In many American households, defenseless children remain at risk.
Some hide in closets to escape violence or abuse. Little ones are strapped in car seats while parents do drugs. Others eat Cheerios from underneath a locked door, for hours or even days at a time.
May is National Foster Care Month.
According to www.kidsdata.org (with the Lucille Packard Foundation), California claims one-fifth of the nation’s total number of children in foster care. In 2013 over 58,000 kids in our state were separated from their parents for issues regarding safety and well-being.
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Numbers are down from studies conducted in 2005, when the total was almost 80,000.
A child’s home should be the safest place on earth, but when it isn’t, intervention is necessary. Sometimes foster families provide shelter and nurturing temporarily until the child’s home situation is stable again. In other cases, children spend the rest of their childhood in foster care.
Rainbow Valley Foster Care began as a girls’ home in Snelling, 25 years ago. The nonprofit organization is now based in Merced, and serves the Central Valley.
Mary Schilling, a retired social worker, is the recruiter-trainer for RVFC. During her career she saw things she wasn’t comfortable with. “It’s not about finding beds, but finding families,” she said.
In the five years she’s been with RVFC there have been discouragements, but exciting things are happening, too. The organization has doubled the number of foster parents and children being served.
“When people are willing, with good screening, and solid ongoing training and support, there will be success,” Schilling says.
Classes are interactive, allowing her to assess how applicants respond to concepts. After a family becomes licensed, social workers are in the home every week, addressing issues and meeting needs of both the parents and children. RVFC functions more like an extended family rather than a business.
“Foster care has to be a labor of love. Bringing a person into your home, and into your heart, just as he is, and seeing the potential in these children – it’s about building lives.”
Fred and Sheila Paige of Mariposa became foster parents about 11 years ago. Sheila wanted to adopt one child, but ended up with a sibling group of three.
“Our son, who was closest in age to the foster kids, naturally wondered if there would be enough love to go around,” Sheila said. “He wasn’t sure where he would fit in. But we worked it out.”
Early on she was told there are no guarantees. Foster parenting has triple the amount of ups and downs as biological parenting. There can be long-term issues due to trauma, or residual effects from being exposed to drugs while in the womb.
“We think that love is enough, but we have to become informed, too, if we really want to help,” she said.
She’s also seen how maintaining a relationship between the biological family and the foster family can sometimes be in the best interest of the children after being reunited with their parents.
“Our minister told us that supporting overseas missions is great, but foster kids are a mission field, too,” she says.
The Paige family is grateful to their local CASA organization (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for the huge support they received before adopting. Sheila is on the board of directors. The website is www.casaofmariposa.org.
Christian Alliance For Orphans is a nonprofit organization with an office in Merced staffed by Jedd Medefind, president, and Ashley Otani, director of social and visual media. CAFO serves individuals, churches and organizations worldwide by promoting adoption and foster care.
Valuable resources and networking are available for those who share the vision of providing fatherless children with a permanent family.
A free webinar is offered this month: Key Evidence-based Strategies to Protect Vulnerable Children from Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation. The webinar will take place on Tuesday, May 26 at 11 a.m. To register, visit www.christianalliancefororphans.org and click on Resources.
For those who can’t become foster parents, there are other ways to help nurture traumatized and displaced children. Contacting one of the organizations mentioned in this column could be the first step.
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. Follow her on Twitter @ghostowngal or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.