Nearly one quarter of all children in foster care are black, even though black children make up only 14 percent of our nation’s child population. According to the Justice Department, black children ages 12 to 19 are three times more likely to be victims of reported child abuse or neglect. If there is a negative outcome, the rates are disproportionately higher for black children, including: suicide, death by maltreatment, sexual abuse, homelessness, incarceration, pregnancy, multiple placements and less frequent adoption or family reunification.
When we see videos and pictures of war-torn or starving children around the world, we often shake our heads or pray because we feel helpless to do anything about it. Yet getting black children out of the foster care system and into loving, quality homes is something we can all participate in.
If you’re not in a position to foster a child, you can help by donating your time or items to foster children. If you’re a member of a church, you can help by advocating for or joining a foster care ministry that recruits, trains and supports new foster families. Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc., which started in New Jersey, provides such services, training churches and others to recruit families and provide much needed support.
If you are in a stable situation and you can make room for at least one more child in your life, why not become a foster parent? In some cases, you may be dealing with children who have had severe trauma or abuse in their lives and all they are seeking is unconditional and unwavering love and support. Don’t you think they deserve our love and commitment? What if it was your child or grandchild? Wouldn’t you want that very same commitment for them? It is that very commitment, from you, that can move the children from a state of despair to a beacon of hope.
Becoming a foster parent is a decision that should not be taken lightly. First and foremost, you must have the love, desire and right-mindedness needed to take on the responsibility of caring for a child. Next, there are many government requirements, including training. And the training is important and invaluable, particularly when conducted in a supportive environment where you can also find other foster families to serve as mentors, partners and support groups. However, if you are willing to become a foster parent, it may be one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of your life.
There are more than 428,000 children in foster care in America, more than 103,000 of whom are black. And there are more than 29 million black adults in America. Even if we made the false assumption that only black adults should foster or adopt black children, there are nearly 300 times the number as would be needed to care for our children. This is a fixable problem.
In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau reported that black children had the highest rate of abuse and neglect, at 14.5 per 1,000 compared to 8.1 per 1,000 for white children. While any rate is too high for a civilized society, these occurrences are just unacceptable.
What will it take for you to become a foster parent? Do you need to start by talking to your spouse or partner? Talk. Or maybe you need to pray over this issue? Pray. Do you feel you don’t have the financial resources? Assistance is provided; get the facts. Seek out a supportive network like Harvest of Hope and gather all of the information you need to make an informed decision. But, decide and do so soon. Each day that we decide not to act is a lost opportunity for our children.
While the foster family shortage continues, some 21,000 children annually age-out of foster care, many with little resources and little chance of becoming contributing members of society. For black children, foster care is often a pipeline to prison.
Think, for a minute, about all of the freedoms and benefits you have because you live in America. Now think about these American children, these babies. The median age for entering foster care is 6.3. What were you doing when you were six?
As the great Nelson Mandela once said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Thanks for your consideration to helping to improve the lives of our vulnerable children. Believe in our children. Open your Heart and your Home to become a foster parent.
Earl Roach, a former foster father, is board president of Harvest of Hope Family Services. May is National Foster Care Month.