A Desperate Need
Washtenaw County currently has about 300 children in foster care and a desperate shortage of foster homes. Our licensing workers call us semi-regularly asking for names of anyone we know who might be interested in fostering, anyone at all.
When a child or children cannot be placed in a home several things happen. First the caseworkers start calling homes that are less and less ideal for that child. An ill-fitted placement is better than no placement at all. Sibling groups have to be separated. Kids are put in homes that will take them temporarily and then will be moved multiple times as a long term placement is located.
While these things are bad, two are worse. The first is this: Kids who can’t be placed, even young ones, will be sent to a homeless shelter overnight and a placement will be sought again the next day. The second is this: Many, many teenagers are being placed in group homes, essentially modern day orphanages. In the words of a Navigator I spoke with in November, “If they weren’t already damaged, the group home will damage them real quick.”
When the subject of foster home shortages came up at a recent foster parent training I asked why they thought that this might be. Without a pause, the three Foster Care Navigators agreed that it is because Washtenaw County is such an affluent area. “Wow,” I thought, “how very backward.” But, I don’t believe that it is necessarily that the well-to-do are less compassionate; I think that, perhaps, they are less aware of foster care and the needs of foster children. Occasionally, I meet grown adults, people in their 40’s and 50’s, who don’t even know what foster care is.
Many object to allowing foster children to be placed in homes with same sex couples. Our foster parent support group contains about 30% such couples. There is a serious need for homes, and these are some of the people who have come forward to serve. Perhaps those with objections might choose to volunteer as well?
So, how do we find the needed homes? I did a quick internet search and found a list of 187 churches in Washtenaw County. Given that so many foster kids come in sibling groups, just one foster family from each church would solve our county’s problem.
People offer many excuses to me for why they don’t do foster care. They don’t need to. Each person’s life choices are between them and God, they don’t need to justify them to me any more than I need to justify mine to them. I understand that many people can’t do foster care for any number of very real and valid reasons. But, I do want to quickly address two things I hear quite a bit.
- “I could never love a child that isn’t my own.” Believe me when you see that little face for the first time, and know that you are the only one the child has, the only one who will protect and battle for him, the love comes real fast. Plus, it is okay if the feeling of love doesn’t quickly arrive, love is a choice that we make and show with our actions.
- “I could never bear to have them go.” I will be the first to tell you that the pain of losing a child is the most excruciating thing I have ever experienced, but that doesn’t mean that the children don’t need us. Additionally, many foster children become available for adoption and their foster families can become their forever families.
Three hundred kids in our county are hurting, grieving at being separated from their homes, abused and neglected. They deserve love and care every bit as much as our own children. I would love to see a county known for its affluence also become known for its compassion.
(The easiest way to pursue foster parenting in Michigan is contacting a foster care navigator: www.fcnp.org 1.888.335.3882.)