend of love and authority. In turn, this will guide them towards total obedience to God, the ultimate authority and lover. (For many people, the fullness of this understanding is not comprehendible until they themselves are parents and experience their own unconditional love for their children.) However, if the scenario in which God intended for a child to learn obedience is severely impaired or interrupted, that child’s ability to obey God will be hindered, as will their ability to fully grow into a mature human which can impair their love of their own children, thus perpetuating a broken family cycle. Therefore, when a child’s family unit is disrupted, it becomes crucial for that child to be placed into another family unit where they can experience the family cycle God intended.
You could put it another way and, similar to the chicken and egg question, ask, “Did the child come first or the parent?” Of course, God the father came first, but our own humankind experience came first with the child, Adam. God, the perfect father, trained Adam so that Adam could then train his own sons. (We witness God’s own lovingly strict example in the 3rd book of Genesis when Adam and Eve sinned. God banished them from the garden as punishment, disciplined them with physical labor, and yet made provisions for them with clothing and fertility.) We are all born as children- not adults- so that we can learn how to mature through the kind discipline of our parents. Ideally, children reach a point at which they become able to test the waters of their own maturity. For a while, they will straddle the border of these waters with one foot in the water and the other foot still on the shores of their parents’ guidance. Eventually, they’ll be mature enough to swim on their own and, if they are blessed, they may find their own beach to raise their children on.
But a child can only be a child as long as they have someone to raise them up, some solid place to rest their feet. Just as a person may be swept away in the rushing waters of a flash flood, when a child suddenly has no parental figure, they must swiftly take on the role of mature-figure themselves with the knowledge they have gained- this is their basic survival skill at work. But keep in mind that a foster child has been removed from his or her home because the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) deemed the parental figures to be unsuitable to sustain the life of a child. These children have been raised by people who are not mature enough to raise them, and this means that when most foster children come into foster care, they are stunted in growth, whether it be physically, emotionally, educationally, socially, or some other way. Therefore, a fourteen year old boy who is taken into foster care may behave more like a nine year old boy. Are we to abandon this boy who so clearly needs lovingly strict guidance? If we do, he will cease to gain knowledge in a child-like way and will, in his own mind, become a mature entity barely able to stay afloat of the turbulent tides. What, then, will he have to offer the next generation but immaturity, at best?
Alright, so the point I’m making is that Christians should step in and raise foster children the same way they would raise their own children, to include foster children in a God-intended family cycle so that they will be equipped to raise their own children when the time comes. But what about the parents of the foster children. Won’t they just keep on in their wayward ways?
Unless God steps into their hearts through the life of one of His servants, these people ultimately have no hope of maturing into a human who is part of God’s ideal family cycle and that means they’ll never learn total obedience to God. What a very sad prospect for them.
However, there is hope. Parents who have had their children taken away by DCFS receive a case plan which outlines exactly what they must do to get their kids back. Despite the services offered and referred to them by DCFS, most parents find the requirements of the case plan overwhelming and insurmountable. Their reactions remind me of The Parable of the Sower. Some never start working on their case plan because they feel hopeless or just don’t care. Others start but quickly give up because they have little support. Others work diligently but, at the last minute, convinced they won’t succeed, they purposely mess up- big time- so they don’t get their kids back. (This one happens way more often than you’d think.) But, there are those who follow through and get their kids back, which is ultimately the goal of foster care. Unfortunately, this only happens about 50% of the time.
What can you do to help?
Get involved in their lives. Many of the parents whose children are in foster care are in need of substance abuse rehabilitation, parent education courses, or help finding employment or housing. And, once they achieve these goals, they need continuing support, which they often do not receive from family or friends. Contact your local DCFS and ask how you can volunteer to make a difference in their lives.
Also, if you’re passionate about fixing the bonds between humans and you’re willing to share your opinion, become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteer. As a CASA volunteer, you have the invaluable role of getting to know both sides of the situation- the child and their parents- and speaking your opinion directly to the judge involved in the case. I cannot stress how valuable CASA volunteers are in foster care cases. They change lives.
In summation, even though their parents have done horrible things and are not highly likely to change the course of their lives, foster children are in extreme, dire need of loving parental guidance. Likewise, their wayward parents need support and guidance from mature Christian people.