For all of the recent reporting about challenges in the Kansas foster care system — and make no mistake, there are gigantic ones — we should take a moment as this year begins to acknowledge those who step up to be foster parents.
So many children in the system come from difficult and trying circumstances. Their stories vary, but can include physical and sexual abuse, neglect or other unspeakable harms. What they need most is a caring, stable, loving environment. And those who open their doors to these kids are doing a wonderful thing.
Foster care isn’t meant to be — nor should it be in the vast majority of cases — a permanent solution. Families can be strengthened and reunited. Especially in cases where simple poverty is at the base of the problem, the state should step in with needed resources. But as these solutions are being implemented, as environments are being made safe and welcoming, children need a place to flourish.
But we shouldn’t just praise foster parents for stepping up. We also want to recognize all of those who mentor for a variety of support and mentoring programs, such as Foster Grandparents and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Their contributions may only amount to a few hours a week. But for those in the programs who need a helping hand or a friendly ear, those hours can make a lifelong difference. The relationships built can last a lifetime.
Caring for other people can be difficult. We are so wrapped up in our own families, lives and careers. We sometimes look at those apart from us — those in need — as unwelcome reminders of the unfairness of life, of the inequities of our system. Sometimes we blame them for the problems they face, rather than empathizing with them.
We should all take a step back, withhold judgment, and put ourselves in others’ shoes. Does that mean we truly understand what it’s like to be them? Of course not. But it allows us to begin a journey that’s focused on others, not ourselves.
In other words, we start by empathizing. Then some of us move to engagement. Fully confronting the challenges faced by those in the child welfare system by becoming a foster parent? That’s a noble act.
The system needs fixing, there’s no question about that. And not everyone who becomes a foster parent is necessarily admirable. But the system exists. The need exists. Children are being separated from their families and need loving homes now. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but right now.
For those who answer the call, thank you.