You Can Catch More Flies With Honey {let’s talk advocacy}

You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.Let’s talk advocacy, shall we?

This week, in particular, my own Mamma’s words have been on my mind.

“You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”

While at one of my children’s meetings for services through the schools, I kept these words close to heart.  Yes, I needed to be firm in what I wanted and hoped for the school to provide my child; however, I also needed to remind myself that the teachers sitting in front of me have their own families, their own insecurities, struggles they are facing, wishes and dreams.  The teachers sitting in front of me have a gazillion other students to care about and teach.

If I had chosen to walk into the meeting room with the expectation and attitude that they had to drop anything and everything else they were doing for other students and only give their attention to my child, then I would have failed in advocating for my child.  In other words, I would have not gained any ground with these teachers if I had approached them in a hostile manner.  Instead, I was gentle, kind and understanding of their own schedules and expectations.  By doing this, I was able to successfully advocate for my child’s needs.

In nearly every aspect of life, the ability to advocate for oneself and/or for someone else is an awesome opportunity and responsibility.  Becoming an advocate through your profession or personal life requires conviction, steadfastness, and the unwavering hope that what you are saying or doing will make an incredible difference in your life or the lives of others.

When people become foster parents, they learn about the difficult and diverse parts of the role they play in the lives of children.  They are asked to be parents but also asked to be professionals.  They are asked to work as a member of a team but also to never sway from their advocacy for children placed in their home.  This can be a challenge, but my goodness, what a remarkable experience in life; to care and advocate for abused and neglected children.

It really is a God-oriented role; applying the words of Scripture in caring for orphans and the least of these, doing so in the name of Jesus and being a living example of what it is to follow through on a calling in life.  

However, in the area of advocacy that foster parents must navigate, emotions can be all-consuming.  At times, they can be overwhelming.  Foster families are the ones wiping away tears, cleaning up messes, showing up at the school and doctor’s appointments, and speaking words of wisdom and encouragement into the ears of children.  It may be easy to think, “It should be simpler than this” or “It’s obvious what needs to happen” or even, “That case manager or attorney or therapist (insert any role) just doesn’t care about children.”

The reality is foster care cases are NOT simple.  Things may seem obvious but the law and statutes dictate what professionals are required to do.  They have to show reasonable efforts in reunification even if these efforts drag the cases out.  By not making effort and not documenting it, the entire case can crumble.

In the seventeen years that I have worked in child welfare, I have yet to find one professional in the field who doesn’t CARE for children – not one.  These people are smart, multi-talented and could totally be making more of an income in another field.  Yet, they have CHOSEN to work in child welfare.  They have chosen the long hours, late nights, and missed time with their families.  Their wages do not at all represent that sheer amount of work and responsibility handed to them.  However, they continue to carry on with the audacity of believing they are making a difference one life at a time.

If you are a foster parent or find yourself in a position that you are advocating for a child, please remember these things:

  • If your advocacy includes demeaning or disrespecting other people, it is not advocacy, it is bullying.
  • If your advocacy doesn’t take into consideration all of the legalities, then educate yourself. 
  • If you are advocating for a change in the law, policies, or processes, keep in mind the responsibilities and rights of persons affected by what you are pushing for.
  • If your advocacy is focused more on your own feelings and less on the role of being a foster parent, then do a “heart-check”.
  • If your advocacy is done in way that makes others question your motives, then perhaps, you should be questioning them as well.
  • If you are a Christian and stating that foster parenting is a ministry in your life, then by all means, act like it.  Pray about your upcoming meetings.  Consider how Jesus would treat others if in the same position.

I have found that in advocating for my own needs, my family and the clients I have served through my years in child welfare, more often than not, the “sweeter” I approach the task at hand, the better I am to “catch” the attention and respect of others.

Most importantly, I am able to look back on my own foster parenting experience and know that while I may have been told “no” or decisions may have been made that I didn’t agree with, I am able to tell my children that we (my husband and I) treated everyone on the team with respect, that we were kind to their birth parents and that we understood the value and importance of the laws in place.

If you find yourself full of fury at things happening or not happening in your (foster) child’s case, please, take a deep breath and remember the words of my Mamma.

