Foster Care and the Church

The Foster Support Faith Alliance (FSFA), a ministry of Seattle Union Gospel Mission (UGM), engages homelessness by supporting foster care. Last year’s Count Us In study found that in Seattle 29% of unaccompanied young people experiencing homelessness reported a history of foster care. Nationally, over 40% of youth who age out of foster care struggle with homelessness.

Life in foster care can be extraordinarily challenging and disruptive for kids and teens, both emotionally and developmentally. As they become adolescents and adults, children in the foster care system face disproportionately high rates of poverty, homelessness, incarceration, mental illness, unplanned pregnancy and substance abuse. In fact, research shows that children in foster care suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at a higher rate than returning war veterans, and more than half struggle with mental health challenges stemming from the trauma they’ve endured.

Not only are they vulnerable to homelessness, incarceration, and substance abuse, youth in the foster care system are extremely susceptible to being commercially sexually exploited (commonly known as domestic sex trafficking). Of the underage youth who are commercially sexually exploited in the US, 60% of them have spent time in the foster care system. In Seattle, REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade), estimates that it’s closer to 70%! In fact, REST refers to the foster care system as a “sex-trafficking pipeline.” This is due to foster children’s experience with a lack of belonging, the normalization of being seen by others as a financial gain, and the transient lifestyle of moving from home to home. Each of these parallels between foster care and sex trafficking make these youth even more vulnerable to exploitation.

The Foster Support Faith Alliance believes that if we work now to care for foster children, support foster and bio parents, and serve the DSHS Children’s Administration staff, we can help to prevent future homelessness and sex trafficking. We recognize that homelessness is a symptom of broken relationships and that the children in the foster care system are some of the most relationally and emotionally broken in our society. In fact, the very fact that they are in foster care points to a broken relationship between the child and his/her parent. Like those experiencing homelessness, these children are without family members to provide for their needs. So, in UGM’s effort to serve those in greatest need, it’s important for our church networks and volunteers to include service to children in the foster care system.

The Foster Support Faith Alliance focuses on 3 areas of service within the foster care system:

  1. Caring for foster children
  2. Supporting foster parents (and biological parents as well)
  3. Encouraging DSHS Children’s Administration staff

This three-fold approach works together to provide wrap-around support for our children and youth in foster care in an effort to prevent their future experiences with struggles like homelessness, incarceration, and sexual exploitation. We believe that if we can help to buoy up relationships in the lives of foster youth, by supporting their foster parents, bio parents, and social workers, we’ll increase the chances that youth will find permanence (whether adoption or reunification) and have the relationships they need to help them navigate adulthood. Every one of these children has experienced broken relationships with their biological parents and often with foster parents, if forced to move from home to home. Each of them deserves a permanent, supportive family.

At the same time, the foster families who are caring for these children are experiencing tremendous strain in raising children exposed to trauma, dealing with a foster care system that is over-taxed, and not receiving the support from their community that they need to persevere. The FSFA seeks to turn that around by inspiring and equipping churches to support these parents and meet some of the needs of the over-burdened Children’s Administration.

—Dee West

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