the “broken” system {it’s been one of those days}

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His information came to me in an email.  I opened it up, read the narrative, clicked on a video and my heart sank.  The 9-year old, Harry Potter look-a-like little boy, who my husband and I met at a birthday party over the summer, is in need of a family.

“Watch me do this!”, he said to my husband.  He giggled and played and just soaked up my husband’s attention.  We were there for another boy who was in foster care and now has his forever family.  We met this little guy by chance.

I called my husband and said, “Remember that little boy at the birthday party?  The one with the glasses?”  My husband knew immediately who I was talking about.  “He needs an adoptive family.  He absolutely adored you.”

“You are making me sad.  It’s just one of those days”, my husband said.

My husband also works in child welfare.  “One of those days” is a phrase that we have often said to each other.  I wish I could give you an exact count of the number of profiles of children in need of an adoptive family that I’ve read through the years.  A profile is a synopsis about a child in need of adoption.  One part of my job is to send out adoption profiles to my staff who, in turn, send them out to foster and adoptive families.

It breaks my heart to see repeat profiles – ones of kids whose profile is sent out multiple times in hopes of just one family that might show interest.  The majority of these kids are over the age of five, have significant trauma, and are a handful, to say the least.  However, behind their age, their behaviors and their histories, they are children.  They play dress-up.  They love Lego’s.  They still believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.

They yearn for a Mommy and Daddy who won’t leave.

I have worked in child welfare for over seventeen years now and I still fight back tears when I fully ponder what is going on with children.  I get angry.  I threaten to walk away.  I fight cynicism.  Yet, I remain.

Having worked in the system for so long, I have heard “the system is broken” more times than I can count.  Yes, there are many things about the system that needs to be fixed.  Yes, we have a lot of work to do.  I agree with all of this.  However, when I sign people up for foster care classes knowing that they really just want a baby or I see profiles of kids in need of a family sent out over and over again, I find myself wondering if it really is the system that is broken, or if it is just us.  Maybe what is broken is our perception of child abuse and neglect, our vision of how good we think adoption should feel and our systematic way of turning our heads away from the problems at hand.  It’s easy for us to say, “Someone will step up or someone might adopt that child.”  It’s much harder for us to say, “We will step up.  We will adopt that child.”

First, let me state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to foster a baby.  My husband and I did this and we are glad that we did.  We got to experience the precious love of babies.  We watched them as they walked for the first time, called us “Mommy and Daddy” and began to explore the world.  We were also blessed to be able to adopt them.

Now that my kids are older and I walk every day in the struggles of their lives, I recognize that if they were in need of an adoptive home right now, their chances of getting adopted would be slim.  That reality breaks my heart.

Is the system broken?  Sure, in some way it is.  Are we broken?  Yes.  I wish that every single child and youth in need of a permanent family would find one.  I wish that more people would step up and say “yes”.  I so wish that people understood trauma better, age didn’t make a difference, adoption was understood as being hard and not rosy, and that each kid was given a chance at experiencing what it truly means to belong.

If we want to fix the broken system, then we need to take a hard look at our expectations and desires.  The kids in it are not perfect (no kid is).  They have experienced things that a lot of us haven’t.  Their brains have literally been changed by trauma (scientific fact).  They can’t change overnight.  They can’t undo what’s been done to them.  They cope the best they can.  They are often in survival mode.  They may not even realize any of this.  We can, though.

We can accept non-perfect kids.  We can learn how trauma changes the brain.  We can change our expectations of adoption.  We can empathize with children who have been forgotten and given back by too many people who promised forever.

We can understand that it won’t feel good all of the time and that a child’s history matters, but their futures matter more.

Their futures matter more.

I don’t believe for one second that God intends for children to be without families; not for one minute.  This is why after all of these years I still have days like this.  I know that Jesus leaves the ninety-nine to seek out the one.  I pray that we do this as well.  I still have hope, though.  I know that nothing is impossible and as long as there are children who need families, there are those of us who wake up day in and day out and do our best to end the scourge of abuse, neglect and children without families.

