Ivory Tower Parenting and the Foster Problem

This past Wednesday evening, while I enjoyed a cozy dinner at home with my husband and daughter, a New Jersey woman fatally stabbed HER OWN SON. I wish I could have somehow saved that child from the pain and suffering he must have endured at the hands of his mother, a person who should be a refuge from all things hurtful. Although this story made the news, there are so many cases of child abuse, neglect, and endangerment every day that do not reach the news. Sometimes when I close my eyes, the stories and images that DO reach me, via our media and from others, haunt my thoughts and dreams.

But I do nothing.

It is overwhelming to know that there is so much misery and pain in the world. And it is much easier to focus on the positive. To avoid the “bad” parts of town, to move to the suburbs for the “good” schools, and to blame these problems on others. I tell myself that I am just one person, what change can I possibly bring? So I pile more and more on my proverbial plate, telling myself that maybe soon I’ll have time to volunteer somewhere or help someone in need. I’ve built an ivory tower around my home, my family, and my life. Do you ever do the same?

A few Sundays ago, someone from a local foster program non-profit, the 111 Project, spoke to my church about the foster problem in my state of Oklahoma. As of January 2012, there are over 8,000 Oklahoma children without a home and in need of foster parents. Nationwide that number rises to over 400,000 kids in the foster system, of which a quarter are waiting for a home. The problem has become so dire that Oklahoma City is considering opening back up a shelter for babies and toddlers that they were previously able to close. My friends, no child should spend a single night in a shelter. But there are just not enough people trained and willing to foster. Listening to the presentation, I had tears in my eyes. This is an initative that I can support.

The longer I am a mother, the more I realize that my love and my ability to care for others is a renewable resource. I often feel like the more I give it away, the more it comes back to me. Attachment parenting is such a beautiful gift, both for the giver and receiver. I may not be able to stop all of the bad things happening in the world that overwhelm and sadden me, but perhaps I can make a difference for one child, in my community.

For more information about the current U.S. Foster Crisis:

Are there any social issues that you feel more strongly about since becoming a parent?

Ever since she read a book called “Ministries of Mercies,” Kate has been searching for a way to serve her community. She and her husband will be attending a foster parent information meeting at a local placement agency very soon to find out how they can help. And then maybe, just maybe, she’ll quit feeling like an ostrich burying her head in the sand. When she’s not losing sleep thinking about these things, she cannot get enough hugs and kisses from her sweet and rambunctious 17 month old.

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4 thoughts on “Ivory Tower Parenting and the Foster Problem”

  1. I spent the first half of my social work career working in protective services, meaning I was the social worker making assessments of abuse/neglect and then sometimes petitioning the court for a child’s removal from their parents’ custody and placement into foster care. It was a heavy burden, I’ll tell you that. It’s some grossly misunderstood and hugely undervalued work. Even when the circumstances were overwhelmingly and obviously unfit for a child, it was never an easy decision. I always get so angry when I hear other people remark, “Those kids should just be taken away from their family!” as if foster care is this magic eraser, as if transplanting a child into a loving family somehow erases the trauma and loss of being seperated from one’s family of origin (however horrible, ignorant, or abusive they are). The foster care system is greatly flawed, and I bore witness to that more time than I would like to recall. Still, we do have a responsibility to do our best to protect children and create opportunities for them to be loved and safe.

    I know in the deepest part of my heart that I could not do that work as a mother, as the person I am now because of my son. So, yes, mothering has *absolutely* changed how I process these kinds of social issues. I thought that work was painful and difficult back then when I wasn’t a parent; I can’t imagine trying to process those conflicting values (safety vs. family preservation) through the mothering brain I have now.

    Foster parenting is really hard work (children in foster care these days have hugely complex issues), but it is also really powerful work. I am blessed to have seen and worked with some AMAZING foster parents in my time. They can’t be praised enough.

    I’m interested to hear how your foster parent interest meeting goes! Hope you share an update with us, Kate!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences with the foster care system, Rhianna. I often wonder how you were able to do your “job” day in and day out. I can’t imagine the burden you carried home with you every day. And I don’t blame you for not desiring to foster. Sometimes, I even question whether or not it is right for our family.

      Right now, we’re investigating working with a placement agency that only works with 0-3, but primarily infants. I know myself, and I do not think I have what it takes to parent an older child. But infants? That will be challenging in different ways, and I have been reading up and learning about some of the issues fostering infants present. I will definitely do a follow-up post. And I know in my heart that even if we do not foster right away (or perhaps ever), that I want to support and contribute in some way to help families and volunteers that do.

  2. Oh Kate, this is such a wonderful, timely post! I, too, have been mulling over the same things. I just read Kathy Harrison’s One Small Boat and am feeling like I want to jump in and save the world, one child at a time (which is probably why I loved teaching so much.)

    I’m struggling with a few things–namely, both partners need to be on the same page, and what does that look like when you are currently growing a biological family. Could I continue to love Anabella the same way, and serve another child with (likely) more, severer needs?

    I think even if we don’t immediately bring children into our home, just having conversations about the half million children in the foster system, advocating for them in other ways, sharing the need with families who are ready, and preparing our hearts and minds for the right time is a good start! Thanks again, Kate. Beautiful post.

    1. I’m on the same page with your concerns, Megan. I wonder how this might affect Vivi, and I worry that my attention will be divided between her and a foster child to her detriment. My biological clock is also ticking, so I question how it would work bringing in a foster child while potentially having another child. But I also don’t want my fears to override my ability to help others. I feel that any step I take, even the smallest measure, will be one step away from complacency and avoidance of social issues toward being a help to my community. The infant placement agency that I’m speaking with is amazing. I’m friends with the woman who runs it, and she is doing some really positive things for the foster community. One thing she mentioned is that they are very much in need of infant/toddler clothing, shoes, gear, etc., because many foster parents do not have the resources to obtain these things. So I recently went through many of our old baby items and put together a few bags to donate. I’m going to continue helping in whatever way I can, and maybe at some point we will be ready to take a leap of faith and welcome a foster child into our home.

      Thanks for sharing Megan!

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