Being a parent is a tough gig. I am barely a year into this, and I can tell you it takes every ounce of my being each and every day to raise a healthy, happy, confident little one. Sadly, my heart breaks when I hear of children who are neglected, abused, and alone. And as a parent, words such as “neglect” and “abuse” have taken on an aching new meaning: suffering and trauma of a child who is unable to remedy their situation.
Helpless and without a voice, I am often left wondering, how can I help these children? Nobody’s.
Wichita, Kansas is the largest city in the state, boasting a population of more than 385,000. Add in the approximate populations of Andover (12,000), El Dorado (12,800) and Maize (3,800) and you have nearly the same number of children who are currently in foster care throughout the country. More than 415,000 precious hearts who have the same needs and dreams as your child are in a desperate position relying on the compassion of strangers. A record-breaking 6,500 children are currently in the Kansas foster care system. And by the time you finish reading this article, two more children will be placed in foster care somewhere in our country.
More than 25% of the children in foster care are waiting to be adopted into their forever home. Many, though, will “age-out” without having a permanent placement. Aging out with little to no support, these children have higher rates of homelessness, criminal conviction, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and use of public welfare programs. They also have lower high school graduation rates and a mere three percent will graduate from college. Many studies have also found they are prime targets for human trafficking.
As a parent, as a community member, as a person, you can help foster children feel loved and empowered. You are needed.
Show kindness: We could all benefit from a little more grace and concern for each other. So, when you see a child who is distraught, unruly, or unclean; smile, acknowledge them, and strike up a conversation. Be kind and teach your child to be compassionate towards others as we do not know the struggles and fears a child may be facing. Empathy cannot be taught from a textbook; we must exemplify this quality for children to follow.
Be a Mentor: You never know how you may change a life by simply investing your time and energy. Mentoring can be through a structured program or simply coaching a little league team in your neighborhood. For a child in foster care, you may be one of the only positive examples they come in contact with. Take advantage of this opportunity to show them a way of life beyond destruction and impossibility.
Organize an event through Together We Rise: This innovative organization works to solve real problems foster children face, such as providing suitcases to replace the trash bags most kids use for their belongings and paying registration fees so foster children can be involved in extracurricular activities. Grab your co-workers or a group a friends to decorate suitcases or build bikes for children in foster care in your local community.
Volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA): As a CASA volunteer, you are assigned to a case of a child who has been abused or neglected. Your role is to be an advocate for the child’s best interest throughout the judicial process. You can position yourself to make to bring real change and hope for a child.
Become a Foster Parent: Loving, quality foster families are always needed for children. Open your home and your heart to a child who is in great need for a safe and healthy place to live. Foster parents serve a pivotal role in breaking the stereotypes of children in foster care.
Consider adoption and provide a forever home: November 21, 2015 is National Adoption Day. A day to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting for a forever home. This is an incredible opportunity to transform the life of a child and your own! Take time today to learn more about the process in your state.
Contributor note: I write these suggestions as a wife of a former foster child. My husband spent most of his childhood in and out of foster care. He has devoted many hours researching best practices in foster care, and he is proof that anyone is equipped to change a life for a child in need. I am constantly inspired by his resilience and motivation to help other foster children become success stories.