God’s Heart for Foster Children

On a recent visit to a local short-term residential treatment center (formerly called a “group home” in the Los Angeles foster care system) — I made the mistake of momentarily taking off my metaphorical blinders.

As I headed down the long hallway, I walked way too slowly. I peered into every bedroom, drinking in the humanity evidenced inside each little cube.

There were bright cursive names on all the doors, worn-out shoes lined up on the floors, a rainbow of stuffed animals on beds, windowsills full of books and hairbrushes, Hello Kitty posters and homemade artwork on the walls. A few girls were hanging out in their rooms, the youngest of whom looked to be about 9 years old and reminded me so much of my own daughter that I had to blink back tears.

The forlorn expression on her face was so stereotypically “foster kid,” I wished I’d never seen it. I wished I could unsee all of it.

If we’re going to talk about God's heart for the marginalized, we have to talk about these kids. Not just the foster children living behind closed doors in group facilities, but the around 18,000* total children this year who are living in out-of-home care, including with extended family or foster families, in LA County alone.

These are children who either have no parents, have parents who are no longer their legal caregivers, or who have been temporarily taken from their parents for safety’s sake — and are now dependents of the court. All of these children are victims. They may have suffered extreme neglect, poverty, physical or sexual abuse, exposure to drugs, and more.

The various traumas these kids endure — including simply being removed from their home —  can combine to cause challenges in nearly every area of life. They can have trouble learning, language difficulties, behavior issues, a hard time responding to and managing stress. Some kids have languished in the system for so long and bounced around so much that they don’t even know how to ride a bike or tie their own shoes.

Over one third of these children in Los Angeles won’t graduate high school. One in five who age out of the system will become incarcerated within the first two years of leaving care. More than half will become unemployed as adults. Some statistics even suggest that at least half of the homeless population in Los Angeles was previously in foster care, and that 80% of inmates in the county jail have been involved in some way with the foster system.**

There are also estimates that as many as 80% of trafficked kids come from the foster system. With this number front of mind, it is extremely difficult to look at the thousands of names and faces on Missing Kids LA, a website updated daily with foster children who have run away or been abducted right here in our very backyard.

Of course we want to put our blinders on. This is ugly and overwhelming. These kids are the very definition of marginalized. They are pushed out of society, rendered powerless and voiceless. They are helpless.

We don’t want to see this kind of suffering laid on anyone, let alone on children. It’s so sad, and so seemingly hopeless, it can make it very hard to see our good God in the midst of it all.

Sometimes as I’m leaving the group home — feeling any combination of ill-equipped, fragile, or dumbstruck by the chaos and the hurt — I can only echo the father of the possessed boy in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Despite all I have witnessed, I do believe God is present and at work in the lives of foster children, and He is still good. I know this because of three things: the gifts of His Word, His Son, and His Spirit.

His Word — God knows

In Psalm 10, the psalmist boldly asks, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” The lament goes on to detail how the wicked pursue and oppress the poor, crush the helpless, and then boast that “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it” (v. 11).

But in the beautiful conclusion, we read, “But you do see...that you may take it into your hands...you have been the helper of the fatherless...O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more” (v. 14-18).

The prophetic book of Isaiah was also of specific comfort when my husband and I were first fostering. It, like all of Scripture, is a treasure trove of promises and hope for God’s people — promises that He will never break, and a hope that is available to everyone who asks for it.

We are reminded of a God who is powerful enough to swallow up death forever, but also gentle enough to wipe away tears from all faces (Is 25:8). He tells us that when the curse has finally been reversed, sorrow and sighing will flee away (Is 35:10).

He is a compassionate God, particularly to those who might feel left behind. In Isaiah 49, the city of Zion says the Lord has forsaken and forgotten her. His incredible response?

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Is 49:14-15, emphasis added).

Yes, this God has purposes that are unfathomable, and thoughts and ways that are higher than ours (Is 55:9). This might confuse and frustrate us, yet He does not leave us alone in our limited understanding; He says He will guide, satisfy and strengthen those who call out to Him (Is 58:7-11).

