Our Silent Citizens

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If you read my Q&A a few weeks ago you know that foster care is something I’m very passionate about and something I want to bring more awareness to.

Children in the foster care system are all around you; you may just not know it. He’s the little boy on your son’s soccer team. She’s the baby attending the same daycare as your own baby. She’s the middle schooler in your daughter’s math class.

Do you see the homeless in your city? Do you watch the local news and learn about the illegal drug use and crime going on in your own community? Do you hear about prostitution and human trafficking? So many times there are children involved in all of those situations and they need someone safe to care for them. They are our silent citizens and with nowhere else to turn they are brought into our state’s system when it is suspected that they have been neglected or abused by their parents or caregivers. Some of them have experienced extreme trauma, some have been the victims of unthinkable acts and some have been fending for themselves for longer than you can imagine. Some children in care may have experienced abuse by drug-using mothers before they were even born; and too often those born into the world to drug-addicted parents do not even have close relatives fit to care for them because of the drug-addiction pandemic. These children are the innocent and silent victims of drug addiction and they must come into protective custody.

Once children come into the care of the state for whatever abuse or neglect may have occurred, they go to an assigned foster home or to a children’s home if there aren’t enough foster homes available; and too often they are separated from their siblings. Alone, scared, and sometimes hungry or dirty. That is only the beginning of their plight because then there are court dates and meetings where judges and countless strangers make decisions concerning their future, transports to and from the state office for visitation with family, the beginning of therapies that many of them need after months or years of abuse or neglect; and all of this can go on for an unpredictable amount of time. There are children who languish in foster care for years, and many times are bounced around from foster home to foster home only adding to their existing trauma. Contrary to popular opinion, children aren’t as resilient as we like to think.

There is a great need for foster families in our state and it is one huge way you can help the children in your own community. But it seems there is great hesitation when it comes to making that kind of leap of faith and I’m definitely one to say that I completely understand it.

People ask me all the time, “How do you do it? How do you not fall in love?” The honest answer to that is “I don’t know” and “I do.” In the time I have been a foster mother, I have watched three leave and it IS too much for my heart to handle and it IS taxing on our family and I AM heavily, emotionally involved. I’m a mother, after all. The truth is though that these children deserve parents who love them like that; and if your heart doesn’t break when a child leaves your home, then you probably shouldn’t be a foster parent. With that being said, being a foster parent isn’t something that everyone wants to do and I get it. BUT if it’s something you’ve thought about or considered in the past, then consider it again and contact the state office because you are greatly needed.

Another amazing way that you can advocate for a child is to become a guardian ad litem. Every child in our state who comes into foster care is assigned a guardian ad litem to be “a voice for the child”. They get to know the child, learn about the child’s past and current circumstances, and decide what is in their best interests going forward. They attend court hearings and are considered a party to the child’s case. This person has a huge impact on the child’s future and well-being.

One more way to serve the vulnerable children of your community is to support and serve foster families. When I look around at the foster families I know, I see unsung heroes. Some of them bring on the extreme weight of the emotional baggage their foster children carry into their homes and are rarely thanked for what they do. Day in and day out they love and care for children who are not theirs and they need support to keep up that good work because too often and so easily they get burned out which increases the times children have to be moved around from foster home to foster home. This is never ideal, as we all know that children need stability. Reach out to a foster family around you and consider taking a meal, donating a gift card for a family dinner out, offering to babysit, or donating clothes, diapers or formula.

If you are looking for ways to love a burdened child right in your midst, then take one little step. Small steps can turn into bigger ones and you just never know who you could impact along the way. Keep your eyes open for these little silent citizens and be a voice if you are able.

Kelli Ingram
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