Guest Post :: Catholics Families Answering the Call for Foster Care

“They’ve lost everything; must they also lose the Sacraments?”
The following is a guest post from Christie Martin at Garden of Holiness

The American family is in crisis. 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and children suffer. Parents don’t bother to marry and children suffer. Some families explode in violence, child abandonment, or drug abuse and CPS picks up the pieces. Here, especially children suffer. How they suffer.

They suffer so much that my daughter would retreat into a shell every time she heard Spanish or her own name spoken aloud. They suffer so much that they come straight from the ER in the middle of the night wrapped in a hospital blanket and dressed only with one sock, a cast, and a diaper. They suffer so much that while I cradle an exhausted and drug addicted four-month old in my arms a doctor lets slip that if he can not learn how to fall asleep he will die.

He lived. That broken baby was dressed and loved and healed. My precious girl both listens to and speaks Spanish now. Dora la Exploradora, explora mi casa una vez mas! 

Their suffering was eased. 

Suffering in children results when their needs are unanswered. My husband and I are among the over 150,000 foster families in the United States who answered the call to help ease the suffering of the over 400,000 foster children in our country. James 1:27 says that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” The destruction of the American family has orphaned these children. We, as religious people, must fulfill our duties.

Catholic foster children often suffer the loss of more than just their family, friends, and possessions. They lose everything and they lose their Sacraments. Many of these children are placed in homes that either do not go to church or will not take the children to a Catholic church. These kids lose touch with that one last comfort: their spiritual home.

This is your invitation to consider fostering, especially the special needs of Catholic fostering. All of us, at any moment, can choose to answer the needs of others. Or not.

Most of you will not be able to open your home to another child as we have, but as a person of faith you must still do your duty to the orphan of our modern way of life, the foster child. The first and best thing all of us must do is pray. Pray for families, pray for marriages, pray for children, and pray especially for those children who become foster children. Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

If praying is the only thing you can do, do not think your prayers are useless or small. They are mustard seeds. Do you not remember that Augustine, one of our greatest Christian writers of all of our 2,000 years, was converted by the prayers of his mother? Prayers can transform a life. It can move mountains, and the problems of foster children are mountainous, to be sure.

One problem is the shortage of families willing to take in foster children. Another is the dearth of Catholic families to take in Catholic foster children. Catholics are the largest group of people in the United States, so there will statistically be more Catholics in the system needing care than any other group. We are our little brothers’ keepers. Most families never even consider the possibility of becoming a foster family. That’s a huge mountain to move. 

Pray to move that mountain while I tell you about the possibilities in that life…
My husband and I have been married for 13 years. We’ve fostered 10 children, adopted two, and given birth to three and now have a total of five children. For now! We’ve recently bought an old farmhouse and are renovating it in order to make room to foster more. One day very soon, we will.

Why us?
I was fostered for a few weeks before I was adopted as a baby. My adopted parents had fostered two boys before they adopted my adopted brother and I. I always knew I would foster and adopt because it was part of my life experience. My husband had to be invited to consider the idea long before we married. Now, I’m inviting you.

First, Imagine the Child’s Experience
Imagine your family has fallen apart. You need to leave for your own safety. You’ve seen too much. You’ve been hurt. You’re awfully small in a big world. You need someone to love you. Your mother and your father have let you down, but at least you have your Heavenly Father and Our Mother. You can rest in His arms at any time, but you feel especially close to Our Lady and to your own mom when you are in Mass. 

The emergency placement people take you to Mass in a new church, in a new part of town, but all Masses are the same no matter where you are. You know that your mom is going to church somewhere today. It breaks your heart not to be with her, but she’s here somewhere, somehow. She always said we are reunited with all our loved ones through the Eucharist, even the ones in Heaven. Even if you can’t touch her today, you are with her in this small way. 

A few days later, you find yourself in a new home. That first time you get ready to go to Mass, they ask you why you’re all dressed up. They look embarrassed when you say you’re ready for Church. “Maybe we’ll go next week,” the foster mom says. “Nobody’s ready this week but you.” Every week, there’s some sort of excuse. After a month or two, you’ve lost even that bit of hope. Would God forgive you for missing Mass if you can’t help it?

