For anyone who doesn't believe in the color gray, just sit in family court DSS day. Foster care is some of the murkiest grays Ive ever seen, and today I am heavily reminded of it: from the message of a foster mom friend who was under the impression the child would return to family today but didn't, to the message that a sweet girl who I once sang Wheels on the Bus to every night may have her biological parental rights terminated tomorrow -- and I think of how much her foster mom loves her and how much her biological mom loves her, and my heart breaks knowing that none of this is black and white, and the deepest grays are the ones I'll never fully know, the questions that may never have answers, the motives that may never be questioned. And I'm reminded today of the deep grays that are a part of Julia's story, the ones I can attempt to piece together with words and paragraphs. I can outline quite well those that affected me. But there are so many grays I have not touched, only seen from afar for my privilege cushions me in a way Julia and Julia's mom will never be cushioned. It gives me a power I take for granted, a tainted power that comes whether I want it or not, a power I would more wisely use if I understood the grays better.
Today my heart and my head are gray. And though my title as foster mom has expired, eyes now open (albeit even a small bit) to the inside of the foster care system, it has a way of breaking theologies, or breaking tradition, or breaking routine and bubbles and worldviews that can never be put back as they once were.
And for a dim moment I think of the Eucharist and how Jesus's body was broken & he taught us a tradition not for tradition's sake but so that we would remember that brokenness changes theologies and traditions and routines and bubbles and worldviews in ways that will never be the same.
This is an article I tried to get published in May of 2018, right after Gen. Kelly was interviewed by NPR where he said that the children separated from their parents at the border would go into "foster care or whatever."
Recently the President of the United States called some illegal immigrants “animals”. The dehumanization of this administration is rampant, and as the Church body, we must be pro-life, including being pro-immigrant life.
In a recent interview with NPR, General John Kelly admitted that family separation could be a tough deterrent for illegal immigration. The interviewer asked, “Even though people say that's cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children?”
Mr. Kelly responded, “I wouldn't put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.” Again, as the Church body, we take issue with this type of talk.
As a current foster mom of an immigrant child, I find Mr. Kelly’s statement devoid of humanity and perpendicular to the purpose of foster care.
In light of this month being national foster care awareness month, I think it is important to understand first and foremost the purpose of foster care. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, the foster care “program’s focus is children who are eligible under the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children program and who were removed from their homes as the result of maltreatment, lack of care, or lack of supervision.”
Foster care is meant to serve children whose parents have been charged with dependency, abuse or neglect. Those families then get about 12 months (depending on the state and the courts) to rehabilitate by taking parenting and anger management classes, finding safe and appropriate housing, and proving they are clean from drugs.
The Department’s intent is always to reunite the children with their family as long as it is in the best interest of the child. Social workers and foster families see the lasting effects of biological families being torn apart. It is hard on everyone involved. It is not something anyone wants. If Mr. Kelly would sit in family court, interview a foster family, or speak to social workers, he would understand that splitting apart families is only done for the protection of the children. It is never done to punish the parents out of spite. That would be cruel. That would be heartless.
While I cannot give details of my own foster child’s case, I can say that there are language and cultural barriers that must be overcome in these situations. Even though my husband and I can speak Spanish because we lived in a Spanish-speaking country for over four years, there are still major cultural differences between us and our foster child. Praise God for avocados and tortillas. Additionally, the child’s dialect of Spanish is different than ours. Speaking two languages in our home involves translating rules on the spot, making sure every child understands what to expect, and often involves us speaking the wrong language to a child because we get jumbled up in stressful moments. When one child disregards our directions, we have to think back and ask ourselves: did I give them those instructions in both languages? It has proven to be an even deeper layer of exhaustion than our previous foster care placements.
In fiscal year 2016, nearly 28,000 unaccompanied minors (17 and under) crossed into the United States. If ORR’s sponsorship families that take these children in cannot care for them or worse, do not care for them by abuse or neglect, the children move to foster care. Nothing is simple about that process.