It’s been one of those days, but it will pass…until it happens again.

for my fellow child welfare professionals and foster families

I watched out the window as one foster family loaded three little ones into their car, spent time talking to the other foster family, and eventually drove off.  I thought to myself, “I bet those children have no idea that the family who has tucked them in bed the last few months of their lives will no longer be tucking them in.”

I do not blame the foster family – life happens, situations lean themselves to not being a good match, often trauma is so intense that it does not create a safe situation, and after all, we are all just human.  Sometimes, foster families have to let go of children they are attached to.

I watched the foster-mother wipe away tears from behind her sunglasses, and made a mental note to check on her after the weekend.  I listened to the case worker cry in the lonely confines of the bathroom, and then checked on her after she planted herself at her desk.

During all of this, my mind escaped back to when I was a new soldier in the awfully disgusting, seemingly inhumane, and never-ending war of child abuse.

My first “case” was a six-year-old girl with brown eyes, blonde hair, tomboyish temperament, and an infinity to act older than her age.

I received her file, which happened to be a very thick binder, on my desk the very first week I started my job.  “Here’s your first case.  She’s disrupting from her adoptive home”, my supervisor said.  “You need to find her another foster home that might be interested in adopting.”

In situations like this, case workers are left to scramble and search for a new family to be found.  I remember calling county offices asking…essentially pleading for a new foster family for the little girl to whom I had not even met.

Shortly after my frantic calls, I drove to her foster home..the one that promised forever…introduced myself to her…stacked her belongings in my truck…buckled her in…and drove her to the next foster family.

I literally remember every moment of this experience.  I can see the pictures on the walls of the family who gave her up, and I remember the awkwardly silent ride to her next home.

I also remember reading her file, and the many others that crossed my desk through the years.

I recall the initial trauma I felt when learning about the extent of abuse that had occurred in the lives of the children who had just started their own walk in the world.

I got angry.  I cried.  I wondered where the heck God was while all of this was going on.  I became motivated.  I worked a little harder than I thought I would.  I became passionate about the field that chose me.  I prayed.

The little girl whom I bared the responsibility of finding a family did get adopted by her new family. Even after she became comfortable with her new family, she would run and hide when she saw my white truck pull in the driveway.

I’ve been reading about the impact of child welfare work on social worker’s lives. Poor sleep, stressed relationships, depression, nutritional issues, weight gain, nightmares, and secondary trauma all seem to creep up in the lives of workers in the front lines of child welfare.  And, let’s be honest…social workers do not make a lot of money…at all.

Having been in child welfare as a professional for thirteen years, and a former foster-mother (now mother through adoption), I find myself with the ability to tuck away the painful reality of it all into a corner that I very rarely enter anymore.

I do not know if it is possible to process all of the information of tragic life stories that I have read through the years.  Sure, there are the moments of grief and anger that are witnessed as they unfold in the lobby of the office before my very eyes.  I still cry from time to time about the very nature of what is truly going on in the underbelly of our seemingly idealistic and happy communities.

Although I am weathered by the years, it really does not get easier.  It just becomes less traumatic, more expected, and a seemingly natural part of life.

That seems awful, doesn’t it?  Why in the world would child abuse and neglect become a part of life?

To be honest, if I dwell too much on it all – the sounds of children asking why they can’t go home with mommy, babies crying from feeling stressed during visits, and mixed up, lonely children being bounced from home to home – I end up getting angry.

I get angry that God would allow any of this.  I am reminded and aware of freewill, but it does not make me less outraged, less saddened, and less frustrated.

There are many opinions about children’s protective social service workers.  If there is media attention, it is usually centered around the one case of hundreds where something went wrong.  Attention is very rarely spotlighted on the day-to-day choices that case workers, juvenile court officials, child welfare attorneys, and foster parents have to make.

It does not capture the tender moments of social workers picking out gifts (often from their own money) for “their kids”.  It does not show the hours of work spent by workers in the field.  

Attention does not get up in the middle of the night to answer the “on-call” phone, travel to a meth lab in the middle of the night to pick up children who are confused and weary from the unknowns, or visit with adults trying their best to turn their lives around.  

