Today was the day. 'M' joined the Thompson family. (Name and photos can't be posted while children are in state custody).
It was a whirlwind. He is a sweet kid. Ornery. When he smiles it is contagious.
Chaia was great too. M was crying as bedtime was quickly approaching. Chaia went in her room and brought out her favorite stuffed animal to give to him to console him. It's Tubie Bear...a custom made stuffed bear that has a G Tube in it's belly. Pretty sweet moment.
We are on this steep, intimidating learning curve in which we have to catch up on nearly 2 years of this kiddo's life. What does he like? What does he dislike? Triggers? Joys? It's a little daunting, but one day at a time right?
He has bonded with me pretty quickly. I appear to be the unofficial bedtime-routine-snuggle-rocker. I had him asleep three times and went to put him in his bed and he woke up panicked and gripping my arms pretty tightly. Each time he tried to keep his eyes open to make sure I didn't try anything (like putting him down or leaving the room). He likes music. So I sang. I've got a couple classic go to songs...but for whatever reason, I ended up just softly singing "You are loved, You are safe, You are home" over him until he fell asleep. These are the words I pray will sink in for him for as long as he is with us...not just as a part of the Thompson family, but as a part of the family of God.
As I think about him and the hard road he's been on and the hard road still to come, I started to get fired up.
520,000 children in foster care nationwide.
Over 23,000 in Ohio.
The county with the most children in foster care in my state is my county, Franklin County.
Studies suggest that 1/3 of the homeless population in the country spent time in the Foster Care system.
Not only that, but 1/4 of all those incarcerated in the country spent time in the Foster Care system.
Not only that, but the case workers who are meant to be advocates for these children from vulnerable places are quitting in droves. Annually 20% of the case workers are leaving their jobs.
Now we can gripe and complain about the system...about what it keeps producing. Sometimes, I feel like that is what the church does best. Identify a problem and then yell at it or boycott it and then get louder when the problem doesn't evaporate.
The government can not fix this. Annually, we are throwing north of 5 billion dollars toward this foster care system that is clearly not solving much. That equals out to about 40,000 per kid in the foster system.
So we can shake our fists in hopes that proper legislation gets passed or we can stop waiting on government and own up to the fact that God is waiting on us. We pray, "God fix the system." And I'm growing increasingly convicted that God's response is, "I'm asking you to do the same thing."
What if we can engage the system? I'm not smart enough or into this deep enough to know all that this entails. But here's a few thoughts:
Ask tough questions. Begin to support foster parents in meaningful ways in our county (Take the time to be trained as respite care and give folks breaks to catch their breath). Begin to search out meaningful ways to honor and bless social workers who see awful things and often get painted as the bad guys. Adopt a child or a sibling group. About 1/4 of those in foster care are waiting to be adopted. Of course this is messy and complicated. Few things that are worth doing aren't! Have the courage to foster. Not just to adopt. Though adoption is a really good thing. But have the heart to support a family to get back on track with their lives. Reunification can be a beautiful picture of God redeeming the mess. The birth parents are not the villains. Nor is the judge or the case workers. Sin is the villain and the more we let God's healing agency be unleashed, the more families can be put back together...and what a story they will be able to tell!
You want to change the world? Reduce homelessness? Keep people from going down a road that leads to prison?
Offer the gift of stability. You don't have to have it all figured out. You just have to have a conviction that children matter deeply to the heart of God. And if that is true then they must matter deeply to His people.
I'm not sure I can fix the system. Many who are smarter and more strategic than me have tried and failed at that. But I think I can move the needle in my city. Maybe you can help me knock Franklin County off the top of the foster care charts.
And in the process, maybe we surrender the neat and tidy facade and join the chorus of a God who sings over His world, You are Loved, You are Safe, You are Home.
Change Starts Here.