“You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”

 

 

 

 

Foster Parenting is a Mission Field

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I was co-speaking at a women’s conference and the person speaking alongside me said this, “We seek foster families who love God.  It’s important for families to love children, of course, but we first seek families who love God…and because of their love of God, they want to serve and love children.”

It seems like it should be obvious but it jumped out at me as an often-missed message when it comes to foster parent recruitment.  For me, it appears that it would be nearly impossible to love God and not love children, but I wonder if we get it switched around when it comes to trying to find foster families for children in need.  We call people to the ministry of fostering because they love children.  Perhaps, we should focus more on calling them to it because their first love is God.

I’ve long thought that foster parenting is a mission field.  How can it not be?

Sure, foster families are not necessarily giving up the luxuries of first-world living that most missionaries are, but they are giving up privacy, control and that part of them that once thought child abuse and neglect is not as bad as it really is.

They are giving up their own family time and sleep-filled nights.  They are giving away pieces of their hearts that may have been sealed with the belief that trauma isn’t as bad as they once thought or that love can cure just about anything.  They are giving up their own plans and instead, walking step-by-step in the muck and mud of child abuse and neglect.  With each child that comes and goes, they are carrying away with them all that has been poured into them by their foster families.

Yes, foster parenting is a mission field.  And, it should be.

When considering the walkabout of Jesus while He was on Earth, each step He made was a purposeful, mission-minded ministry.  When others advised Him to stay away from people who were considered difficult, misunderstood or downright lowly, He walked towards them.  Did you read that?  Jesus walked TOWARDS them.

When it comes to children, Jesus’s actions in Scripture exemplified how precious they are.  He healed a child.  He set them as an example of how we should view faith.  He cast a demon out of a child.  He blessed them, fed them and in many ways, honored them.  Jesus’s ministry was very-much geared towards children; towards all of us.

When considering becoming a foster parent, it is important to undergo a heart-check – not a physical one, but a spiritual one.  Do you have to be a Christian or believer in a faith in order to be a foster parent?  No, absolutely not.  However, if you feel foster parenting is a ministry and calling in your life, then you have to act like it.

You must choose to be humble even when you don’t want to be.  You have to show resilience, patience and restraint, even when your body and mind are screaming not to.  It is hard.  It is emotional.  It will challenge nearly every aspect of your life, but keep in mind that for some people, you may be the only example of Christ they have witnessed.  No pressure, right?!

The willingness to serve God by loving children and youth through foster parenting is a calling.  The desire to step into the darkness of abuse and neglect and do so because of faith is remarkable.  Foster parents do this.  They step out of their comfort zone and right into darkness.

Yes, foster parenting is a mission field, and an important one at that.

“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of care I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” -Forest E. Witcraft

 

It’s Been a Long Time, Birth Mother

It’s been a long time, birth mother.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the adoption of our son; yet, in many ways, it feels like it was just yesterday.  I often think back to when you and I were taking turns rocking him during visits.  Is this what other mothers formed through adoption think about?  Is this how other mothers formed through adoption feel?  In many ways, we are stuck in those first moments when little souls entered our lives.  In other ways, we feel far away from those moments.

To look back through this past decade, I still fondly remember the laughter we shared.  I also remember (with great appreciation) the tears we mutually shed in those last days when you were his “legal” mother.  Although the years have come and gone, I truly and honestly think of you all of the time.  You gave birth to this special and wonderful kid.

He is as loyal as they come.  He hardly ever (I mean rarely) speaks ill of anyone.  He makes friends wherever he goes.  He does not care about outer appearance or “coolness” or any of those things.  I’m not even sure if you realize this but you are the same way.

When we were fostering and working with you, you did not judge us.  You did not care what we looked like or if we were “cool” or not.  You completely accepted us for who we were – just some random couple who decided to become foster parents and won the jackpot by getting the call to become foster parents for your baby boy.

It’s been a long time, birth mother; one decade since the gavel fell, I looked into the eyes of our son and I knew he was home…forever.

