Sometimes those commercials are just too much for me. You know the ones—maybe they’re trying to motivate you to give money for starving children or shelter for homeless animals. Whatever the end result, they try to get you there by showing you pictures that are guaranteed to break your heart. And they do it because it works! We are visual people and it helps us to see the need and visualize the difference we could make. When we sponsor a child overseas, we want to see their face. When we reunite with an old friend online, the first thing we want to do is virtually flip through their photo album. Seeing the face connects us with the heart.
But foster children often go unseen.
There are privacy regulations that keep foster parents from sharing photographs or information about the lives and history of their foster child. And this is wise! When dealing with the frustrations of foster care, I always try to put myself in the position of the biological parent. Would I want our most private family struggles to become public information? Would I want pictures out in the world that showed my child as part of another family? Would I be okay with the face of my most precious treasure becoming the poster child for abuse and neglect? Of course not. Every child in foster care potentially represents a mother and father who are struggling or may have already given up. While as foster parents we may be proud of the work we’re doing and the child we love, we recognize that we don’t own their story and that someday they have a right to tell it in the way that feels right to them.
By respecting their right to privacy, it does become difficult to communicate the urgency of the needs of foster children. Because they aren’t always easily identifiable, we just don’t realize that we may be seeing them every day. The kid in your child’s class who appeared halfway through the semester. The baby in the hospital nursery that nobody comes to visit. The teenager who can’t go on the youth group trips without a bunch of paperwork being signed. These children may need extra support, extra grace, or even a family to step up and commit to them or commit to helping their foster family in whatever ways they need.
When foster children are invisible, it is easy to ignore their needs. What if someone called you today. She said, “I have a child here. She needs a place to stay. It might be for just a couple weeks. She has nowhere else to go. Home isn’t safe, there are no relatives to care for her. Can she come be with you?” I believe there are many of you who would say yes. You’d put clean sheets on the bed, put an extra cereal bowl out for breakfast, and you’d love this little child who needs a home. But without your foster parenting license, you won’t ever get that call. You won’t have that conversation with a caseworker. You won’t know that children in your city today are without a family to care for them.
So when you can’t see the children who need help, there’s an easy way to visualize who they are. Look at the face of your own child. The infant you’re feeding. The toddler you’re bathing. The 10 year-old you’re dropping off at school. The 16 year-old you’re cheering on at his basketball game. The foster kids in your city are no different. They are just as worthy of love and they are just as scared as your children would be to be separated from you.
Maralee is a mother of six pretty incredible kids ages seven and under. Four of my kids were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, three through foster care) and two of our sons we made ourselves. Prior to becoming parents my husband and I were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during our five year tenure. I’m crazy passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making my husband a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries, and doing everything I do for God’s glory.