It does not celebrate when permanency is achieved through adoption, or when children, whom desperately love their parents, are able to return to them. 

It does not hold a raging or sobbing child who seeks comfort from the stranger who just took her in.  It also does not lend an ear to listen to older youth as they wonder about their future.

Media attention definitely does not highlight the words of encouragement case workers, juvenile court officials, child welfare attorneys, and foster parents speak to the families and children who find themselves caught up in the system.

I have listened as people (whom did not know that I work in child welfare) slam foster families, children service workers, and the system as a whole.  I have been shocked by their opinions of how easily this war could be fixed.  I have also found myself wondering, “What are you, opinionated one, doing about it?   When have you called a child welfare agency to offer your time and talent?  Have you taken the time to care enough to bring a child into your home, support a family who is struggling, or advocate for change?”

For my fellow child welfare professionals and foster families in this unending plague of child abuse, remember this, everything you do matters…a lot.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” –Robert F. Kennedy

 

Compassion

“I miss you, Mr. Bruce.  I wish you were still my therapist.”  

The words above are ones I heard today from my office.  I got up, walked down the hall, and found a chubby, 10-year-old boy looking up at my husband.  My husband is not a therapist, but a child welfare case worker, and we work at the same agency.  This boy had been on his case load for several years until he was recently transferred to another worker who could focus more on his adoptive recruitment.

The minute the boy walked away, tears started to well up in my eyes.  I could barely keep them in.  This boy, the one who missed my husband, is the same boy who my husband worried about, had on his mind long after work hours ended, and had a hard time letting him go to another worker.

This boy has no one, but case workers.  He has no birth family to connect to anymore.  He only has the people in his life who are professionally charged for caring for him.

His small, vulnerable hands reached out to staff members today.  He introduced himself, shook our hands, and used his little hands to make pictures for each of us. He needed this activity to fill his day until he met his new foster mom.  He seemed fine, and had some boundary issues, but overall, he appeared to be a sweet and resilient little guy.

As the day went on, I thought about the boy, what has happened in his life, what might or might not happen, how innocent he is in so many ways, and how empathy tends to rip out one’s heart.  I’ve been confronted with empathy and compassion several times this week.  Just a few days ago, I posted this quote on a friend’s Facebook wall:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” ~ Henri Nouwen

My friend, whom I’ve known since junior high, is part of a group of citizens who are organizing meals for the homeless in our community.  During a recent lunch conversation, our thoughts turned to the idea of how helping others loses its “doing good for others feeling” and becomes an experience that causes full immersion into the trauma, poor choices, dysfunction, and despair of others.  I think my friend has hit “that wall”….that painful, raw wall of human experience.

It is a wall that I ran smack into when I first started working in the field of child welfare.  I was going to change the world.  I was going to find families for the kids who just needed to be loved.  I was going to make a difference.  To say I saw my role through rose-colored glasses is an understatement.  The first week or two were wonderful.  I was warmly welcomed by other staff members, and was slowly being introduced to foster families, and I was starting to get some “cases”.  By cases, I mean children.  

Then, I opened up my first file of documentation about the history of the children I was assigned to find families for.  There before me were the stories of gut-wrenching abuse at the hands of adults charged with caring for these little ones.  Within the stories were layers of neglect, past trauma, dysfunctional family systems, and lots and lots of despair.

The stories of child abuse were no longer stories.  They were images of innocence ripped away.  I wanted to pretend that what I was reading was not that bad….but….how could I?  How could I gloss over horrific sexual abuse, or babies being found laying in cribs among animal waste?  How can I ever forget the picture of a 4-year-old, blue-eyed beauty with staples in her head from the physical abuse suffered at the hands of her mother’s paramour?

I hit the wall.  My vision of the community I thought I lived in changed.  I entered the underbelly of what is really going on behind lots of doors, dark alleys, and drug-fueled minds.

I remember weeping at night about what I witnessed through the pages of life stories unfolding in front of me.  I had bad dreams…nightmares really.  I know I was going through what is typical in the helping relationship field.  Others before me had already hit the wall, and had successfully built their own resilient walls to shield them from the pains and problems of their clients.

