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Pro-Life series: Foster Care

This is the 11th post in our "What Being Pro-Life Means to Me" series! What does being pro-life mean to you? Over this fall, we'll hear various writers respond to that question. Learn more and subscribe for weekly email updates

To me, being pro-life means that you commit to the life, goodness, hope, image-of-God in a person—even when that person can be really, really difficult to be around. Being pro-life means that there’s no such thing as running out of chances. To be pro-life is to learn to see a person’s whole story—not just the front cover.

I’m a foster care supervisor. I work with kids who aren’t safe in their own homes, and who can’t be cared for by their own parents for a time. And I work with parents who can’t care for their kids for a time. My goal, whenever it’s possible, is to safe reunite parents and kids.

Up to 90% of kids in foster care have experienced complex trauma. Trauma changes a person’s brain. For example, when a brain is constantly in survival mode, the part of the brain that helps to develop logic is underdeveloped. A child whose life has been shaped by constant trauma might not be able to answer a question like, “Why did you hit Johnny on the playground?” or “Where do you want to go to college?” Their brains are great at figuring out how to survive to the next day. But not so great at investing in a loving, trusting friendship; not so great at sticking to a budget; not so great at knowing how to earn Employee of the Month accolades at their Walgreens job.

Most of the biological parents I work with have experienced complex trauma, too. I have never met a biological parent who didn't love their child. Their children are not unwanted. But trauma makes it tough to know how to keep their kids safe and healthy—or themselves. Trauma makes emotions more difficult to manage and express. Trauma gets in the way of trusting teachers, pastors, or case workers. The parent’s own brain has been shaped by the trauma they’ve endured, which often leads to addictions, abusive relationships, or codependent behavior. They’re stuck in the cycles of their own pain.

I believe being pro-life means being pro-biological parent. It means coming alongside the addicted, abusive, mess of a person whose kid has been taken away, and choosing to see them as the image of God that they are. It means befriending them—not coaching or mentoring or documenting their progress. They already have classes and case workers and counseling and services. They don’t need more professionals. They need people in their lives who see them as people and who hear their story without judgment. They need the church. It means we stop saying “dead-beat dad,” or “derelict parent.” It means that we get rid of the shame we have piled on parents who have messed up, and we get to the business of loving them the way Christ does.

I believe being pro-life also means being pro-foster parent. It means offering respite for the weekend when foster parents just need a break. It means biting your tongue when you’re tempted to say, “Well, you should have known that this would be hard.” It means bringing dinner, or babysitting, or listening over the phone, or having play dates—normalizing and celebrating this brave and Christ-like choice to “stand in the gap” for families who are going through their hardest time.

And I believe being pro-life means being pro-foster kid. Kids who have been in foster care are at the greatest risk of homelessness, dropping out, unemployment, substance abuse, domestic violence, prison… and having kids who will later be in foster care. We must turn our eyes toward these kids who have endured so much, who are so in need of the community, love, and prayers that the church can offer. Foster care needs more workers, more funding, more attention, more support. These kids aren’t hopeless, but they do need hope. And I think hope looks like Christ. And I think Christ looks like us: the church.

So much of life is really messy. It’s really ugly. It’s really hard. But the gospel of Jesus has compelled me to believe that the more we walk toward that brokenness, instead of walking away from it, the more pro-life we really are.

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[Image: Flickr user UNICEF Ethiopia]

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