Foster Care is for the Ordinary

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 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” Luke 17:10 NIV

 

I recently read a book entitled Irena’s Children.  It followed the life and work of Irena Sendler in German-occupied Warsaw, Poland during World War II. Irena Sendler, along with hundreds of fellow workers, saved the lives of over 2,500 Jewish children.  They smuggled these children out of the Warsaw Ghetto at great personal risk, hiding them with false papers in orphanages, with Polish foster families, and in underground facilities.  Even after her story came to light, years after the Nazis had been defeated, Irena refused to allow herself to be heralded a hero: “Let me stress most emphatically that we who were rescuing children are not some kind of heroes...Indeed, that term irritates me greatly. The opposite is true--I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little.”[1] She insisted that the work she did was normal, not extraordinary. Ninety percent of Poland’s Jewish population did not live to see the end of the war. Of the approximately one million Jewish children in prewar Poland, it is estimated that only 5,000 to 15,000 survived.[2]  Mrs. Sendler was haunted by the memories of those she could not save. It is no wonder that in the face of this sobering reality, Irena Sendler felt she had not done enough.

           

How does this relate to us today?  We who have been given salvation through Jesus Christ know that our war is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers and the powers of darkness.[3]  The darkness that pervaded Mrs. Sendler’s Poland is still at work today and we have our own sobering realities to face. Among these realities are the 463,000 children in the United States foster care system.[4] This number is growing steadily largely due to a substance use crisis that is leaving more and more children in the lurch.  The resources of foster care agencies nationwide are being stretched thin and the thing most needed are individuals who are willing and able to open their homes to children in need.

 

I knew from middle school that I would be involved in orphan care of some type yet never imagined, and even verbally denied, that I would get mixed up in the world of foster care.  I was among the many who say, “I could never do that. It would hurt too much. I would get too attached.”  But his ways are not our ways.  I remember the day that I felt called to partner with our Father specifically through foster care.  A woman I had worked with posted a letter from the state of Indiana via social media begging for individuals and families to come forward and become homes for some of the over 17,000 children in Indiana’s foster care system.[5]

 

I briefly chatted with this woman about her experience, she and her husband had already become foster parents (and have since adopted four children through foster care). She told me their story and impressed upon me again the great and growing need in our country for foster families. I brought the subject up to my husband and in short order we had, with some fear and trepidation, called our local branch of the Department of Child Services and had an appointment scheduled to talk about becoming foster parents.

 

In May of 2016, about five months after that initial call, my husband and I received our foster care license.  We have had six children come through our home including one who has been with us for over two years whom we hope to adopt within the next year or so.  We also have two biological children.  The ages of our children are 4, 3, and 2.  We are not heroes; we are only tired parents.  Irena Sendler’s talk of “qualms of conscience” resonates with us because we know that we’re doing so little in the face of a problem so large and this knowledge makes us so thankful that we’re not in this foster care business alone.

 

Through continuing education classes, my husband and I have been blessed to meet many foster parents, ordinary everyday individuals, who come from varied backgrounds with different stories of what lead them to foster care.  They are often tired, like us, and make normal sacrifices for the children they’ve brought into their homes. The foster system does not need heroes. It does need more people who are willing to answer the call of being Christ’s hands and feet to children in need. Being a foster parent will not make you more or less valuable in the kingdom of God.  It is, however, an excellent way to pick up your cross and follow Christ. Many who read this article will not have their calling in foster care; your ministry and calling is elsewhere.  But maybe, just maybe, there is a reader or two who is so ordinary that they are just perfect to become a foster parent and do the normal everyday work of caring for these children.

[1] Mazzeo, T. J. (2016). Irena's Children. New York, NY: Gallery Books. 256.

[2] Mazzeo, 251.

[3] Ephesians 6:12

[4] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families,     Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. The AFCARS (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System) Report from 2017.  https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/trends-in-foster-care-and-adoption

[5] While one will find conflicting numbers, it is believed that the number of children in Indiana’s foster care system is now around 26,000.  This number continues to grow rapidly. (The Villages. (2018, September 14). Number of Hoosier children in the foster system doubles in five years. Retrieved March 02, 2019, from https://indyschild.com/number-of-hoosier-children-in-the-foster-system-doubles-in-five-years/)

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Rachel is a graduate of Taylor University (2009) and stay-at-home mom of three in southern Indiana. She and her husband Matt have been married for almost 8 years and spend most of their time corralling kids and enjoying family and friends.