The wall is necessary to get through the day, but it does not make us less compassionate.  Compassion forces us to go to places we would never choose to go on our own.  It kicks us in the gut, compels us to move, and pushes us to keep on “keeping on”.  There is a difference between a “do-gooders”, and compassionate people who seeks to make differences in their worlds.  Doing good does just that….it does good, but compassion does so much more.

Compassion reveals the gut-wrenching human existence that is part of life on Earth.  As a Christian, I believe that compassion leads us to the place where Jesus exists.  It puts us in the most broken of painful places.  It causes us to see others with fullness, not just splinters.

It is the place where Jesus calls us to be.

I’ve thought a lot about the little boy who looked up to my husband today.  I’ve thought about his future.  I’ve wondered how it is possible for him to even dream beyond tomorrow without the safety of yesterdays.  I’ve shed tears for him.  I’ve felt pain and worry for him.

If compassion can lead us to feel all of this, then surely, it can lead us to imagine the depth of how the Lord sees us.  Though broken in my vision of this little boy, and the others I’ve met along the way, I know that my human vision is nothing compared to the vision that the Lord must have for these children, and others in our world who have fallen on the downside of society.

Compassion calls us to wake up each day with the desire to grasp a glimpse of the lives of others.  It breaks our hearts, and stirs our determination.  Most of all though, it begs us to live a life walking in the full measure of the mercy we have been given, and to reach to others in ways that they see Him living in us.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

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I was running a little late yesterday picking my son up from school.  Up to this point, we have had a fairly routine pick-up schedule.  I arrive about ten minutes before school lets out, park in the same area, walk in to the main doors, and wait on a bench until I see his smiling face walking down the hall towards me.  Yesterday though, I was about ten minutes late from my usual pick-up time.

As I approached the door, I could see him sitting on the bench waiting for me with a slight look of worry on his face.  He was searching through the small crowd of parents that had gathered in the front entrance.  When the door opened, and I entered the building, he swung his head around and with a gleeful sound, he said, “Mommy!”  We hugged, he told me about his day, and we made our way to the car.

I’ve been thinking about the look on my son’s face when I saw him through the door looking slightly distressed over my absence, and then again, at his joyful expression when he saw me.  The thoughts that have come from this brief and somewhat insignificant moment is this, It matters that we keep our word to children.  It matters that they can rely on us to be there for them, and that we do what we say we are going to do.”

I couldn’t help but think about the kids in foster care that I used to work with as a case manager.  Many were promised things by their parents and others that never came to fruition.  Parents did not get clean from drugs, work their treatment plans, or “get them back” like they told their children they would.  Several of the children meandered their way through the system (and many still do) moving from home to home without anyone committing to caring for them long-term.  They were continually let down by the unfulfilled promises of adults.

Many of the kids have been failed often by adults in their lives even prior to entering foster care.  Too many of them have never had anyone stick around long enough to help them lay down roots to a firm foundation for their future.  One of the keys to successfully working with children in the foster care system is to say what you mean, and mean what you say.  It also is vitally important to do what you say you are going to do.

My son’s look of relief upon seeing me yesterday after being just a few minutes late to pick him up reminded me of what I really already knew.  Our responsibilities as parents and as adults is to keep the well-being of children in the forefront.  The way we treat them, keep our word to them, and be intentional in their lives will shape their future, and in many ways, will shape ours.

Each Time I Speak

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a class of social work students at a Christian university about foster parenting, adoption, and infertility.  I always enjoy these opportunities to share of the great calling that is foster parenting, and to give a glimpse of my own personal testimony.  It seems each time I speak, I walk away learning a bit more about myself, and about the Lord.

It was a small class, and I really do not know what each of them want to do with their education or who their target population of clients will be.  I don’t know what any of their own life stories involve, but I was thankful to see a group of young persons seeking to learn more about society and the social issues that we face.  I also recognize that they are going to learn more once they actually graduate and dive into the field, than myself, or any professor could ever teach them.