Finally, He has promised to send a mighty savior who will triumph over all evil (Is 63:1), mend broken hearts, and set His people free from the effects of sin and Satan. Who is this One who will comfort all who mourn (Is 61:1-2)?

His Son — God loves

He is our resurrected savior Jesus Christ, who marginalized Himself when he came to earth as one like us — a reject, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3). It’s because of Him that we can know the presence of suffering does not mean there is an absence of God.

This is God’s only Son, the “love of God made manifest among us” (1 John 4:9), pierced on our behalf, given so that we might know and see God more clearly.

What’s even more astounding is that He did this for the ungodly; Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He died for you and me, but He also died for abusive dads, neglectful moms, people capable of all kinds of horrors — and He died for their children, too.

This is a grace so amazing that it’s offensive. But without brokenness there can be no redemption; without wounds, healing is unnecessary. Without Jesus, everything these foster children have been through would be meaningless. The dozens of times they have had to change homes and schools, the separation from siblings, the court dates, the missed visits, the repeated loss and the unending pain — would just be random acts of evil.

There would be no hope for them...or any of us.

Our only hope is Jesus. He is God, coming to be with us in the dark places — and we know “the darkness has not overcome the light” (John 1:5). When we confront unbelief and fight sin, we not only join His army, but we are welcomed into His household. From then on, we are invited to walk as “children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

And being a child of light means being a child of God. Romans 8:14 sums up the Holy Spirit’s role in the creation of this new family: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him.”

His Spirit — God acts

The final way I see God at work in the lives of foster children is through His Spirit-moved body of believers. My brothers and sisters in Christ are not just loving in “word or talk, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Many Cornerstone members have willingly taken off their blinders and, in faith and trust, entered into this suffering.

Serving in foster care in any capacity leads to vulnerability and dependence. Foster parents sacrifice time, comfort, control, expectations, plans and more. Mentors, counselors, and advocates may have a lesser commitment, but their burdens are similar. I also see the Holy Spirit moving in those He has helped discern are not called to be foster parents or direct volunteers, but who sacrifice resources in support of those who are.

Ultimately, these people are united by the Holy Spirit — just as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

The Bible also says the Spirit “helps us in our weakness.” Various interactions with the foster system have left me in a state of speechlessness and even prayerlessness. It is comforting to dwell on the fact that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

So...now what?

You might be asking yourself — if this is God’s heart for foster children, what is He telling me to do about it? There is no shortage of opportunities, big or small, to serve this population. But it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities and then do nothing at all. So I urge you to slowly and carefully consider these final suggestions, which I will limit for the sake of focus.            
  • Prayer is huge — for any foster child you know firsthand, but also for the many people in his or her orbit. There are around 9,300 people employed by the LA County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) alone. The new director was a former foster child himself. And there are countless other foster family agency employees, social workers, therapists, lawyers and judges who have an immediate impact on these kids’ lives. There are good and bad foster parents, birth families and group home staff. Pray for them regularly.      
  • Volunteer for this summer’s Royal Family Kids Camp hosted by Cornerstone.                                
  • Look into becoming a certified resource family (foster home) in LA County either directly through DCFS or via one of the local foster family agencies.                                                                
  • Come to the Cornerstone Orphan Care support group — get to know the immediate needs and struggles of people who are in the trenches of foster care. Pray over court dates and visits. Find out about other organizations and ways you can help (like providing meals or becoming a certified babysitter).

Finally, join me in thanking our God that someday He will undo the foster system. It is a band-aid that exists because people were not who they were supposed to be. There may be reunification in some cases, but it is always paid for at the expense of the child, in conflict, unpredictability and uncertainty.

All of that can be fixed through life in Christ.

Because He is who he says He is. He knows us and won’t forget us. He won’t break his promises. He is working for unity, joy, peace, restoration, reconciliation. And for all of us, but most importantly, for foster children? He offers permanency.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).