This week I was saddened to read about a foster youth who was arrested for allegedly killing his younger foster brother. (See the orginal article here: http://www.omaha.com/article/20130902/NEWS/130909818) First, I was sad because I would hope that we could provide juveniles with some degree of privacy. I understand this is a serious issue, but we also still live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately for this young man an entire state has already met him for the first time as someone who would kill a 5 year old. At 17 that's a tough first impression to get over if he is innocent.
Unfortunately I fear this story gives people a negative impression of foster care and probably feeds into a bad stereotype. I know many people who often say they are "thinking" about foster care and articles like this really can taint the waters. When it's left as the only story you hear it can continue to further the misunderstanding that it’s the youth's fault they are in foster care.
I could be wrong about this, but I'd be willing to bet this is the only article the Omaha World Herald has written on a foster care youth this year. They may have written about the reforms, but have my doubts as to whether or not the press has introduced its readers to any other youth. So what you have read is one story of one child. In Nebraska we have over 4,000 children in foster care and you've seen only one story where things went terribly wrong in a system of children writing amazing life stories. The problem even for those other children though is that they need help writing those great stories. The system is far from perfect and there are a lot of reasons why. But you want to know one of the biggest reasons? There are not enough people willing to care for youth. I can almost guarantee you if the system was filled with foster parents waiting to take a teenage boy into their home that boy in the story would not have ever even been in that situation.
I believe strongly in what Father Flanagan said "There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking." It's been something that I've believed since the days we lived in Bolivia to today. We’ve also been blessed to see first-hand, both in Bolivia and through foster care here, the difference that a loving investment in the life of a youth can make. We were blessed to have a boy of that same age stay with us and it’s a great story that continues to be written. I don't want to minimize that there are sometimes real biological or chemical issues that can affect behavior. That's true for any child, in our out of state care. We need to stop judging children for their behavior though. It's so easy to blame a child for his behavior without looking at our roles as parents, teachers, the church and society.
There are thousands of children in foster care today that need support and help. There are no bad children. As a matter of fact there are a number of great children waiting for a safe and secure home to thrive in. There are children that have not found a healthy, supportive and loving environment to grow in and people to take the time to recognize their needs and maybe even recognize that they need extra help for a biological or chemical imbalance. It's our job as a society to fill that gap. To be the family who makes the effort to welcome a new child into our home and make that investment. I can tell you first hand foster care is not rocket science. It’s regular parenting PLUS you get support from professionals just a phone call away. Imagine raising your own children with someone you could call for advice or support anytime of the day. Most importantly though you get the reward of seeing the change that love and investment in the life of a child can make.
It made me sad that the facts existed to produce that article in the first place. What about you? Did that article make you sad, angry or disappointed? If so, what can be your role in helping ensure another article like that is never written again? There are both 5 year olds and 17 year olds waiting to find a safe home. Can you be an agent of change? Can you be that home?