Children in foster care face many challenges that affect their lives. They must deal with the unknown, such as being torn from the only family they know to being placed with strangers in an unfamiliar environment. They worry about what has happened to their families in their absence, and if they will ever see them again. In addition to the troubling family circumstances that brought them into care, these children face additional difficulties while in foster care that have lasting influences on their behavior and effects on them.
Children who are exposed to poverty, maltreatment, and the foster care experience face multiple threats to their healthy development. They lose their ability to trust and attach to caregivers because of their negative and often traumatic experiences with the adults in their lives. Attachment issues resulting from this inability to trust can cause physical harm to children, such as failure to thrive, as well as emotional disorders like depression, or other mental health disturbances. The educational needs of children in the foster care system often go unmet with children transitioning from school to school due to multiple residential placements.
Then there are youth who never find a home or family who end up aging out of the child welfare system at age 18 without an adequate education or preparation for adulthood. They have not been equipped with needed job skills or network contacts. There is no support system, and they don’t have the basic skills to develop one.
While it is important to realize how factors from a child’s past can impact his/her life and development, it is also very important to remember that children are resilient and can flourish in a sensitive, nourishing, and stimulating environment.
The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) collects case-level data from state and tribal agencies on children in foster care nationally, and it has identified 15 unique reasons for the removal of a child.
As the data clearly indicate, nearly all child removals nationally, over 90%, are for reasons associated with the behavior of the parent or caregiver (AFCARS, 2017). Less than 10% of children who enter foster care do so based on their own “bad” behavior.
Certainly, even these children and teenagers who could be considered “at fault” for their removal cannot be held accountable for their behavior as minors. What about the responsibility of their parents and caregivers to teach, train, and guide these young people? More importantly, what about our responsibility to act? Will you rebuke these children as Jesus’ disciples foolishly did? Or will you welcome the children unto you as Jesus has taught, seeking to discover their inmost being, that which makes them unique individuals within the Kingdom of God, as God intended for them to be seen?
Just think back to when you were 18-years old. Did you have to navigate your young adulthood by yourself? You may have felt like an adult, and felt as though you could conquer the world, but how long did it take you to realize you still needed support and guidance? What if you had no one – no family, no support system at all – what would you have done? These aged-out youth are destitute. They don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to go to, nor do they have anyone with whom to celebrate holidays or birthdays.
AFCARS – Some states have extended care through the ages of 19, 20, or 21.