By Ed Harpring
“I don’t think they (people) understand how it feels not being able to say mom and dad. … Going through foster care, you don’t get to say that (mom and dad) often. And if you do trust somebody enough to say that, who knows how long they’ll stick around.”
— Former foster youth
These gloomy sentiments are typical of the average foster care child. Our foster care system is broken. In Kentucky alone, we have nearly 10,000 children in foster care. This is up from 7,500 only a little over two years ago, (a 25 percent increase) and shows no sign of letting up with the raging opioid epidemic.
Many foster children are exposed to extreme trauma in the home due to drug abuse, neglect, and domestic violence. The trauma is further compounded by separation from their parents, (through legal action), combined with institutionalization in a residential facilities.
These drastic changes create formidable psychological turmoil in the lives of these ill-fated children. In addition, many of these foster youths “age out” as early as 18 and are totally unprepared for the never-easy transition to adulthood and the working world.
Without adult guidance and resources, it is nearly impossible to navigate the complexities of choosing the right education, trade or career path. Sadly, only half graduate from high school and only 4 percent graduate from college; one in three will become homeless; one in five will become incarcerated; and seven in 10 girls will become pregnant by age 21. Even worse, with loss of hope and nowhere else to turn, many of these children become prime targets for human traffickers, with 70 percent of trafficked youth coming from the foster-care system.
But there is hope! This is where the faith community of Kentucky and especially the Archdiocese of Louisville can make a monumental difference in the lives of children who desperately need a positive adult role model in their life. Recently, after reading about the incredible work that Los Angles Catholics were doing with foster care children, I spoke with Kathleen Domingo, pro-life director of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
She told me their program sprung from their annual Pro-Life March, which is held each January. With more than 28,000 children in foster care in Los Angeles, they realized that standing for life meant advocating for the thousands of foster children that have no one to speak for them. She said that foster care “was off the radar” primarily due to the feeling that it was “run by the state.” However, since starting parish foster care awareness events, the response has been overwhelming, with more than 300 people getting involved with supporting foster care kids.
In the past, fostering has often been seen as a “last resort” for couples wanting to have children. Instead, she said, “it needs to be seen as a work of Christian mercy — welcoming children in love, with the goal of reuniting them with their families.”
The Archdiocese of Louisville will host its next Foster Care Awareness event sponsored by the Family Ministries/Pro-Life Office on March 31 at St. John Paul II Church (Hikes Lane campus) from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The purpose is to educate parishioners about the foster care crisis, share personal stories, and discuss easy ways to get involved.
Helping foster children can range from simple activities, such as donating personal care items or household supplies for a new foster care family, to sending a child a birthday card or gift cards on special occasions or driving a child to appointments. If you are called to more direct contact, consider mentoring, helping with homework or becoming a respite care provider, or even a foster care parent.
Harpring is the coordinator of pro-life ministries for the Archdiocese of Louisville.