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the day after our “forever” day

As a mother through adoption, I go through many emotions – elation, exhaustion, humility and guilt.  Is it fair that I get to raise the son you grew in your womb?  Sometimes, I don’t think it is.  How in the world did I get so lucky?  When people tell me that I have blessed his life, I negate that.  The truth is that he has blessed mine.  So much.  This truth never leaves my side.  It beckons me to remember the magnitude of adoption.

Yes, it’s been a long time, birth mother.  The first moments I saw our son are forever sketched into my memory.  They are real and tangible; as if they just happened.  I suspect, or at least, hope that they will forever stay that way.

I have had people tell me that we were so kind and good to you while we were fostering.  We tried our best, given the awkwardness of the situation, but you made it easy.  You were kind.  You were good.  You accepted us.  You even referred to me as his “Mamma” a few times.

During his adoption hearing, with the backdrop of sniffles and tears from our family and friends, you were on my mind.  When the Judge meticulously went through the case and our son was officially declared “ours”, you were on my mind.  While we celebrated that special day and all that it meant, I went to bed thinking of you.  Even now, a decade later, I often go to bed thinking of you.

I will never be able to thank you enough for that.  I will never be able to repay my gratitude of how you treated us.  Instead, I pray and hope that I am raising our son (yours and mine) to become an adult who repays kindness to this world.

It’s been a long time, birth mother.

Yet, it feels fresh and anew each day.  As I watch him grow up, I think back on that blonde, curly-haired, happy-go-lucky little guy and I just become so overwhelmed.  Who knew that one little boy could grab a hold of my heart and history and change it in an instant?  He means the world to us, to our parents and to his Father in Heaven.  I know he means the world to you.

Looking back over the past decade, I have failed many times.  I have succeeded at others.  I have cried.  I have laughed.  I have wondered if I am doing this whole (adoptive) parenting thing right, but…I have never questioned the love you have for our son.  Not once.  It breaks my heart and swells it with love at the same time.  It is an essential truth that will always resonate deep within my heart.

It’s been a long time, birth mother; a long time since you and I took turns rocking him during visits. 

Children who enter our lives through foster care and adoption have a funny way of grabbing our hearts.  Sometimes, we are blessed enough to have birth parents who grab our hearts as well.

You did just that.

 

 

 

If Your Son or Daughter is a Foster Parent

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I love this picture of my dad and my oldest son sharing a shake when he was just a little guy.  We fostered him for close to two years and we all underestimated how deeply we would fall in love.  We didn’t know how hard the road would be or how complex feelings are when you want biological parents to succeed; yet, you also want so desperately to hold on to the kiddo that captured your heart.  It was close to two years before we were declared his (legal) family and on that day, our entire family exhaled a collective sigh of relief, belief, and appreciation.

My parents absolutely 100% poured everything they could into our children while we were fostering them.  They did so with zero promise that they would be their “forever” grandparents.  Looking back, it seems a bit selfish to have asked them to do this.  Their instant adoration upon meeting our babies was apparent and a bit heartbreaking.  They understood that reunification was the goal but it didn’t make things easier.  They asked “when will you know anything” for months upon months.  Yet, we could not promise anything nor could we give a lot of details.  

With each step, our parents just went with the flow.  I saw the concern in their eyes.  I saw the worry covering their expressions.  Even so, our parents accepted, celebrated and cherished each child and each moment with them as if it would be their last.  

Foster care and adoption brought us closer as a family.  We were stretched in faith and in our worldview about what family means.

We know that FAMILY is more than blood. 

LOVE is not defined by DNA. 

Children are the best GIFTS anyone could ask for, regardless of how they come into your life.

Most people remarked about how hard it must have been for us to love our children without knowing what would happen or how long they would be in our lives.  To say it was hard is quite an understatement.  It was painful, full of worry and just plain exhausting.

Looking back, I recognize that no one really asked how our parents were holding up.  Sure, we were asked a lot.  We were offered prayer and assistance.  Our parents, however, were not.  At least, not to the level that we were.  Yet, fostering is hard for the entire family.

Grandparents (aka – the parents of foster parents) play an oh-so-important role in the life of a foster child.  They attend birthday parties, help out when one is sick, celebrate holidays, bake that special little goodie that the child devours, and nurtures the child just like most grandparents do.  They do all of this even while knowing how devastating it would be to lose the child they have grown to love.  They also do all of this with the knowledge that reunification is a part of foster care and absolutely does happen in a lot of situations.