This is just my imagination. Let me tell you a real story of a real boy. He’s an older boy, about 12. He’s been in the system and adoptable for a few years now, but he hasn’t been adopted. The caseworkers were concerned and checked all the paperwork to see if something was wrong and could be fixed. Finding nothing, they met with the boy. Come to find out he’d turned down adoptions because only Protestant families were available. He wasn’t willing to risk his faith to satisfy his need for a family.

I want that to sink in a bit. This boy chose his faith over a family. He’s why I’m writing to you, because there is a real little boy in my very own town who has made the choice of a saint: to be a Catholic even if it means being alone in the world. If he is crying out, how many more like him must there be? How many of them are made silent by the trauma and the hopelessness of their life? In a sense he speaks for countless numbers. 

His simple love and faith spoke to me. That kind of childlike faith demands an answer, doesn’t it? It called an answering love of Christ in me, an answering hope that maybe I could do something for him, for all those children like him. 

Can I help answer some of your fears?

“It Scares Me To Think I Might Have To Give Them Back”

I’ve handed a child back to a social worker 13 times now. One of my adopted daughters was placed with me 3 times before the adoption. It was hard. I hung on the agony of my own loss each time. I’ve had social workers cry on my doorstep at the sight of me and say, “I’m so sorry!” But you know what? My losses count as nothing to these children who need me.

They’ve lost so much. They’ve suffered the loss of their family of origin, some have suffered multiple losses through multiple placements. They’ve lost everything. Sometimes countless times over. I can bear my pain. I’m a big girl. I can take it for their sakes.

I know how to offer that up. I’ve done it before. We hang on the cross for each of our children. You mothers know. Pregnancy is the first of the suffering that we bear for our child. Then childbirth. That’s some serious physical suffering right there. Then there are the countless moments: the illnesses at 2 a.m., bearing their tears when someone makes fun of them at school, their first “I hate you!” We suffer. 

We mothers suffer!

We will suffer for these foster children, too. That’s what love is all about. If you think it is too tough to hand them back if you are called, if that is stopping you, don’t be afraid by the possibility of that pain. Love is always worth it. What is love? Love is a person, a choice. It’s not a warm fluffy feeling. It’s a gift of one’s life to the beloved.

Love Himself showed us. He died for us. He suffered so much for us. Maybe you will be privileged to suffer and love for a child you will never forget.

I can tell you I would not trade a moment with any of my foster children for one moment less of my heartache over the loss of them. The love I have received from them, more importantly, the love I have poured out for them has been worth it. I still overflow with love for each of them. It is so beautifully worth it.

“I Don’t Want All the Rules and Paperwork”

Nobody likes the unknown. The paperwork for an adoption is considerable. I had a stack of papers a foot high to slog through for my first adoption. Each paper was akin to a day of pregnancy, “One page closer!” I thought as I tagged another sheet for my husband to sign. Compared to the 23 hours of labor I went through for my oldest, reading, signing, and initialing was a breeze.

There are regulations in every state. They are there for good reason. In one state, we were not allowed to take pictures of foster children. Think about that one for a minute. What type of photographic incident occurred to some poor child to make that rule necessary? We abided it.

You may have a “no trampoline” rule in your state. You may not. The anxiety of all the potential changes you will have to make to accept a foster child into your home will be much more manageable once you know what those rules actually are. You may find yourself in a better position to foster than you thought after you actually speak to someone.

Taking the classes to become trained a trained foster parent is not a commitment to foster, but it will make the process look more “family sized” and it will normalize the process. You may find that you can’t commit to a full time placement, but there is always respite care. That’s when you take a child for a weekend or a few days for various reasons. 

“My Children Are Too Young”

You can specify the age of the child you would consider fostering. We’ve always made a rule to foster children who are younger than our youngest. When our youngest was a year old, we only took in infants. Now that our youngest is four, we will take in toddlers and younger.

“We’re Afraid of Getting a Child with Disabilities or Emotional Problems”
You can specify the level of care you can give a child. Children come into the system at various levels, from severely emotionally or physically needy to nearly normal needs. Of course, there is the trauma of losing a family to deal with and the training you receive will help you to help the child overcome that, but you will not be given a situation that is beyond you. Trust me when I say that the people at your child protective services want you to succeed. They will help you every step of the way.

They are only waiting to be asked. Google “How do I become a foster parent in (your state)” and see. Children are waiting. And needing. Pray for foster children and consider becoming a parent of one. You will love how you love when you do.

All We Need Is Love
The Martin Kids
Fostered, adopted, birthed and mine!