The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is hosting a day in the park to not only celebrate foster families throughout the archdiocese but to get to know these "heroes,” who are often unknown among the Catholic community.
“To be a foster parent is really to be a hero, honestly,” said Kathleen Domingo, the archdiocese's senior director of the Office of Life, Justice, and Peace.
“We know for sure that there are thousands of Catholic families in our parishes and in our schools who are fostering; we just don’t always know who they are. Part of the reason that we are doing this event is to help them come out of the woodwork a little bit so we can get to know them and find out better ways to support them.”
The event is titled “Catholics Love Foster” and is part of the archdiocese’s march for life organization, OneLife LA. It will take place Oct. 13., beginning a Mass said by Archbishop Jose Gomez.
Afterward, attendees will walk to LA State Historic Park, where there will be music, food, and games. There will also be 20 organizations with giveaways for kids and resources for foster parents.
According to Domingo, the event will be catered for free by a few local vendors, who will prepare enough food for 1,000 people.
Domingo said lots of Catholics in the archdiocese are foster parents, but these families are perhaps unknown to the parish community or their pastor. She said that since the archdiocese revamped its foster care efforts two years ago, parishioners have loved the idea but do not know who these families are or how to support them.
“A number of different parishes we have been working with told us that they are happy to have foster agencies come and speak and that they are happy to make these introductions… [However], they really felt like they wanted to do more for the families,” she said.
“They know that families are going through the process and they can tell sometimes when some families … come with kids they didn’t have before ... but they didn’t always know who they were or they didn’t always know if it would be okay if they [approached them].”
She said fostering needs extra support because it’s a 24/7 job with kids who face additional challenges. She said, very often, foster children come with almost nothing - sometimes only a garbage bag full of clothes - and experience instability, affecting mental health and school. She said the kids may have also faced abuses and court pressures.
“Because many of them have been through times of trauma in their young lives, they may come with some more needs where they may need some additional counseling or some therapy,” she said.
“What I hear from foster families is even just that extra help with tutoring and making sure that their kids have extra support in the classroom.”
She said the archdiocese will help connect foster families to a greater support system in the Church. She said numerous parishioners, who may not have foster kids themselves, have offered to provide physical aid like clothes, food, or daycare. She also stressed the spiritual support of a praying community.
“[Parishioners] loved doing this work to promote fostering, but, so often, they aren’t aware of who in the community is actually fostering and they would love to provide traditional support,” she said.
“[We want to] find out how can the parish can support you, how can we support your kids, how can we integrate them better and reach out in love to them.”
Daria Ongsing, a 53-year-old grandmother, and her husband Virgilio will be attending the event. This couple was approved to be foster parents in July, but they are not new to foster care.
Around five years ago, she and her husband took in the children of their daughter, who had been struggling with drug addiction and had her kids confiscated by Child Services. After two and a half years, her daughter was able to get her children back.
She told CNA that the experience awoke a desire within her to help other people through foster care. Then last February, the couple went on a pilgrimage to Cebu. Once they returned, they saw flyers on their back door for a foster care orientation at the parish.
“There were flyers in the back, for Foster ALL had come to our church to do like an orientation. I just felt in my heart again, look, God is calling us to this,” she said.
After the couple was approved, the Virgilios received four siblings into their home for a few days at the beginning of August. Later that month, the family took in Bryant, who turned five in September, and Bri-Asia, who will be turning seven in December. The two siblings are still at her house and have become a source of joy, she said.
Ongsing said the process has been a struggle at times. She expressed hope to meet more Catholics at the event who may be a source of support and that it inspires other parents to take on this ministry which has a great need.
She is currently working for Kaiser Permanente as a certified ophthalmic technician, but she plans to enter into early retirement within the next few years and take on fostering full-time.
“The [fostering] need is so great. It's crazy. So my plan is to retire young in the next year or two and certainly give it even more than I can do now,” she said.
“It's quite challenging, but it's very rewarding. I keep praying and asking God to just get us to do the best thing for these kids while they need us,” she further added. “I'm just trying to share a little bit of our blessings.”
Domingo told CNA that the Catholic Church in California has been shut out of the foster system because they will not place children with same-sex couples. She said the archdiocese’s Catholic Charity has not acted as a foster care agency for nearly 20 years.
“When Catholic Charities got out of the business of doing foster care, what happened is nobody picked it up, nobody in the Church was tasked with working on foster issues. What I’ve come to realize is that that is a similar story in most dioceses,” she said.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles decided to ramp up its foster care efforts during the second OneLife event, after Nick Vuljicic, a motivational speaker born with no arms and no legs, encouraged the archdiocese to act “pro-life” to the unborn as well as those already born, like foster kids. Domingo said, at the time, LA County had an estimated 30,000 foster children.
Since then, Domingo has spoken to numerous parishes to booster fostering efforts. She said, although the archdiocese can no longer place kids into foster care, parishes in the area will host agencies to come talk to the laity.
Domingo said foster care is a “bridge-building topic” and supported by a variety of different people and groups. She also said good foster care is a solution to many issues in society.
“You can talk about fostering as a preventative for human trafficking, you can talk about it for keeping young adults off the streets, … you can talk about it in terms of helping birth parents, … who often get cleaned up and get prepared to accept their children back.”
“What we find is that when are talking about fostering and do these kinds of events, we are bringing people from different perspectives together to say we need to do something wonderful for these children and their families.”