On Thursday the 28th June, I ventured into London because I was really keen to get to an event. I went to a Fostering and Adoption consultation that was put on by Krish Kandiah from the Evangelical Alliance (http://www.eauk.org/ @eauknews @krishk) and Care For the Family (http://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/ @care4thefamily)
It was a really great informative and inspiring evening. It was so encouraging to hear what the Church is doing in this area, and the plans to do more. It was also brilliant to see a room full of Christians who are fostering, have adopted, or who are in the process. It was great to learn from each other, share with each other and encourage each other.
Now I know this is a very sensitive and personal subject. However as someone who had a really great experience of being fostered by an incredible Christian family, I feel I am in a privileged position to encourage others and share the benefits, and how it can be done so well! But as someone who has also seen a number of times how it has not gone so well, including a short placement in emergency care which was wasn’t pleasant, and what happens when difficulties overcome potential, I also feel I know a little about how it shouldn’t be done, and what some of the obstacles are.
I was Fostered when I was 15. My foster family in lifestyle, happiness, choices, beliefs etc could not have been more different than what I knew. It took a long time for me to start looking after myself. My foster family showered us with grace, love, and affirmation (I had a terrible self-image, and deep set apathy and almost hatred for life). It took a long time to stop swearing, acting in a self-destructive way, and to accept their ways of living, and that we could be a family.
When I turned 16, the thing that showed me in the most definitive way that we were now family, is that after only a few months, my foster parents wanted me to continue to stay at home (I was offered sheltered accommodation etc), and wanted me to regain my youth. They supported me throughout 6th form. We went on holidays, we spent time together just playing games or watching TV. My mum taught me how to really care for myself and love myself. Somehow over time, we became very much a family. My family’s decision to care for us, and step out in that way, literally radically transformed my life, my prospects and my hope and future.
There are 59,000 Children currently in the care system in the UK. Currently BAAF (British Association for Adoption and Fostering- (http://www.baaf.org.uk/) state that 6,200 children need adopting in the UK. The Fostering Network (http://www.fostering.net/) state that 8,000 children currently need foster placements.
The Evangelical Alliance alone is in contact with 15,000 Churches.
The maths is simple. If just one family in each if these Churches, supported by the Church as a whole took on the mission to Foster or Adopt, then the need for the whole of the UK could be covered by the Church!!
Fostering and Adoption shows with words and actions the impact God has had on our lives. Our compassion (to co-suffer, be moved into action with empathy) on such vulnerable children (70% of whom have been abused or neglected), shows the love of Jesus in the most practical way.
I have a huge heart for Children, and can’t wait to show mine (whether fostered adopted or natural) Jesus and real love as my family did for me. I am very passionate that anyone on Church if capable, whether they have their own Children or not, should make room in their lives for those children who need families. I believe that it is a Biblical principle, and one of the best ways possible, to show in a practical, every day way the love of God, and to literally be able to transform someone’s life.
Krish asked us to imagine the impact on the Church if at least on family per church were looking after children. Imagine the impact on our often “Middle Class” Churches. Imagine children in Sunday School who would never otherwise be exposed the gospel. Imagine the topics at weekly prayer meetings which would include all the complexities of the children’s and their natural family’s lives. Imagine the Churches praying for the poor, not just overseas, but those in their own families and extended families.
Imagine the impact on our nation. If the Church were not seen as homophobic, hateful, bigots, or crazy ‘Bible Bashers’. But as those who literally open up their homes and their lives to some of the most vulnerable in our nation. Wouldn’t this help not only the children, but our communities to see who God really is?
Ps 68:5-6 says:
A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
God sets the lonely in families;
He brings out those who are bound into prosperity;
But the rebellious dwell in a dry land.
Wouldn’t it be great if this is what the Church and our God was known for? Being the defender of the poor and the protector of orphans and widows?
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not in any way suggesting that every Christian should foster and adopt. As I have said I have seen many cases, including with Christians, where the complexities of their life, their circumstances, character or callings have meant that it would not be suitable for them. And this kind of parenting is ‘Extreme Parenting’ that includes a great number of difficulties as well as rewards.
I realise there are hindrances to people fostering or adopting, but in my experience, even within the Church this is often out of a lack of understanding, and a feeling that it is only something particular types of people are ‘called to’ not God loving, every day loving families. I do believe that everyone in Church has a role to play in supporting the families who do this wonderful thing. I think that there needs to be an education and new perspective within the Church that this is not only an answer to the problem of infertility (which of course it can be) but also a mission field.
Unfortunately I haven’t always seen that. I haven’t always seen the Church supporting those who already Foster and Adopt, who have ‘difficult children’. Nor have I always seen the Church ‘promoting’ Adoption or Fostering, as there can be much misunderstanding on what it entails, and often a desire to see healing or natural conception when infertility is the issue.
So many non-Christian families do an amazing job of Fostering and Adopting, and seeing broken children grow and be restored. But imagine how much more Christians can do; with God, with the Holy Spirit guiding and protecting, and with the network of help and support from others in the Church. This is what Church should look like.
As Krish said in his article:
“Collectively we can begin to discover how we can instil a mindset change in our families and churches to open our arms and hearts to the children who need temporary and permanent homes where they can be accepted and loved unconditionally.”
One reason I am passionate about Christian’s Fostering and Adopting, is that is one of the best possible ways to evangelise- how better to show a child or others that God loves them, than by showing them that you love them, in a real, every day, sacrificial way?
Another reason is that fulfils a God given mission to protect the defenceless. One issue I have become increasingly passionate about as I learn more and more about the issues of modern day slavery (which I will share more about) is how vulnerable to children in the care system are to abuse or sex trafficking. This makes my heart so sad.
‘Police figures show an estimated 10,000 children go missing from care every year’
“Under the current system you can have a situation where a sexual predator is sitting in a car outside a children’s home targeting the children inside that home, a home that the police don’t even know exists,”
“One of the victims living in a privately run residential home was abused by 25 men in one night.”
“Yesterday’s report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner makes for difficult reading. It highlights the risks of sexual exploitation faced by a “disproportionate” number of children in care.”
“As one tearful girl who called ChildLine said, “I just want a family. I just want to be loved”. Surely that’s not too much to ask.”
I am not saying that Christian’s are perfect, or always get things right. And I don’t believe that they always have the ‘perfect family’. But I find it hard to believe that within the loving context of a Christian family, surrounded by the support of the Church, that foster children would go missing, suffer from abuse or be as particularly at risk. I believe that the Church; that Christian’s old or young, single or married, with or without their own children can be the solution to this problem.
I hope that this has been in some way encouraging or informative. Please feel free to comment as I know this is a very complex subject, with many levels, and some challenges I haven’t covered here.
Another way that Children overseas can be protected from predators or trafficking is by the protection of education or sponsorship where they attend classes and are monitored.
Vision Rescue http://www.visionrescue.org.in/ do an amazing work protecting and educating children in India.
Stop the Traffik http://www.stopthetraffik.org/ and other anti-trafficking organisations I will talk more about do some great educational work for children.
And of course sponsoring a child through Compassion UK http://www.compassionuk.org/ can be another way to not only help a child receive food, education and spiritual development, but protect them further from trafficking.