The young Jewish man was traveling to Jericho from Jerusalem. A band of robbers fell upon him. They robbed and beat him, leaving him for dead on the side of the road. A Jewish priest passed by. Instead of stopping to help, he walked to the other side of the road and kept going. A while later a Levite passed by and did the same. Fortunately for the man, a Samaritan passed by and stopped to help. It’s important to fully understand the significance of a Samaritan stopping to help; other castes of Jews hated Samaritans, and Samaritans hated other Jews. Yet this Samaritan didn’t see a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Samaritan or Gentile. He saw a neighbor. As anyone should do with a neighbor, he bandaged the Jew then took him to a inn, leaving all his money with the innkeeper and telling him to spend whatever it took to heal the man, and to send the Samaritan the bill if he didn’t leave enough money. This proverb ends with Jesus asking a question. Who of the three were the man’s neighbor? Luke 10:36.
It’s damning to imagine that only 1 of 3 passing Jews stopped to help, and that it was the one who was most despised who did the right thing, yet I’m about to share with you something even more damning about our city, our faith community in particular, and how we are failing to respond to the plight of foster children in our county—we are leaving hundreds of abused and neglected children on the side of the road to fend for themselves.
In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said suffer the little children to come unto me. James 1:27 tells us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Yet, we are facing a foster care crisis in every state of the union, a crisis made worse by the church not stepping up to help these orphans. In Sedgwick County the latest data reveals we have almost 1300 foster children in out of home foster placements, with a total of more than 1600 children subject to child in need of care cases.
These cases are a very small percentage of the reports of abuse and neglect DCF received. Last year there were just over 14,000 DCF intakes with just 600 filed cases. This year we will likely see somewhere between 650 and 700 by the end of December.
While we must remove these kids from parents who abuse and neglect them—they are literally at risk of death in the extreme cases—the system itself without sufficient support from the community traumatizes kids and makes their success as adults—as parents and productive members of the community—far less likely. The overall average out-of-home placement length is 20 months; for reintegration, 10 months; for adoption, 40 months. The average number of different foster homes over a 1,000 day period is 9. That’s 9 different placements for kids who have already been abused, neglected, and traumatized. 90% of the kids in 5 or more placements will be involved in the criminal justice system. 25% of the 11,000 inmates of Kansas prisons and jails were foster kids. 70% of the parents who have their children removed from their homes were also foster kids.
These numbers are depressing. And you might be surprised to learn that they are mostly consistent with most other states. It’s not a Kansas problem, except to say that it is a problem our community and particularly the church has the ability to solve—at least to the extent we step up and care for these children so they aren’t traumatized by a system that is overworked, understaffed, and underfunded.
Remember that 1300 out-of-home placement number. Here’s the tragedy when it comes to how our community and the church are responding to the need to take care of these kids. We only have 800 local foster homes for these children. There are 513,000 residents in Sedgwick County. 79,000 claim to be Catholics. 49,000 claim to be Protestants. Just 1 of 3 Jews stopped to help the fellow Jew on the side of the road. If we assume that the majority of the foster homes we have are from various churches in our city, just 6/10ths of 1% of Sedgwick County Christians are stepping up to help our neglected and abused children. If we don’t make this assumption, the number is even smaller. The church’s philanthropic attitude is far worse today than in biblical times.
In case you’re wondering, the 400 or so kids who can’t be placed locally are sent to homes in other counties, which means they must be transported to Sedgwick County for parental visits, adding hours of travel to the trauma of being removed from their communities of family and friends.
DCF has implemented a matching system that attempts to ideally match children to foster homes according to need, which should decrease the disruption rate and provide more stability to these kids. But with so few foster homes this will do little to help. Only when we have so many foster homes that it’s the foster families on the waiting list and not the children will we diminish this trauma.
We must do as Jesus would have us do. Take care of our orphans. The church must step up. We have approximately 400 churches in Sedgwick County. If we added just one foster family per church we’d have just enough for all out-of-home placements. If 2 per church stepped up, we’d have more than enough.
If your church members don’t have time to foster 24-7, there are other options that have a profound impact on foster care outcomes. Overall, we graduate just 39% of foster kids who age out. You can be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer and spend 10-15 hours per month advocating for these kids in court and increase the graduation rate to more than 77%! This also decreases the runaway and recidivism rates. You can also mentor 17-21 year olds as a Youthrive mentor, or even be a Big Brother/Sister. One-on-one relationships make a huge difference in the lives of these kids who often believe no one cares for them.
Stable foster placements, CASAs, and mentoring have a phenomenal impact on foster care outcomes. They help kids reintegrate with their families and, worse case, minimize the trauma when parents can’t become fit and adoption follows. Why? Consider Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Show these kids your spiritual fruits as a foster parent, CASA volunteer, or mentor and they will have something to shoot for when they grow up.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18.
What if 10% of our local churches stepped up to help these kids as fosters or advocates? 13,000 homes would be available to help 1300 kids. We’d ideally match them with families equipped for their unique needs. Indeed, if just 1% stepped up we’ve have 1300, just enough. Do the math for anywhere in between.
I’d love to share this message with your church. Here’s the most encouraging thing about what I’ve experienced since I started talking about this issue. Last year at this time we only had 700 local placements. That number is more than 800 today. We have foster care training classes going on at City Life Church, Central Christian Church, and various locations throughout our community at any given time. There are also community outreach efforts underway to provide support to foster families as they step up to help these kids. The church is responding but not nearly fast enough or in sufficient numbers. Every time I share this message with a church, people step forward. The problem is getting the message to those who want to help. Invite me to speak at your churches and civic organizations and I’ll drop everything to help these kids. I’ll even bring someone from CASA, a foster care agency or two, and Youthrive so they can answer questions I can’t.
Time to step up church. Let’s save these kids. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like me to schedule a presentation at your church or civic organization.