If reunification occurs (and it should if the biological parents are healthy and able), not only do the foster parents grieve the child moving (even though they are aware this is a reality), grandparents also grieve, worry and wonder about the child’s future.  It’s a loss that is manageable but also life-changing.

Will the child remember them? 

Will they ever see that ornery little girl with dimples in her cheeks or that sweet little boy whose eyes could melt the world again? 

Will that spunky 6-yr-old think back fondly of baking cookies or playing catch with “grandma and grandpa”? 

Will that pre-teen still yearn to hear “grandpa’s” goofy jokes?

Will that teenager call when he needs some advice?

Will they know how deeply they were cherished and loved?

Foster parenting affects the parents of those who foster and anyone else who is a part of the child’s life.

If your son or daughter is a foster parent, you know how it has affected your life.  You have so many questions that have to go unanswered.  Your heart breaks with pain and leaps with joy all within a few days.  You did not sign up for this.  Sure, you were excited and worried all at the same time but you really had no idea what to expect.  You get frustrated, even angry, as you watch your child ride an incomparable wave of emotion.

Your support during the tough times and your willingness to listen is so important.  Of course, a few nights of babysitting always come in handy but at the end of the day, your unwavering commitment to be there during the bad days and the good ones is vital.

Even when you are anxious and angry, you put on a brave face.  Instead of showing your sorrow, you lie in bed at night thinking about the love that has entered your life.  You fear what could happen in everyone’s lives – yours, your child’s and the little one that you adore.

If your son or daughter is a foster parent, I hope you know how valuable you are.  Like our parents and the untold numbers of other out there, your input in a child’s life increases the output of love they will feel.  You matter.

Thank you for loving (foster) children without the promise of tomorrow. 

Just know that what you do for the life of a child can change the course of history for generations. 

This is something we should all be thankful for.

 

 

 

Be Bold {let your light shine}

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I wish I could tell you that it is “easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy” (as my 5-yr-old likes to say) to parent children who have been adopted or to be a foster parent.  I’d love to say that once a child enters your home either for foster care or adoption, all problems go away and it’s just downhill and smooth-sailing from there.  It would be fantastic for me to declare that I never second-guess myself and that we are all about lollipops, rainbows, and laughter.  However, if I were to say any of these things, my words would be false.  They would not bear a truthful witness to what it is to be a parent through adoption.

A few months ago, I started praying/speaking these words to God, “What do you want me to do with my life?”  “What do you want from me?”  One morning while praying, I heard the words, “BE BOLD.”  A little startled at the immediate response, I asked, “What do you mean?”  

“BE BOLD.”  The words were clear, concise and not complicated.

Several months have passed and to be honest, I just kind of ignored this answer.  I know the Lord told me to be bold but it was just too simple of a declaration.  I am a detail-oriented person and the two-word response to my prayer just didn’t cut it.

With the dawning of a New Year, the Lord’s answer of “Be bold” has never strayed too far from my mind.  I wonder, friend, if His words are not only meant for my ears but also for yours.

For prospective foster and adoptive families, you need to know that being bold is imperative.  It’s more than just declaring an injustice in what you are witnessing.  It requires a stillness of faith AND a movement of courage.  

Being bold, in the sight of others who do not understand, is necessary.

When you are asked, “Why in the world would you want to do that?”, be bold.

When people say to you, “I would never subject my own kids to that”, be bold.

When you are quivering in fear over what is going to happen with a child you love, be bold.

When you have the opportunity to love on biological parents, please, by all means, be bold.

Foster parenting and adoption both have this funny way of knocking people to their knees.  We fall down time and again, but we get up.  We wonder what we are doing and why in the heck are we doing it, but we keep on.  In the face of many obstacles and trials, we stand up.  We are bold.

When parenting children who come from extremely difficult situations, we learn of our own blessings and our own stumbling blocks.  Their histories collide with ours and we realize how different life could have been for us if we were handed down the same hardships these children have been dealt.

I know the saying of “What would happen if you weren’t afraid?”  It’s fine and everything but I like this version better:  “What would happen if you were bold?” 