With that being said, I do believe in the power of story-telling, and not just fictional stories.  Human stories are powerful and often help the listener navigate their worlds vicariously through the stories of someone else.  Today, after speaking about the basic facts of foster parenting, and sharing some examples of both heart-break and joy, I was asked to share my personal journey.

I’ve been a guest speaker several times and have told my story of infertility and adoption multiple times.  Each time I start though, I struggle just a bit with how to begin it.  Often, I pause, take a deep breath, then start something like this….

I need to start from the beginning in order for you to understand the full story…

I begin the tale of my journey by explaining that my medical problems started to happen at the age of two years, but that no one ever suspected what would happen at the age of eleven.  I tell of being in the hospital for nearly a week in the dying process before the life-saving decision was made to perform exploratory surgery.  I talk about my hysterectomy, and at times, I catch myself off-guard about how open I am now in talking about it.

After I “break the ice” a bit with my medical history  I meander my way through the steps taken to become licensed as a foster parent up until the moment I first laid eyes on the precious baby we were charged with taking care of.  I tell of the lows (and there were many), the highs, the revelations, the humbling moments, and ultimately, the gift of adoption.  I speak of the relationship built with my son’s birth mother, and the moments where all I could do was kneel in prayer for the child I deeply loved.

I go on to talk about how our son declared we would get a baby sister about 10 days or so before we even became aware of her.  I talk about how her “case” was vastly different from my son’s, and how our children are strong-willed, ornery, and deeply loved.  The Lord’s declaration to me that my journey was never really about me in the first place is something I always share.  It is the most important piece of my story, and something that will always stand out to me as being one of the most incredible gifts through all of this.

On the drive home following my speaking engagement, I was at a place of peace and contentment with life.  I feel this way every time I am able to share my story.  I see how the Lord put all the refining and deeply painful moments together with those “mountain-top” moments in life.  I also think about the adolescent girl and young adult that I once was who barely whispered a word about what happened.  I remember that my hysterectomy was something I hid from others, was deeply ashamed of, and that caused great internal turmoil in my life.  I recall the images of myself avoiding baby departments, struggling through baby showers, and coiling up in a fetal position while weeping my way through the pain of infertility.

I am so thankful for opportunities to share my story with others.  I know others learn from my professional and personal experience.  I believe that a small dose of understanding is learned, and that some may walk away feeling moved to get involved in foster care.  I also feel that I am able to speak for those still struggling through infertility, and to share that there is always hope and goodness that happens in life even when that doesn’t seem possible.

For me though, each time I speak it out loud, I am reaffirmed of His presence throughout my life, His marking of the path that led me to my children, and His ability now to use me in ways I never imagined.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing me to a place where my story reflects Your glory.  I feel You around me Father.  I feel You working on me, and sculpting my life in ways that remind me of who You are.  I also know that You are not through with me yet, and for that, I am excited to see what You have in store.

 

Yearning for Change

I have to admit that I was anxious about taking my son to school today.  I just wanted to grab him and run back out of the building, or stay with him all day.  I prolonged our usual walk to the cafeteria where he goes before school starts.  I hugged him once, went back for a second and third hug, and then turned around and hugged him for the fourth time while whispering in his ear that I love him.

For the first time today, I gave second glances to people I have not seen before in the school.  I noticed how many doors there were, and wondered if they were locked.  I imagined where my little boy would hide if he needed to.  I wanted to ask about school security, evacuation plans, etc, but, I could tell the principal and teachers were all probably preoccupied with the same emotional anxiety that I was feeling.

I’m not the only one who felt this way today.  Most of the mom’s I spoke to were ready for the hour to come when school was let out.  I was anxious to pick him up, embrace him, and get him in my car.  I kept up a quick pace from my car to the door, and just couldn’t wait to lay my eyes on him.  After seeing him sitting there in line waiting for me to get him, my pace quickened, I called his name, and wrapped my arms around his shoulders while walking him out.  He sort of gave me that “uh..mom…?” look, but I didn’t care.  I wanted him out of the building, and back in the warm secure place that we call home.