Additionally, there is an increasing national demand for foster parents. A Washington Post article from July 2017 says, “State budgets are stretched, social workers are overloaded, and not enough families are willing to provide children with temporary homes. American foster care, experts say, is in crisis.”
It’s an invisible crisis that literally happens behind closed doors. “There is no national foster care movement, no viral social media campaigns or crowds of protesters taking to the streets to battle for these children. No household name like Teach for America or AARP devoted to fighting for kids in foster care. Foster youths are, by definition, wards of the state, but when was the last time you heard any elected official talking about them?” said Sherry Lachman in an New York Times article. “As more Americans struggle with opioid addiction and find themselves unable to perform their duties as parents, children are pouring into state and county foster care systems. In Montana, the number of children in foster care has doubled since 2010. In Georgia, it has increased by 80 percent, and in West Virginia, by 45 percent.”
Families coming to the United States seeking asylum from violence and economic oppression, especially Central American women and children seeking to escape the femicide that plagues what is called the Northern Triangle, should not be targeted as parents that have abused or neglected their children. So many are leaving their own homes and countries to flee abuse. Doctors Without Borders calls the emigration of the Northern Triangle a “neglected humanitarian crisis” and in 2016 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called the Central American immigration issue a protection crisis. “‘We are particularly concerned about the rising numbers of unaccompanied children and women on the run who face forced recruitment into criminal gangs, sexual- and gender-based violence and murder,’ [UNHCR spokesperson Adrian] Edwards told journalists. U.N. High Commissioner has called it a refugee crisis.”
It seems Mr. Kelly’s idea is for one crisis to envelope another; and for those fleeing abuse to suddenly be guilty of abuse themselves.
I am for immigration reform; specifically, I agree with what World Relief has laid out in their letter to President Trump and Congress. I am also for more Christians—like myself—getting involved in foster care and immigration reform. But as a Christian, as an American, and as a foster mom, I cannot and will not stand for politicians dehumanizing these issues and throwing around ill-thought ideas on how to support the crises at hand. These issues have faces, names, identities, and stories. If Mr. Kelly would like to come jump on the trampoline with my foster child and actually hear the story that brought the child to our home, maybe, just maybe, he would recognize that punishing parents by splitting them from their children is a horrible idea for an immigration policy from a nation that claims to be Christian.
A few months ago, lament was heavy on my mind as I was hearing the news about DACA recipients. I didn't know how to express my lament, so I opened up an amazing book by Soong-Chan Rah about lament and found the tool I didn't know I needed: the acrostic. Then, stretching in a way I didn't realize I needed to, I began to pen A Lament to God for Christ the Immigrant, with help & direction from the brilliant Juliet Liu.
Today marks a culmination of decisions that have me, once again, feeling the heaviness of lament. So once again, I have turned to the acrostic. And once again, I must thank Prof. Rah for this tool in the midst of weighted pain.
for the Adulting you had to do at such a young age.
for the Bonds that must get prematurely cut.
for the Control you should have over your life but you dont.
for the Decisions made without your input.
for the Environment you had to grow up in.
for the 'Foster' put before your name, and the prejudice that will come from it.
for the Grotesque scenes you've witnessed.
for the Heaviness you carry with you.
for the Isolation you constantly feel.
for the Juxtaposing you do daily between your life and everyone else's.
for the Knowledge that has come to you out of its proper order.
for the Lying you've learned to mimic.
for the Mountains others will call mole hills.
for the Notes home from teachers that wouldn't be there if ...
for the Opportunities that never were.
for the Pains of growing up that will be deeper than most kids your age.
for the Questions that may never be answered.
for the Rights that may terminate or may not terminate.
for the Songs of childhood you never learned to sing.
for the Tension you may always hold between your past and your future.
for the Unwillingness for most people to understand you.
for the Visions of horror and the visions of home you hold in your minds eye.
for the Ways the people of God have not been intentional about loving you.
for the Xrays that show & don't show the abuse.
for the Youth that was stolen and will never fully return.
for the Zeniths of times with blood family that may all be in the past.
for this I pray. for this I lament.
For the ways in which I have been selfish in my love for you, I lament, I repent.
Christ have mercy.