May is National Foster Care Month. So today's post on The Journal has nothing to do with me, photography, or my business, and everything to do with raising awareness for kids, families, and social workers involved in our nation's foster system.
This post won't boost my website's SEO (If you don't know what that is, I didn't either for the longest time!).
This post won't promote my business.
This post won't feature any recent sessions.
But here's why I believe the topic of this post is so important to you and to me...
As of 2019, there were 423,997 children in the foster system in America. In Indiana, there are approximately 13,000 children in the system. In South Carolina, there are 4,584 children in the system. Approximately 78% of the children in the foster system are cared for by foster families, meanwhile the remaining percent either are in group homes, institutions, or end up as runaways. Over 38% of foster children are between the age of 10-20 years old, and as of 2018, nearly 17,000 children aged out of the system without being reunified with their biological family or placed in a permanent foster family.
These numbers are overwhelming. The state of our nation's foster system is tragic. Even as I type this, my heart breaks for every child that has not experienced the love of their parents, a hug from a sibling, or the safety of a good home. But maybe you are reading this and wondering why I am dedicating an entire blog post to share these statistics. Here's why this matters...
Meet my foster kiddos. No, I'm not their foster mom. Their foster parents, Collin and Emma, are dear friends of mine, and I just had the honor of being their babysitter. These kids instantly wrapped my heart around their little fingers. I was their "Miss Annika." While I am not a foster parent, I had the opportunity to care for them while one child or the other was at therapy, meetings, doctor's appointments, mentorships, and the list could go on. I sat with Emma after court cases that typically resulted in dramatic outcomes and overwhelming emotions and just listened. I hugged these kids from the moment I walked in the door to the moment I laid them in bed to go to sleep. Sometimes, after the baby was asleep, I would sneak back into the nursery to just hold her a second longer. A touch she never got to experience from her own mother.
My heart was made with the burning desire to fight on behalf of every child that hasn't experienced love and safety. That's where my passion stems from. When my kindergarten-self walked across the stage to graduate into first grade, they announced over the loud speaker that when I grew up, I wanted to work in an orphanage. Little did I know, that same desire would burn in my heart to this very day. Before I went to college, I wanted to be a social worker. God has directed my steps down a different path since then, but one thing I know that He has always called me to do is to be involved. It's the least I can do for the 423,997 children in the foster system.
Be involved. That's what my heart craves. That's what we are called to do.
But I'm a college student? But I have a full-time job? But I run a small business? But I have a family? But I'm not old enough to foster? But I don't have time? But... just stop!! Stop making excuses not to love.
News flash: NOT everyone is called to foster. Yep, that's right! Not everyone is old enough. Not everyone has the schedule. Not everyone has the passion. Not everyone has the financial means. But EVERYONE is called to love.
I don't foster, but as a full-time college student that runs a small business, here's exactly how I am involved in the foster system. And here's what you can do too.
Pray - This right here is how we fight for these children. While you may not have the financial means to foster, you can pray. Pray for the children. Pray for their social workers. Pray for their lawyers, judges, and CASA's. Pray for the foster families. Fostering is hard. And there is no greater encouragement, than prayer.
Connect - If you know of a foster family, there are so many ways you can encourage them. Offer to babysit their kids during their court cases, doctors appointments, and bio parent visits. Bring a meal over, so that they don't have to cook and can spend a little extra time with their kids. On a busy day of appointments, Venmo them $5 to grab an extra coffee for the day. Listen. You can always listen. Sometimes, all a foster child or parent needs is just someone who will listen to them talk out loud. If you don't personally know a foster family, find one. Ask your friends and family. Post in local Facebook groups. Put in the effort to find a family that you can invest in.
Volunteer - While volunteering takes time, it means the world to foster children, foster agencies, and social workers. Research local foster agencies, and email or call them to see if they have any volunteering opportunities. In most states, foster children are assigned a mentor who meets with them at least once a week to just hangout and invest in them. Foster children with active cases are assigned a CASA, a volunteer position that stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate, who walks through every court case with them and advocates on their behalf. I've also signed up to be a respite-care provider in the past. Depending on the state, a respite care provider is a paid position through the state that provides in-home childcare for foster parents to have a break or go to appointments.
Support - It's a myth that the state provides all of the financial means necessary for foster children and their foster families. While yes, it's true that the minimal needs of foster children are taken care of by the state. Often times, they move from house to house with a trash bag filled with their only belongings and the clothes on their backs. No child should have to live out of a trash bag. NO CHILD. One of my favorite ways to financially support foster children (and a fellow small business) is by purchasing gear from Goods & Better that raises awareness for foster care. Every time you add an item to your cart you can choose if a portion of your purchase goes towards a comfort item, luggage, clothing, baby products, or hygiene products for a single child.
You can also show your support for foster care by choosing to take the time to listen and learn. Some of my favorite foster moms/blogs to learn from are Emma Bond (my dear friend), Foster the Family Blog, America's Kids Belong, Jaymi Lynn, The Archibald Project, and Tori Hope Peterson.
Here's why this matters. Every child should have a place to call home.
Be involved. It's the least you could do to show your love.
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19-20
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Psalms 31:8-9
"Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause." Isaiah 1:17