November is a time when we pause and give thanks for the many blessings God has given us. It is also National Adoption Awareness Month, which is fitting because we should all remember to take the time to be grateful for the adoptive families, birth families, and foster families who give life and love to so many.
Adoption and foster care is a pro-life issue, but unfortunately many parishes don’t have a ministry to help support the children in foster care and the families currently caring for foster children. So how can they start? Lisa Wheeler, an adoption and foster care advocate, recently stopped by A Closer Look™ to offer some advice on how parishes can better help foster families in their local communities.
Speaking on the scope of need when it comes to foster care, Wheeler said, “What is happening across this country as it relates to children in foster care really is the orphan crisis of our time. Because if you look at the statistics alone, right now we have over 425,000 children in foster care in our country. Twenty thousand of those children are absolutely, 100% legally free for adoption. Which means they are languishing in the system with no permanency, no family to call their own. They’re orphans.”
Another heartbreaking reality for children in foster care is that there is the possibility that they will age out of the system, and be forced to make the transition to adulthood without the care, guidance, and support of family.
“It’s a serious, serious problem,” Wheeler said. “And we as people of faith, if we call ourselves truly pro-life, have to be thinking about the children who are here, who have been born and don’t have a family to call their own.”
Many Catholics would like to work within their parish to support foster families, but don’t know where to start. Wheeler suggested to first see what is already being done in your parish, and if something is not being done, be the one to start it.
“I want to challenge every listener to find out if within the pro-life ministry in your parish there is an outreach to foster families,” she encouraged. “And if there’s not, then prayerfully discern how you can create that ministry around families in your parish. Because guaranteed, within your parish community there are couples who are parenting children that are in foster care.”
Foster families often face unique challenges, and this is an opportunity for the parish community to support those most in need in both a spiritual and material sense.
As a foster parent herself, Wheeler said, “One of the tragedies of this calling to stand in the gap for these kids is that we don’t often have our faith community wrap themselves around us and help us in the chaos that really becomes a part of our lives.”
Wheeler offered some simple ideas that people can do to help the foster families in their community, saying, “It’s simply things like offering to babysit occasionally, being a mentor to our older kids who often struggle with learning issues in school and need that extra support in tutoring and various helpful ways. At Christmastime create a Christmas tree specifically for the children of those foster families and the things that they need.”
And are there specific ways to help foster parents? Wheeler shared that foster children often need an extra level of care and need to be made a priority in the lives of foster families. That means other everyday things get put pretty low on the priority list. Wheeler offered a few ways to help that may not be glamorous, but can make a big difference.
“Just offering to come to a home and mow the lawn, rake in the Fall season or help with shoveling snow,” she said. “People don’t realize that those ordinary parts of family life are really tremendous burdens on foster families that can sometimes be a bit overwhelmed with the specialized, extraordinary care that we often have to give to our children.”
If your parish isn’t currently reaching out to support foster families, prayerfully consider being the one to get the ball rolling. As Wheeler said, “A foster care ministry in a parish is, in my opinion, an essential extension of the pro-life work of that church community.”