The Common Good
January 2014

Foster Care for a New Millennium

by Juliet Vedral | January 2014

Christians step up for modern-day "orphans in their distress."

I WAS 7 years old when my family first opened our home to foster children. My parents were in their early 40s and already had four children at home. They were somewhat typical for foster parents at that time: married, established, often people of faith. We had a total of 10 children in our home—two of whom were adopted—from 1988 until 1997. Fostering children was a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week commitment and calling. As my mother would say, “God sets the lonely in families—but am I willing to let him set them in mine?”

This is a question that more Christians—particularly the oft-maligned Millennials—are asking themselves. They are examining both the sheer number of children growing up without families and scripture to see what it says about their faith. Taking their cue, and often their names, from James 1:27 (“look after orphans and widows in their distress”), groups in Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, Virginia, and most recently the District of Columbia have committed to looking after these modern-day “orphans in their distress.”

According to the Administration for Children and Families, in 2012 there were 400,000 children in foster care nationwide. Of that number, 102,000 were waiting to be adopted. Only 52,000 children were adopted in 2012; at the end of 2011, 15 percent of youth in the system lived in group homes or institutions. What is most troub-ling is the number of youth who “age out” of the system every year without the support of a family. At the end of 2011, 11 percent, or 26,000 youth in the system, aged out. These youth are much more likely to experience homelessness, health problems, unemployment, incarceration, and other trouble later in life.

In Washington, D.C., there are about 1,300 children in the foster care system; 300 of them are on the waitlist for adoptive homes. Many are siblings, and many more are adolescents, past the ages when most families typically want to adopt.

Enter DC127. This initiative began at The District Church in Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood with a mission to “reverse the list” of children waiting for foster and adoptive homes. Eight other churches in the District of Columbia have joined the movement, forming a network that spans Christian denominational lines. In early November, hundreds attended “Foster the City,” DC127’s first event, at D.C.’s convention center, packing breakout sessions and signing up with various foster agencies.

The people who have rallied around DC127 set it apart from similar initiatives—many of them are young and single, not the typical demographic for foster families. “The District Church is made up of 75 percent single adults between the ages of 20 to 35 years old, so when trying to recruit foster parents, our congregation is not made up of too many likely candidates,” says Amy Graham, discipleship pastor at The District Church.

The young professional population in Washington is notoriously transient and often focused on using the city to advance their careers, not their faith. Yet many of DC127’s volunteers are rising to the challenge, offering support and advocacy in lieu of homes. But, Graham continues, “seeds are being planted into their lives so when they do start thinking about what it looks like to be a family, fostering children in D.C. or elsewhere will more likely be a part of that equation.” 

Juliet Vedral is assistant to the president of Sojourners, which supported the founding of The District Church.

Image: Illustration of roadsign with a fostering concept, Sam72 / Shutterstock.com

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