There is a growing national outrage, and rightly so, over the treatment of children at our nation’s border: children detained in tent cities; children separated from siblings; children ripped from the arms of their mothers.
But there are also children being separated from their parents every day in this country — quietly and lawfully. The outcomes for all of these children are similarly heartbreaking. Children need a home and parents. They need stability and love. What happens when these are denied?
Los Angeles County is in the midst of a foster crisis. In other parts of the country, numbers of children in foster care are spiking due to skyrocketing opioid use.
Here, it is often poverty and a lack of housing that lead to neglect and escalate to abuse. It is not unusual for families experiencing housing insecurity to fear family separation and loss of their children.
The face of foster youths is changing. Of the 34,000 children currently placed in the LA child welfare system, 21 percent, or roughly 7,000, are under the age of 2. The system is so oversaturated that babies, many taken directly from the hospital at birth, don’t have waiting homes.
Office buildings meant to house cubicles are reconfigured for cribs and changing tables stacked wall to wall. This is no place for an infant to find the love and human contact he or she needs to thrive. Still, social workers are doing the very best that they can.
The family court system is similarly impacted with social workers, attorneys and judges attempting to balance crushing caseloads. A child may have mere minutes to meet with his advocates before a decision is reached for his future.
CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and mentors help, but there are so few that they are given to the children with the greatest need, and many others fall through the cracks without anyone really paying attention.
In the current system, children who age out of the foster care system face a grim future. These are children who neither achieved reunification with their families of origin nor were adopted by a family. One-third will become homeless, one-fifth will be incarcerated and 70 percent of trafficked youths come from the foster care system.
How can we impact the statistics? How can we change the trajectory of the lives of children?
Last fall, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles took a first step toward creating a solution. We partnered with a handful of excellent agencies in LA, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties to intentionally invite Catholic families to consider fostering.
And this May, Foster Care Awareness Month, we piloted a full campaign with flyers, radio ads and social media sharing the beauty of fostering and opportunities to get involved.
Our partners also spoke up in 28 parishes and the response has been incredible, with 450 families signed up to be trained as foster parents, the overwhelming majority of whom are Spanish-speaking and Latino families.
Our partners have received increased calls from Catholic families hoping to foster and adopt, parishes are hosting Foster Parent’s Night Out and foster fairs, and other dioceses are starting to use our materials to promote fostering, too.
Fostering is not for the faint of heart! Most of the children in need of homes and families are wounded, some seriously. They may believe themselves unlovable and undeserving of happiness.
Success comes when families welcome foster children into their homes and love them without expectation, only wishing for the children’s best interest. Fostering is truly a ministry of the whole family.
Pope Francis calls all Catholics to authentic encounter, to go out to the peripheries to serve the least among us. Here in the U.S., foster youths inhabit our peripheries.
If the more than 70 million Catholics in the United States took up the cause of foster care, we could create a new world of hope overnight. It is our great hope that the movement begun here in Los Angeles will flourish and grow until all of the children in the child welfare system have homes, families and hope.
For ways you and your community can get involved, visit archla.org/foster.
kathleen-domingo is director of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Life, Justice and Peace. Molly Sheahan is the projects and programs strategist for the Office of Life, Justice and Peace.
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