I’m struggling a bit to not write about the shooting tragedy, or to keep it out of my mind.  This shooting is no less tragic or no more tragic than any other violent act in our country, but this one…this one cuts right into the heart of us all.  Perhaps, it is the age of the sweet babies killed, the way it happened, the lack of security in our school systems, or the lack of professional, affordable mental health services.  Or, perhaps, and I say this with caution, it is the plethora of available weaponry on our streets.  Maybe, it is all of these things combined.

As a professional in the field of social work, I have worked with mentally ill adults and children.  I have worked with at-risk youth, adolescent sexual perpetrators, and drug addicts.  I have tracked down homeless people, or those with-whom society doesn’t care about.  I have been cursed at and threatened by angry clients.  I even had a somewhat mentally unstable man, high on pain killers, pull a handgun from behind his back and show it to me while I was doing a routine well-being check on him.

When I was a new case worker, I was told that I should step aside when I knocked on the door of a potentially angry client so that if the person shot at me, he or she would miss.  I was also told to always know where my exits are, and to never turn my back on someone.  Just last week I read an article about a young social worker who was chased down after a home visit, and brutally stabbed to death by a mentally unstable client.

I keep hearing all this talk about “changing the way things are done”.  If politicians really want to understand persons with mental health problems, at-risk youth, or the desperate struggles of parents and the “system” trying to heal and help these folks, then I think they should join us in the field sometime.  I think they should have to listen to the screaming and cussing phone messages of angry clients left on voice machines.  I think they should have to assist in finding a home for a youth who has severe mental health issues with violent tendencies.  I think they should have to accompany parents who struggle to get their children the help they need because of lack of funding.

I say all of this to not lay blame for what occurred, or to turn this into a political issue.  I don’t want to believe that this is only a gun issue either.  It is an issue of a young man who may or may not have gotten the help he needed.  It is an issue of a  mother who most likely desperately struggled raising a troubled son.  It is an issue of young persons slipping through the cracks, and desperately needed funding being slashed.  It is an issue of safety in our schools.  This is also an issue of the heart, and the lack of empathy or understanding for those on the outside of what is deemed as socially acceptable.

I think those in charge of writing policies, adding or cutting funding, and lobbying so passionately for what they believe in, should join social workers, teachers, counselors, and parents as they work tirelessly to fix the most complicated of problems.  I’m certainly not an expert on mental health, gun laws, and politics.  I’m just a mom who fears that my children are growing up in a less safe and more complicated world that I grew up in.  I’m a mom who wants people that need help to get help.  I’m a mom who yearns for real change, the kind that creates a world that is more loving, and accepting of others, to happen.  The ones who lost their lives last week deserve for us all to ponder carefully on these issues with sensitive hearts and open minds.

Our children, and our children’s children, deserve it as well.

When Good Things Happen to Bad People

Why does it seem that bad things always happen to good people?  I have often wondered this; even though, I believe the Lord holds all of us His hands, and that suffering is part of the walk here on Earth.

I have been thinking lately of “good” people versus “bad” people.  I can say that I probably have fit, or still fit, in both of these categories at various times in my life. As a believer in Christ, I know that I am not good enough for His redemption.  It is by grace and supreme forgiveness that I am saved.

Being in the field of social work, I hear the awful things that people do to children and see first hand what the years of poor choices have often lead to, but, I also get the “back story” to these people’s lives.  I learn that many of them were abused as children, grew up in extreme poverty, and had absent fathers & mothers.  Many have addictions that plague them starting in their early adolescence and on through adulthood.

I had a client tell me one time, “You’ve treated me better than my own family ever treated me.”  She was 20-years-old, addicted to meth, homeless, uneducated, and just lost her baby to the foster care system.  I was certainly not her friend.  I was the case manager for her and her infant son, and ended up being the one who recommended termination of her parental rights.  However, I was kind to her.  I tried to put myself in her shoes.  It is tragically sad that I treated her better than her family.

