"Foster care touches on multiple issues and engaging the system is a way to comprehensively engage some of the biggest challenges to a city’s flourishing."
There is a new initiative in Washington, D.C. that hopes to so profoundly change the foster care system in the city that the supply of foster homes will far exceed the demand for them. DC127 is an organization committed to “reversing the list” of children and youth who are waiting for a foster or adoptive home. By reminding churches of the biblical mandate to care for widows and orphans, they have started a network in D.C. that spans Christian denominational lines.
The movement is beginning to gain some traction and DC127 is gearing up for its first event on November 2.
Launched by the District Church, which is itself a community of faith that is committed to serving Washington, DC127 has so far mobilized eight churches in the District so far, to make supporting the city’s foster care system a priority. Modeled after Project 1.27 in Colorado, DC127 emphasizes the biblical mandate to the church in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
“People often ask, 'Why churches? Why should this issue be addressed by a church partnership?'" said Chelsea Geyer, DC127’s Project Coordinator (who gained three siblings through foster care and adoption herself). "We have the moral call and imperative to care for children in our midst. We know what it means to be adopted and loved unconditionally. Churches also represent a unique community and network that can provide support to the foster and adoptive families who need it to succeed. Historically, the church has been a moral leader in society and we believe we should be leading the way in sustained commitment to care for children in foster care.”
Currently, there are approximately 1300 children and youth who are in the D.C. foster care system. Of that number, 300 are on the waitlist for adoptive homes. There are roughly 900 D.C. youth in living in Maryland because of a lack of D.C. foster families. Two-thirds of those children want to move back to D.C. Many of these kids are siblings and many more are adolescents, past the ages when most families seem to want to adopt.
And alongside these heartbreaking statistics is the increase in D.C. — as in other cities — of young, childless residents with disposable income. Washington’s professional population is notoriously transient, with many people coming to do internships, fellowships, work on campaigns, or just attempt to make a name for themselves before leaving for greener (or more urban) pastures. It is common to come to D.C., enjoy it for a few years, and leave without having contributed to — or even become aware of — the city’s particular needs.
So in an ever-changing environment such as D.C., how can young professionals, here to reap the rewards of the city, shift their focus toward long-term engagement with their communities?
Enter Foster the City, DC127’s first major event. On November 2, DC127 will host a day-long informational event meant to both inspire and challenge and to provide education, resources, and support for individuals and families who are interested in foster care at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in DC.
Foster the City is meant to combat the typical hesitation associated with foster care, but tailored to D.C. If you’re a young 20-or30-something professional, what can you do about this issue? DC127 suggests that those who can’t foster a child can still offer child care and support to those who decide to open their homes and families to some of the city’s children. And still others can offer their finely-honed professional skills to spread the word.
Beyond James’ admonition to the church to care for these children, foster care is a way to fulfill another biblical mandate: to seek the peace and prosperity of the cities to which we’re called (Jeremiah 29:7). Foster care touches on multiple issues and engaging the system is a way to comprehensively engage some of the biggest challenges to a city’s flourishing.
As Geyer points out, “Foster care isn't an isolated issue. When a child spends time in foster care, there are permanent effects on their life — good and bad. Spending time in foster care affects a child's education, their likelihood to graduate high school and college, and to be incarcerated. Foster care can also be a time where children receive support and love and where their futures are invested in. This is what we want to see.”
So if you are a long-term Washingtonian, or someone who is passing through, consider how you can help foster a better city.
Information on Foster the City:
Saturday, November 2, 2013 from 12:30 PM to 5:00 PM (EDT)
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
801 Mount Vernon Place Northwest
Washington, DC 20001
Juliet Vedral is the Assistant to the President at Sojourners. When she's not doing research for Jim Wallis, she's probably writing something, doing yoga, or laughing to herself.