the kids under the rug

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I first came upon the above image in portrait form—among several others—in the Wamego Public Library earlier this week. This is a boy named Zacarias. Zacarias is fourteen years old, he loves sports, and he is one of the nearly 900 Kansas children who are awaiting adoption.

Few things elicit emotional responses from me, but kids without families are one of them. Families are the context in which children are taught their value as human beings, find support for their growth and development, receive the care needed to keep them healthy and safe, and learn important skills like responsibility and empathy. Many—if not most—of us take this for granted. And yet, there is a whole population of young people who are desperate to experience this for themselves.

In order for a child to be removed from his or her home and placed into foster care, something bad (abuse, neglect, etc.) must happen to the child in his or her birth home. In order for a child’s parental rights to be severed altogether, there must be a repeated pattern of truly egregious behavior on the part of his or her parents, usually resulting in some form of trauma for the child. This is what it takes to be a child in need of adoption in Kansas.

It’s difficult for me to imagine what it’s truly like to be one of these kids, to have gone through something so horrible with your birth family that the state declares that they’re no longer your family. To be sent to live with some random people called a foster family, and probably to be juggled around between multiple foster care placements along the way. To know that you’re being advertised like a puppy at the local animal shelter just to find someone willing to care for you. To wait, and to wonder why it’s taking so long for a family to decide you’d be worth their time, money, space, and love. To worry that maybe you’re not cute enough, or outgoing enough, or well-behaved enough, or young enough to be permanently accepted into someone else’s family. It’s downright depressing when you realize that there are 900 children currently experiencing this kind of fear and uncertainty.

It requires a great deal of impulse control for me not to call up one of these adoption agencies right now and offer to bring in all 900 of these kids into my home. I have to remind myself that I’m twenty-three, I live in a two-bedroom apartment, and I have zero experience with parenting. Of course I know that someday, when my wife and I are more able to take care of a child or five, it’ll take hell itself to stop us from adopting. But for now, I feel so helpless. I know it’s in the best interest of all parties involved to wait until I’m actually capable of being at least a decent father before adopting, but I still feel like I’m doing nothing. Luckily, my head has always been louder than my heart.

While my family isn’t at a point yet where we’re ready to adopt, I can still advocate for adoption. And this I will do unashamedly, because there’s too much at stake here to be quiet about it. It’s too easy for us to ignore “the least of these” among us for me not to say anything. My goal is not to guilt you into anything—guilt is never a genuine reason to do anything. I only wish to inform and challenge.

I don’t know if you’re fourteen years old and not even thinking about kids yet, or if you’re seventy-five and have fourteen grandkids. Either way or anywhere in between, you can still do something. It doesn’t matter if you’re single or married, have no kids or too many to count. You can still do something.

The first thing I would ask you to do is just to consider what adoption would look like for you, either in the near future or the far distant future. Really, truly, honestly consider it. For some of you, it may be plainly obvious that adoption wouldn’t work for you, and that’s okay (we’ll get to what you can do in a moment). Some of you might certainly like it to be plainly obvious that adoption wouldn’t work for you, but deep down there’s a tiny dissenting voice. Hold onto that dissenting voice for just a moment. Why do you feel that? Why do you want to ignore it? What would it take for that tiny voice to become the dominant voice? If you’re of the religious ilk, I’ll remind you that James 1:27 says this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So, if you are of that religious ilk, perhaps that niggling thing isn’t guilt or a sense of duty, but a sort of “calling” so to speak. I’m not going to speak definitively for the Holy Spirit here. I just want you to consider it.

The second thing I’m going to ask you to do is to head over to https://www.adoptkskids.org/ (or the appropriate site for whatever state in which you live) and acquaint yourself with a few of the children in need of adoption. I believe it’s really difficult to let something affect us on a personal level if we don’t attach humanity to the people we’re talking about. So go look at their faces, read their bios. Understand that adoption isn’t just a way to grow your family, but a way to care for real live human beings who have been abandoned and abused.

I don’t want you to make a decision regarding adoption immediately. This decision is one that should be made with deep conviction and after very serious consideration. My hope is that all of you would decide to open your homes to children in need, but I understand that this isn’t a realistic expectation. Many children who come from these broken homes have very serious mental, emotional, and behavioral difficulties that require a great deal of consistency, persistence, patience, and willpower. Some of you would be horrible adoptive parents (I say that mostly facetiously) and know adoption isn’t right for you. That really is okay. But, if you’re asking me, that doesn’t let you off the hook.

There are plenty of ways you can help out kids in need without becoming an adoptive parent. Convenient, isn’t it? The AdoptUsKids website provides a list of ways you can help out children and families who are involved with foster care and adoption. While the list is primarily geared toward helping children in foster care specifically, I believe it is still a relevant resource for adoption as well. So, here are five ways to help children in need of foster care/adoption without being a foster/adoptive parent:

  1. Become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA worker)

As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, you’re empowered by the courts to advocate on behalf of a child in foster care. You don’t have to be a lawyer or social worker.

The work done by CASAs involves gathering information from everyone in a child’s life, including parents, relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers, and others. This information will then be used to inform judges of what the child needs and what will be the best permanent home for them.

To be a CASA, you simply need to:

-Pass a background check

-Participate in a 30-hour pre-service training course

-Stay with a case until it’s closed (approximately 1.5 years on average)

  1. Mentor a Child in Foster Care

Becoming a mentor or tutor for a child in foster care is a great way to make the difference of a lifetime for children in need of permanency. There are lots of different ways to mentor children of all ages.

Help a teen in foster care succeed in college through Foster Care to Success’ Academic Success Program 

Volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters 

Help teens aging out of foster care with basic life skills through different programs offered through The Purple Project 

Find mentoring opportunities in your area by using the National Foster Care and Adoption Directory to contact a local agency 

  1. Offer Free Photography and Videography Services to Adoption Agencies

If a picture is worth a thousand words, your photography and videographer talents are a priceless gift that can go a long way to helping children in foster care. Adoption agencies around the country are in need of high quality photos and videos of children that can be shared with prospective families.

  1. Become a Respite Care Provider

Respite care workers provide parents and other caregivers with short-term child care services that offer temporary relief, improve family stability, and reduce the risk of abuse or neglect. Respite can be planned or offered during emergencies or times of crisis. Respite may be available to foster, kinship, adoptive, and birth families in need of support.

  1. Fundraise or Donate Supplies to Foster Care Organizations

Many children in foster care have very little to call their own. Everything from back-to-school supplies, toys, and suitcases are needed by foster care organizations around the country. Whatever you can give will go a long way, whether it’s a donation of money or supplies directly to an organization in your area, or organizing a fundraising or donation drive.

There are likely plenty of other ways to help out kids in need of adoption, even if adoption isn’t right for you. But of course, in my opinion, the best way to help out these children is to become an adoptive parent yourself. While I’ve personally never been an adoptive parent, I can conclusively state that few things have brought more joy into my life than having an adopted younger brother.

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I urge you, whoever you are, wherever you are, however old you are, etc. to please consider helping out the youth of our state and nation who have no families to call their own. As near as I can tell, it’s one of the greatest need facing us, and one we all too frequently ignore. I refuse to disregard these children, and I hope you’ll join me. Whatever you can do, however little or however much, is worth it.