I have often thought, “By the grace of God go I”.  Basically, I didn’t grow up in these type of situations and give praise for the Lord’s grace in my life that I’m not living this way now.  There is great heartbreak in our own backyards; yet, so many of us are shielded from the turmoil.

I have had my share of bad things that have happened, but I have also had an incredible amount of good things and good people in my life.  I am left with the thought/question of, “What if good things happened to bad people?”  I mean, what if the world showed more mercy and kindness to those deemed “bad” by society?  What if you and I (you know…the “good” guys) decided to wake up each day with the notion that we are going to make a positive difference in the life of someone who otherwise might be overlooked or looked down upon?

What if goodness and kindness became a habit?

The best thing ever happened to all of us.  Our Lord and Savior chose us.  His love and mercy are incredibly good things that continue to bless us every day.

photo (23)I believe in the power of a redeeming God who loves everyone – “good” or “bad”.  I also believe in His calling for us to love one another.  Maybe it is time for us to show the goodness of His love to others.  I cannot help but hope and believe that if more good things happened to bad people, our world would be a kinder, softer, and more loving place.

What do you think?

Welcoming children, Welcoming Him

And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

-Matthew 18:5

I love working for a child welfare agency that is not only Christian in name, but in acts and philosophy.  The agency has been involved in the social welfare of children since 1886 and has evolved through the years as societal changes have occurred.  Although our services have developed through the years to meet the needs of children and families, our priority and reason why we do the work has not changed.  We know that we can serve the Lord by ministering to children who are hurting, youth who are struggling, and families who are broken.  We also believe and have witnessed the great miracles that occur in the lives of children and families through the love and acceptance of Christ.

One aspect of my job is to speak to families who have expressed an interest in foster care and adoption.  Like my husband and I, many families go into fostering with a desire to parent children and know that fostering is an avenue that could lead to adoption.  There are others who see it as a way to give back to children or their society.  Most of the Christian families I work with feel the Lord calling them to be foster parents and to adopt a child out of foster care.

Thinking about these families leads me straight to the Scripture noted above. Our Heavenly Father loves children.  They are near and dear to His heart.  One cannot also overlook the fact that He wants us to be like children when it comes to our walk with Him.

I really do enjoy witnessing the love of Christian families that is poured into children in need of foster and adoptive homes.  To see and know that change is happening in children’s lives is what keeps most of us in the field of child welfare going.  The Lord stirs the hearts of people so that they can minister to His children through fostering and adopting.  

Welcoming children in the name of the Father is a blessing.  Families who feel the Lord calling them out to become foster and adoptive parents are able to learn so much about their own personal journey with Christ.  One such foster parent who was hoping to adopt the child she was fostering, said to me, “The Lord reminded me that they are all His children.  We are just taking care of them.”

It is statements like the one above that confirm my personal belief that when people do what they are called to do, especially when it comes to caring for children, the Lord blesses them with His wisdom, His grace, and His power to withstand many trials.  When the Lord whispers His plan and His calling into the lives of others, they are able to whisper His love into the lives of children.  When one welcomes children, they welcome Him.

It Happened Again Today

It happened again today.  Three young children brought into protective services. Sadly, they may not have been the only ones brought in this week.  Honestly, I don’t believe they were.  It is far more prevalent than most would think.  Abuse, neglect, failure to protect, lack of supervision, unsanitary living conditions….the list goes on….

As I was preparing a room for training, I couldn’t help but notice the sounds coming from the offices near where I was.  Case workers were like bees buzzing around the children.  “Are you hungry?”  “Do you want a toy?”  These questions are nearly just about all you can ask three young ones whose lives just got turned upside down.

As I walked around, I heard case workers on the phone with this question, “Hello, I’m ……from……  We just got 3 children into care today and are wondering if you would consider taking them as a placement?”  When children come into protective services, case workers start frantically calling the “list”.  They move through the list looking for a family who will take kids on a moment’s notice.  There is no planning, no pre-placement visits like adoption, and no real way to predict when a home is needed.

