National Foster Care Month highlights solutions

USA (MNN) — May is National Foster Care Month.  Did you know that on any given day, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care?  If you were able to bring together all these children into one city, this city would be the 43rd or 44th biggest city in the United States.

This city made up of foster children would be bigger than cities like Miami, Pittsburgh, St Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Honolulu.  Over the course of a year, nearly 700,000 children spend at least some time in foster care and that makes this population of children and youth bigger than all but 18 U.S. cities.

Foster care family (Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

Bethany Christian Services’ Jenny Reister outlines the connected crisis: “Unfortunately, we have a real shortage of foster families.  It’s not uncommon, especially with the older kids, to end up in residential treatment.”  These 31 days are meant to help raise awareness about foster care and encourage people to get involved in the lives of these kids — as foster parents, volunteers, or mentors.

But, let’s face it: foster care gets a bad rap.  Movies and television shows have mainly depicted the most challenging situations.  “Usually foster [care] is portrayed as workers coming in and taking children from their parents.  Really, our goal is to work with birth parents to help them rectify those barriers.  We’re very pro-family and advocate for reunifying those kids with their parents.”

That has led to a lot of misconceptions, says Reister.  “Probably the most common misconception is they think a lot of our kids are going to have a lot of behavior issues.  That’s not necessarily the case.  The kids, obviously, have experienced some sort of trauma, which is why they’re in foster care in the first place.  Being in foster care is a trauma, in itself.  But most of our kids are just like the kids that go to school with your kids — that are like the kids in your neighborhood.”

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

The goal of Bethany’s Foster Care program is to provide temporary care for children with the ultimate aim of reuniting them with their biological family, explains Reister.  “Whatever barriers they have to parenting, which is what brought the children into foster care in the first place, the case managers will work with them on establishing a treatment plan and set goals for them.”

Who can be a foster parent?  It’s a wide open field for anyone who has the heart for loving kids.  Aside from passing a background check, Reister says, “You have to be an adult, single or married, live in a house or an apartment.  You don’t necessarily have to have parenting experience.  We have foster parents come to us who have never parented before, and that’s okay.”

It is also helpful to know and understand childhood development, but foster parents work with staff from community agencies toward helping the children in their care.  She emphasizes that foster parents are normal people just like you and me.  “A lot of families that we get, originally, they had never considered doing foster care, but they may have had a relative come into care and became licensed to foster their relative and then decided, ‘I would like to do this for other children, also.’”

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

In the process of loving kids through a traumatic time in their lives, there is an opportunity to share a unique worldview they may never have been exposed to before.  Reister clarifies, “A lot of times, the kids that we have come in — they have never experienced church before they lived with their foster family.  They might have not even heard about God until they were in their foster families.  There’s definitely an opportunity there, even just demonstrating by how they live, what it means to be a Christian. “

Exploring this option starts with prayer.  “Pray for the kids, but also pray for people who are considering foster care to maybe take that first step to learn more about it.”

Checking out that next step starts here.