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Standing in the Gap for Foster Children

(The following was originally published in Fall/Winter 2008 "The Children's Corner." A publication of the National Ministries of teh American Baptist Churches USA)

Question: What do 70% of inmates in US prisons, 30% of America’s homeless and 60% of youth in federally funded shelters all have in common?[i] Answer: They were all at one time in the U.S. foster care system. 

Despite efforts in the public and private sectors, the outcomes for children growing up in the U.S. foster care system continue to be harsh.  Over 20,000 foster youth (of the 500,000+ in the system at any given time) will exit the system this year upon reaching their eighteenth birthday.  However, most of these young men and women will face challenges not experienced by those who did not grow up in the foster care system.  For these young men and women homelessness and jail are far more likely than their classmates who grew up in more “traditional” environments.  Further, without proper community and/or familial supports as many as half will rely on public assistance, fail to complete high school, lose their own children to the foster care system or encounter other seemingly insurmountable challenges specific to this population.

There continues to be a gap between what youth in the foster care system need and what they actually receive in terms of care, support, guidance and resources.  This creates a unique opportunity for the local church to step in.  In Ezekiel 22:30 God calls His people to “stand in the gap” on behalf of the poor and oppressed (even a cursory glance of the stats demonstrates that foster youth indeed fit this category).  That call continues to be true today.  While local churches and believers might never fully erase the pains, hurts and challenges associated with a life in the system, they can act as agents of justice and “stand in the gap” for these children who have been made in the image of God.

10 Things you and your church can do to “stand in the gap” for foster youth

1.     Pray

2.     Become a foster parent (long-term or short-term)

3.     Become a respite foster parent (this is a person/couple who have undergone foster licensing in order to be a support to other foster parents)

4.     Become a mentor/advocate independently or through a national organization

5.     Become an after school tutor through various local programs or outreaches

6.     Volunteer at or Sponsor (as a congregation) a summer camp for foster children

7.     Support companies and organizations that provide job training and vocational support to emancipating foster youth.

8.     Financially support organizations that seek to prevent child abuse, care for foster youth, support foster parents or promote opportunities for former foster youth.

9.      Provide resources (counseling services), activities (fun days, carnivals, etc) and supports (meeting rooms, support groups, education, etc.) to foster parents, foster youth and at-risk parents.

10.  Reach out and support former foster youth as a congregation through scholarships, employment and spiritual community.



[i] Thomas, R (2002). A Critical Look At The Foster Care System Foster Care Outcomes retrieved from http://www.liftingtheveil.org/foster14.htm on July 2, 2008

Sierra Adoption Services (2007). Retrieved from http://www.sierraadoption.org/foster_facts.htm  on July 2, 2008