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold… -2nd Corinthians 3:12

How could your courage and boldness literally change the course of a child’s or adult’s life?

What would your boldness show to children who look up to you?

How could you make an eternal difference for someone?

What if you took that darned thing called infertility, grabbed it by the neck and said, “No. I’m not going down that way”?

What if you become a foster parent and take in kiddos that absolutely soak up your love and attention?

What if you step outside of your preconceived comfort zone and foster a large sibling group, older youth or ones with special needs?

What could happen if you decide tomorrow to wake up declaring that boldness is the only way to live?

We are well on our way into 2018.  We don’t know what we will have to face or overcome as the year unfolds but let’s live this year with a boldness that leaves an impression.

Shine your light, friends.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:16

 

If you are considering foster care or adoption, my wish is that fear would not stop you.  It isn’t easy, but it is so worth.

Goal for 2018:  Let others see that boldly living and courageously loving is a remarkable way to live.

Question:  How are you going to live boldly this year?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Could YOU adopt a teen?

The is a great need for families to foster and adopt older youth.  It is a constant challenge that those of us in child welfare deal with.  During various recruitment events and other types of meetings, we often speak about how long too many kiddos, age 12+, are lingering in the system.  The challenge is to get people to understand that older youth in the system are just as “adoptable” as young children.

I get it.  My husband and I fostered infants.  This was our desire.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  It still fulfills a need.  However, as we get older and as our children age, IF we were to ever foster again or adopt, we would absolutely consider older youth.

Could YOU adopt a teen?  Maybe so.  Here’s an article I wrote for Adoption.com regarding this very subject.  Click this link to read more:  Could YOU adopt a teen?

Blessings,

Caroline

“Kids Who Need Love the Most Often Ask for it in the Most Unloving Ways”

I’ve heard the quote, “Kids Who Need Love the Most Often Ask for it in the Most Unloving Ways” (Russel Barkley) more than once.  I never really understood it until I began my own parenting journey many years ago with a relative of mine.  Now, as a parent to three children who all have some special (yet not obvious) needs, I totally understand the essence of this quote.

Recently, I was asked to write about this subject for Adoption.com.  (By the way, if you haven’t visited the site (www.adoption.com), you should.  It is a fantastic site for pretty much all things related to adoption.)

For more on the subject, click this link:  Kids Who Need Love the Most

As 2017 comes to an end, I hope you all find yourself surrounded by love, encouragement, and hope.

Blessings,

Caroline

Teens Need Families, No Matter What

Hi there!  November is almost over with and Christmas is on its way, but we still have a few days left for National Adoption Awareness Month.  This year’s theme is “Teens Need Families, No Matter What”.  It is such an important theme and speaks of the reality of older youth in the system who are waiting for their permanent families.

To learn more, click this link for an article I wrote about this subject:  Teens Need Families, No Matter What

Wishing you all well!

Blessings,

Caroline

Nine On My Mind

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See that sweetie right there?  That’s my daughter before she came to live with us.  Her first foster mama sent us the picture after it was decided that we would be her new home.  They loved her dearly but made the decision that they could not be a long term home for her (in case she needed one), so we were called.

I remember it so vividly.  As I was sitting in the parking lot of Goodwill (which is a bit ironic), my phone rang.  I saw the number and knew it was our state’s child protection services calling.  My stomach flip-flopped a bit and I answered, “Hello?”.  The social worker on the other line explained my daughter’s situation and asked the words that so many foster families know, “Are you interested in being a placement?”

I told her that I needed to call my husband first.  We agreed to talk about it after work.  After his call, I called my mom for her advice.  Even as an adult, I knew I needed to speak to her.  Technically, we were not even on “the list” for placements but we did tell our licensing worker to keep us in mind.

Thoughts swirled through my head.  “What about our son?”  (He was only two at the time and we had just been through close to two years of fostering him before we were able to adopt.)  “How will it impact him?”  “Are we ready for another kiddo?”  “Can I handle the sleepless nights again?”  “Are we ready to not be in control and unsure of what is going to happen with this little girl’s case?”  “Can we do this?”  You get the point.  It was overwhelming and exciting all at the same time.

