The Refugees of<br />Foster Care

The Refugees of
Foster Care

With one heartrending image the tide turned. For Europe, what was long a faraway, hand-wringing perplexity became an “up in arms we have to do something” call to action. Political leaders no longer avoided a position, vague offers of assistance no longer satisfied. Even now, plans are being laid, concrete numbers are heralded and the refugees of the Syrian war crisis are finally being offered the welcome mat of the world.


Such is the power of photographs, soaked with profundity to incense and rouse the ire of the world – pulling on its heartstrings. The wave that carried a facedown child ashore crashed over our compassion-fatigued sensibilities. A wave of determined humanity breaking through Hungarian borderlines exposed the barbarity of a “world-away war” and our ability to remain desensitized to its fallout.

Remaining in the United States, divided from this crisis by an ocean, estranged on an island of helplessness, our choices for alleviating suffering are primarily financial and spiritual. We can write checks. We can pray. Emotionally, we can resist the urge to disengage from the sight, sounds, and smells of this suffering a world away.

Refugee: A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster

Without diminishing the need to act and do justly on behalf of a suffering population a world away – an invitation is extended. An invitation to acknowledge a crisis on our turf and long in the works; a call to conceptualize a chronic and very local crisis in a new and immediate way. An invitation to “see” the waves of refugees fleeing domestic danger - dazed and confused by their abrupt removal from homes and families ravaged by conflict or corruption. Refugees who go hungry, lack consistent access to school and healthcare, suffer neglect and abuses of all kinds, and who by no fault of their own, must flee all that they know for the sake of their own safety. These refugees are foster children.

By law and for the protection of those caught in this chaos, these children can not be photographed. This crisis we must choose to see without a horrifying image to arouse our sensibilities. And yes, we could leverage our outrage and channel our indignation about the “faraway” to a “here and now” crisis that for the foreseeable future will remain on our shores.

Latest available national data indicate there are currently 102,000 foster children waiting in “the system” to be adopted.* These children have already been displaced and waiting in foster care long enough to have had the rights of their parents terminated – a process that can take years and rules out any hope of family reunification. No going back, these children are in a lengthy holding pattern, stuck between nostalgia for an oft-loved yet conflicted past and the landscape of an uncertain future – refugees of a different sort, but refugees for sure. And as in the case of political refugees, sitting in “holding areas” of displacement, foster children are exposed to social ills and predators seeking whom they may devour. The vulnerable are swallowed up by those promising a way out - any way out.

Refuge: A condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble

Though basic necessities of food and shelter may be provided in group homes or by foster parents of sometimes dubious motives, a child will always need and long to be “re-homed” in the nurturing environment of a permanent family – belonging somewhere and to someone particularly.

Foster children need refuge. A loving family can provide this refuge. And loving families are often a part of safe communities – churches. There are many ways and means to take in foster children, foster parenting and adoption representing involvement at the deepest levels. But it takes a small army of deliberate and caring individuals, responding at all levels of engagement, to settle a refugee family in a new community. Just as refugees of war are being welcomed into new communities in faraway lands, we can rally together, here and now, in small bands to help a displaced child resettle into a life of healing and eventual stability. But first, we must choose to see the crisis and feel the offense.

Our friend, Andy Stanley, has been pondering the idea of “need-fatigue” – the state of being immobilized or cold toward the magnitude of crises. To combat both overreacting and under-reacting, he wisely proposes “doing for one what you would wish to do for every-one.”** This small shift in particularization both anchors and focuses our anxiety, our compassion, and our activity toward one situation and one person. We begin to see visible relief, emerging hope, and ongoing healing in the life of one – the one we have chosen to engage, fight for and walk with.

Choosing to “see” and deciding which part to play in providing refuge, we participate in the promise of God to “set the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:8) And in so doing, there is one less refugee adrift in our world.

*Trends in Foster Care and Adoption: FFY 2002-FFY 2013 (Based on data submitted by States as of July 21, 2014) Source: AFCARS data, U.S. Children's Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families
**Helping One, Not Everyone, Andy Stanley;

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