Friday, May 15, 2015

The Other Side of Foster Care

Written by Jason Johnson

We met her for the first time in a downtown courtroom - the same place we would see her for the last time nearly one year later. Although we most likely will never know her beyond that, a piece of her will always be a part of us - literally.

It was the first court hearing since her baby girl had been removed from her custody by Child Protective Services and placed in our care a few weeks earlier. Given the particular circumstances of the case, the judge would soon inform her she was on track to losing her parental rights over her child. While the law was right and just that day, the emotions were equally raw and real. She was devastated - the demons in her life she could not get out from under were deep and destructive to both her and her baby. We were overwhelmed - wondering how our world could be so broken that an entire legal system must be set up to protect abused children from those who might harm them. Files lined the courtroom that day, each representing a case in which a child needed to be protected and a parent needed to be disciplined. Stacks of broken stories filled the room. We were there to participate in just one.

Difficult doesn't describe it - standing for the first time with the mom of the baby the state had placed in our home and we were now loving and raising as our own. Wondering what she was thinking and feeling, what her life was like that led her to that point and bothered by the fact that no one loved her enough to help her - to stop her from destroying herself and prevent her from ever being in the position she now found herself in.

Our worlds couldn't be more different. The contrast between the two was magnified that day as they collided for the first time. One of relative ease and privilege and opportunity now standing with one full of brokenness, hopelessness and tragedy. How could we live in the same world but come from two very different ones at the same time? More than that, why was this cold, sterile courtroom the first time our worlds were ever intersecting? How come no one was there for her to help prevent her from ever being in the position she was now in - how come we weren't there for her, or there to help any of the other hundreds of stories stacked around the room that day from ever getting to that point? What kind of world were we living in that allowed us to become so disconnected from or ignorant of their worlds?

Fostering abused, neglected and marginalized children is by nature reactionary - a necessary response to circumstances often requiring swift, immediate and sometimes severe measures to protect the rights of the vulnerable. It is a good and right and just solution to a very real problem - but it is not the only solution, neither is it the ultimate one.

On one side of foster care is the need for us to respond to the plight of these kids and intercede on their behalf. It's right and honorable and a reflection of the heart of God to secure and protect the rights of the helpless and hopeless. On the other side of foster care is the need for us to proactively respond to the brokenness of families and intercede on their behalf to ensure that their children never become foster kids in the first place. This too is right and honorable and a reflection of the heart of God to bring healing to what is broken and hope to what otherwise is destined for destruction.

Throughout the last 20 months of loving and raising this precious baby girl in our home, the joy of having her and now adopting her as our own is never void of the reality that maybe, just maybe all of this could have been avoided. The first time our baby girl's mom met a follower of Jesus who loved her and wanted to see her life healed and restored and her daughter grow up in a safe and loving environment should not have been in that courtroom chaperoned by lawyers and standing before a judge. Perhaps long before our worlds collided that day something could have been done to prevent that day from ever happening. Perhaps rather than simply responding to the consequences of other peoples brokenness we have a responsibility to proactively engage them in the midst of it - to bring healing and hope and to help minimize, if not render null and void all together, repercussions perpetuating themselves any further. 

In the end, perhaps the call of the Church is not just to foster abused, neglected and marginalized kids but also to help prevent them from ever becoming abused, neglected and marginalized foster kids in the first place. Let's be both the back door response to the need that exists while at the same time proactively work to close the front door on any new children being removed from their homes and adding to the stacks of files that, in God's ideal, should never exist in the first place.

Thank you to author, Jason Johnson, for allowing me to share
The Other Side of Foster Care. Jason and his wife, Emily,
have four daughters- the youngest adopted through the foster care system. Jason travels the country preaching, teaching and advocating for a movement of the Gospel and adoption in the Church. Please visit his blog for more information on his ministry.

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