By Kimberly Henkel
Until my husband and I found ourselves struggling with infertility, we’d never thought much about foster care. When we decided to begin fostering, it was primarily in hopes that we might eventually adopt. At that time, we did not understand why the goal of foster care was to reunify children with their birth families, especially when the families were so obviously broken as to require their removal in the first place.
Then we got the call for our first placement. When we went to the hospital after Anthony had been born, I wondered about his birth mother who had just gone through nine months carrying him in her womb, and endured childbirth only to have her baby boy ripped from her arms and placed into mine. My heart ached for her. This woman who gave birth to the greatest joy of my life up to that point would return home with no baby. Yes, she had problems that made it unsafe for her to raise her child. Yes, it was clearly best for the child to be placed elsewhere.
But what would become of her?
As Catholics, we do a good job of supporting women in crisis pregnancies, and we’ve begun focusing more on walking with moms after they give birth. Yet many Catholics are still unaware of the urgent need to get further involved by fostering, supporting foster families (and reunification, when possible), by walking with moms and dads in a stance of radical love and solidarity.
After fostering and adopting four children, my husband and I founded Springs of Love, an apostolate to help Catholics discern and live out the call to foster and adopt. Part of our mission includes producing inspiring video stories of those touched by fostering and adoption, available on springsoflove.org, EWTN On-Demand, and FORMED.
Our latest video, “One Big Family,” features a family whose story exemplifies radical solidarity. PJ and Kristina, hoping to grow their family of six through adoption, signed up to become foster parents. They didn’t realize how inviting children in foster care into their home would stretch their hearts to love not only the children who came to them, but also the children’s birth families.
After almost three years of fostering two young boys, it looked as if PJ and Kristina would be able to adopt them. However, the boys’ father, Josh, notified the agency that he was being released from prison, had turned his life around, and would do whatever he needed to get his boys back. Within a few months, he met all of the requirements, and the boys went home with their father.
PJ, Kristina, and their kids were heartbroken. Josh soon realized that PJ and Kristina’s family genuinely loved his boys. He saw how they’d opened their hearts to him, too, and he grew to trust and rely on them for support. Now the boys spend at least one weekend a month with their former foster family, which brings PJ and Kristina great joy. Josh explains, “We are all one big family now.”
Fostering is challenging, and sadly, about 50% of foster families stop fostering after one year. The retention rate, however, increases to 90% when those families feel sufficiently supported.
Every Catholic can stand in radical solidarity with families in crisis by supporting a foster family. Parishes can start a Springs of Love Foster Team to arrange a weekly meal, babysitting, help with material needs for a new placement, driving kids to appointments, and prayer support for a foster family. They can also offer this same support for a mother or father at risk of losing their children to foster care.
Children for whom it is unsafe to return home need loving families to adopt them. There are currently over 100,000 children in the foster care system who are eligible for adoption. Many will age-out with no family to call their own — identifying another opportunity for radical solidarity by inviting them into our families. Of the young adults who age-out, many end up becoming victims of human trafficking, homelessness and drugs, and 71% of young women are pregnant within a year. Many go on to repeat the cycle of abuse and neglect that they grew up knowing.
Let’s reimagine foster care as a pathway toward healing for hurting families. When we open our hearts and homes to love a child in foster care, we can extend our love to his or her birth parents to encourage and pray for them. If reunification occurs, we can continue our support and connection with that family.
The true goal of radical solidarity is to witness the profound love of God who invites us into his family as his adopted sons and daughters. Foster families emulate the heart of the Father when they welcome those who may never have known the love and warmth of a family. In this way, they help bring to fruition the promises of God who “sets the lonely in families” (Ps 68:6).
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Kimberly Henkel, Ph.D., has a doctorate in moral theology and is the founder of Springs of Love, an apostolate that encourages, educates, and equips Catholics to discern and live out the call to foster and adopt.