I called the social worker back and asked, “Could we have a few days to work some things out and talk about it before we make a decision?”  She said, “Of course, that is fine.”  So we did…and we said, “Yes.”

This past weekend we celebrated my daughter’s ninth birthday.  With each of my children’s birthdays, I relive the day they came into my life.  It’s like reliving a birth story but of course, I wasn’t there for their births.  I wasn’t around to watch them enter this big world.  I didn’t get to swaddle them up and hold them close as they cried out, “I AM HERE!”  However, I was there when social services called.  I’ve been here ever since.

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Watching my daughter grow through the years has given us much joy.  It has also come with a whole lot of challenges – some unique to adoptive families, some typical of any family raising a girl.

She’s a bit mysterious, generous, ornery, charming, super strong-willed, and creative.

She’s interested in learning about the world around her and feels every ounce of emotion that enters her mind.  If we can just teach her to harness all of these qualities, I dare think she could be a force to reckon with in the future.

I’ve had nine on my mind; nine years of watching a baby who literally arrived on my doorstep grow into a girl who makes an impression on just about everyone she meets.

Foster parenting is something that never leaves you.  The experience is surreal, emotional and so worth it.  When we began, we had no idea what would happen.  When we decided to close our license, we walked away with a wealth of knowledge, a big dose of humility, and two children who became ours through adoption.

Yes, I’ve had nine on my mind; nine years of loving and training up a daughter who just might change the world.  I know she’s changed mine.

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Happy Birthday, Sis.  Love You Forever.

 

 

Stand Sunday {EIGHT things YOU can do to take a stand for foster children and foster parents}

 

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Next time you are at church, take a look around at the empty seats.  Imagine if those seats were filled with foster children who were being taken care of by members of the congregation.  Wouldn’t that be an awesome sight to see?

This coming up Sunday (November 12th) is “Stand Sunday”.  Stand Sunday, an initiative of Orphan Sunday and The Christian Alliance for Orphans is designated as the day where churches are asked to take a stand for foster children.  Ultimately, the goal is for there to be an abundance of appropriate foster homes to meet the diverse needs of every single child in the system.

Not everyone is able to be a foster parent, but everyone can do something to help.  There are many ways that you and your church can take a stand for foster children.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Foster care is a mission field and the church should be involved.  As a church, reach out to local child welfare agencies and request ways that you can help them out.  Do they need volunteers for special events?  Donations of certain items?  What needs could your church fill?
  2. If foster parents attend your church, offer them a “parents night out” by providing childcare.  Each state may have different processes for approval; however, this is not an impossible task to achieve and the families absolutely need it.
  3. If you are a foster parent or work in the field, ask your pastor about guest speaking.  Eek!  I know that sounds really scary but only you can provide the kind of insight needed to get the message across.  (You can do it!)
  4. Sometimes, all it takes is for people to be aware of the magnitude of an issue before they get involved.  Ask your church if it would print a little blurb about the facts, numbers, and needs of foster children in US foster care system and add it to the Sunday morning pamphlets that are distributed when people walk through the doors.  Knowledge is power!
  5. Start a meal train for new foster families.  There is nothing more chaotic than the first week or so of a new foster placement.  Often, these families become instant parents to two or more children of different ages and with varying needs.  Cooking dinner (unless you count boxed mac-n-cheese/not judging at all) is the last thing on their minds.
  6. Think about your own talents.  Are you a great photographer?  Do you have a teachable skill set?  Are you a retired teacher or coach?  If so, use your talents and experiences to tutor and mentor youth in care.
  7. Just be present.  I know that sounds a little cheesy and all but nothing feels better than knowing one is heard, loved and supported during the good days and the bad.
  8. Pray!  Seriously, Church.  Pray without ceasing for children in the system, for their biological parents, caseworkers, Judges and juvenile authorities and for the foster and relative homes who are all on the front lines of battling child abuse and neglect.

I’ve worked in child welfare for close to 17 years.  I fostered for four years, as well.  I sure wish the demand for my job did not involve child abuse and neglect.  I’ve worked with far too many kids who have said, “No one cares”.

Church, it’s time we show them we care. 

It’s time we take a stand.