Monday, May 7, 2012

National Foster Care Month: 10 Ways Series.

{It's National Foster Care Month, so I will be sharing a series of posts during May with the hope of bringing these beautiful children to the attention of the Church, to join in the national foster care conversation as well as suggesting ways to get involved, stories that inspire, God's provision for foster families, and challenges to get involved.
Would you STAND UP with us to make a difference?}


"You have one of the hardest jobs in the world," I often tell the folks at DCS (Department of Child Services). Our adventures in Foster Care have revealed no small amount of misunderstanding in regard to public opinion.  It is admittedly difficult to parent in general, and parenting while others watch closely is an even greater challenge.  Foster parents everywhere have love/hate relationships with DCS offices, and we have found all manner of people who seem to have the wrong idea concerning the purpose and role of DCS in each county.  I want to make it clear that I write from a positive perspective because those from DCS with whom we have interacted have been incredibly helpful, gracious, and supportive.  They work hard and are tireless in their approach to the job.  They are overworked and underpaid, and the Family Case Managers we know are in it for the kids. 

I realize that not everyone has had this experience, and so as I write tonight, I pray -- that my words are adequately explaining our desire as a family to bring the love of Christ into the foster system and ministering to EVERYONE involved because the children are the ones who benefit when we love their advocates well -- for my dear readers who feel broken or disappointed by a system and for the children who are living with decisions that adults made for them -- most of all, I pray that grace drips from every word.  Foster children matter to God, and the people who care for them also matter to God.  
Are there some bad apples, meaning people who have not acted with the utmost professionalism and care toward the children in their charge? Sadly, yes. Are there some who have agendas and make poor choices that reflect on all DCS employees? Yes. It happens in every profession, and it is incredibly disconcerting for those who pour their lives investing in the well-being of children here in the US. I am personally honored to know several incredible Family Case Managers and people in administrative roles at our local DCS. We have been encouraged by the amount of contact and care they have shown, not just to our three children but to all five of us.

I've compiled a list of ways for believers to engage in ministry toward those whose job is to speak up for those who can't speak up for themselves. DCS caseworkers are just like everybody else...they do their best work when people believe in them and encourage them. As you have probably figured out, it is a great desire of mine for this blog to become a place where my readers are motivated to action somewhere in the foster care scene. Maybe encouraging a caseworker that you know (or an office-full that you don't know) might be the way that you or your church chooses to make a difference.  These are suggestions that individuals, families, and churches can take to let DCS know that they care about the caseworkers and the children! These are just a few ideas, and I will be sharing more for the remainder of the month involving different aspects of foster care. Whatever you do, don't forget the thousands of children who desperately need us to stand up for them.

1.  Pray for them.  
DCS Family Case Managers have incredibly difficult challenges at work in many respects.  Every day they witness and read case files about what we call our worst nightmares.  Some of them go home to children of their own every night and relive the day over again.  It is a heartbreaking job.  The turnover rate is high.  The hours are long.  It can be scary and many of the sweetest caseworkers you will ever meet have a long list of those who have threatened them.  If you care about foster kids, you need to pray for these people to have wisdom and revelation, a heart of compassion, righteous judgment, and a will to keep on when it's frustrating.  We owe it to the children to pray for those who speak up for them!

2.  Take them treats.  
Unfortunately, caseworkers' days are often filled with some of the ugliest things humanity can dream up.  They don't have a lot to make them smile at work.  My sweet Heather and I took the folks at DCS a box full of treats today accompanied by a greeting card to say "thank you" for doing their best.  The more encouraged and appreciated they are, the more fervor and desire they will have to serve your county's children.  This would be an incredible outreach of your church - wouldn't it be amazing if a caseworker came to know Christ because of a church's kindness and it changed the way he or she did the job?! 

 3.  Understand their position.
This is absolutely key if you are going to be successful in ministering and encouraging those at DCS.  THEY DON'T MAKE THE LAWS and often, they are twice as frustrated with those laws as the people who speak poorly of them and judge them!  Their responsibility is to apply the law...not to write it like a lawmaker or interpret it like a judge.  Keep this in mind and remember that it may break the caseworker's heart to carry out his or her job from time to time.  If you don't like the laws, contact the ones who make them!  

4.  Support DCS workers that worship at your church.
Let them know you are proud of them for living out the commands of scripture to care for orphans in distress and for doing what they can to make a difference in a really hard profession.

5.  Watch how you speak about their clients.
Don't refer to biological parents by "trashy" or "worthless" or other heartless names.  We are all human and we each bear the image of God.  Keep in mind that some caseworkers struggle to see their clients as people for which Jesus died and it makes it even more difficult when you use hateful words or tones.  On a personal note, our family believes in redemption for all involved in the foster care system, and although I don't like everything they did, I am truly thankful to my children's biological parents for choosing life.  I got this tip from a caseworker friend of mine and I thought it was a great one. 

6.  When in doubt, make the call.
It takes a whole community to prevent child abuse and neglect.  Exploitation of innocents is happening where you live, so keep your eyes and ears open.  DCS investigates claims of abuse or neglect, and they need your help to keep children in environments that are healthy and happy.  Please report it.  You can make your city safer for kids by standing up against injustice.

7.  Become a CASA.  
It becomes so much easier to advocate for children when more people join the cause.  If you feel passionate about foster care, but aren't in the place to foster currently, I encourage you to look into this opportunity.  CASAs help make decisions for children and are a neutral voice in the matters concerning them.  Help DCS do what's best for the children by getting involved in the process.  

8.  Talk to your legislators.
Encourage local lawmakers to sit down with local DCS offices and foster parents to ask about what's working and what isn't.  It's good for our legislature to hear how things are going and how they might be improved from people who are actually responsible for making sure they are carried out.  Furthermore, elect people who care about the plight of foster children and let them know that this issue matters to you! 

9.  Remember.
When you hear a negative story and you get frustrated (as I have) regarding some Family Case Manager who was derelict in his or her duty and failed a child, I want you to remember that for every terrible story, there are literally thousands of caseworkers who love and serve every single child in their caseloads....and their stories never get published.  Every single call after hours for an ER run, or a night where no one slept and we needed a pep talk to keep going, and a visit and gifts for each of our children's one ever talks about that.  Let's remember the good stories and encourage the ones providing them!

10.  Find out a need -- and then meet it.
When I was at the Knox County DCS office today, our caseworker showed us that they had done a makeover on the two small rooms in which the children have visits.  A fresh coat of paint, some encouraging wall words, and new toys filled the rooms and made them much more cheery than that which we experienced when our children had visits.  God prompted me as I saw the changes.  Could we as a family could have helped with this project?  Could our church have offered some assistance in the form of new toys or games?  It's too late to help with that, but there are many needs that can still be met.  It's the job of the Body of Christ to do everything we can to provide for the welfare of orphans and defenseless children, and a safe place to do family visits is one of those unique ways. There has never been a better time to step up to the plate than National Foster Care Month!  

I know that not everyone has had the positive experiences with DCS about which I've written.  I think it's important once again to note that every single person you know benefits from the act of encouragement.  Managing a caseload at DCS takes a lot of courage, so this is an invitation to the ones called by Christ to be His hands and feet in the middle of red tape, hard decisions, and a lot of bureaucracy.  I have to believe that God can use us in many ways to bring hope to broken and jaded people who have seen the worst humanity has to offer.  Let's be Jesus to them and show them the best God has to offer!