The other sights and sounds I heard are ones that are a little harder to swallow, even though I’ve been in this field for a while.  The little one was whimpering, crying, and throwing fits.  The next little one was playing with the same toy that sang the A, B, C’s over and over again.  The older one, well, she did not seem to say much at all.  Children are resilient and it is hard to know just what they are thinking, but behind their resiliency must be some wonderment about who we were and how they ended up in an office with strangers asking them questions and offering them snacks.

I could not help but think about the job those of us in child welfare have.  I wonder if we would be overwhelmed by it if we just stopped long enough to really think about what our work entails.  That same resiliency that is in children is also what gets most case workers through their jobs.  Yet, behind that layer of resiliency are people who just want to make differences in the lives of children.

Every time a child is in the office where I work, most everyone stops whatever he or she is working on and offers help.  Some “man” the phones looking for a foster home placement, others take turns playing with the children, some dig through the supply closet looking for clothing, diapers, blankets (the children rarely come with anything but the clothes on their backs), others start processing the paperwork, and the nurse checks the kids over with great gentleness and kindness.  Not to sound cliché, but it does take a village at work to help when kids into care.

It happened again today.  Three young lives wrought up by abuse and neglect.  A team of people working together to provide what they could for children in need.  A foster home that finally said “yes”.  And, my heart and mind wishing that none of this was needed.

Want to help, but don’t know how or have the time?  Please consider praying for case workers who are on the front lines of the war against child abuse and neglect.  Prayer changes things!

Just a Bag of Clothes

It had been a long day for my husband after waking up at the crack of dawn and driving several hours to see a child on his caseload who is in a residential type of setting.  My husband came into the kitchen after getting home and I could tell by his expression that something was amiss.  He was sad and the look on his face told me that his heart was heavy.

“I went to see “Billy” (not the actual name of child) today.  I took him a bag of clothing.  You should have seen the look on his face.  It was just a bag of clothes and they really weren’t that great.  He was so happy to get it.”  My husband was trying to cover his emotion while telling me this story.  I told my husband that it sounded like he was happy to get them and it was a good thing to do.  My husband then went on to say, “I know, but “Billy” doesn’t have a family.  He doesn’t have a home to live in.  He doesn’t have anyone, but he was thrilled to get a bag of clothing.  He has nobody.”

Sadly, this story is true.  My husband is a case manager working with abused and neglected children that have been brought into the foster care system.  “Billy” is one of those kids who disrupted out of his potential adoptive home due to behavioral issues and is now living in a residential setting.  This child has lost his birth family due to abuse and his sibling is getting adopted by his foster family soon.  “Billy” truly does not have anyone except for my husband.  Despite continuing efforts to help him control his behaviors and to find a permanent home for him, it is quite possible that he will grow up in the foster care system.

My husband hit a wall that day after work.  I have seen it time and time again with case managers.  I too have hit that wall.  The wall I am referring to is the moment when the harsh reality of the work at hand slaps one in the face.  It is easy for all of us working in the field of child welfare to get caught up in the paperwork (trust me there is a  TON of it) and the tasks at hand.  It is challenging when one feels torn between what the federal and state laws require and the gut feeling about what truly may be best for a child.  The job requires one to work with people who are broken or, at least, have broken hearts.  I do not know of a single person involved in child welfare who has not been changed by his or her experience.

The stories of kids like “Billy” are ones that often go unheard or unknown except for those working closely with them.  In my experience, these children are usually quite grateful for clothing and other basic necessities.  I have seen Christmas wish lists from foster children that have a few toys, but mostly have items such as jeans, socks, coats, and hygiene products.  They actually have to be encouraged to ask for things other than the basic needs.

For my husband that day, the act of taking a bag of clothing to a foster child as part of his duty became so much more.  It served as a reminder that there is much work to do in serving children.  It served as a reminder that there are too many children like “Billy” living in our country who literally have no one to call mom and dad.

It also served as a reminder that many of us have been blessed with the gift of stability, protection, love, and a family.  My hope is that this post stirs something in your heart.  My hope is that you will look up organizations in your community that work with foster children and explore how you can get involved.  You never know how the simple of act of taking a bag of clothes to a child in the system could make an impression on that child’s heart.