What No One Ever Told Me About The Foster System

Joel Horst: I’m thrilled to share a guest post from a friend who works in the foster care system in another state. Having heard story after heartrending story, stories I had never realized were part of everyday life for some kids, I offered to host a guest post if my friend wanted to write one. And so

They sleep in my car. Eleven months apart. One and two years old. Their breathing scares me. I wonder: will I get them to their placement alive? I have asked their worker if I could take them to the hospital but she says no. They are sick with the flu, RSV, and pneumonia. I tell them about Jesus even though I don’t know if they understand. I play calming hymns during the long ride to placement.

They have come into the foster care system because they were dropped off, and the twenty-year-old mom never came to pick them up and didn’t answer calls or anything. They are terribly sick because they’ve been neglected and abused. The system takes them, but offers them nothing better. Night after night they are shipped to random houses for the night. They have no stability, no love, no compassion.

One and two years old. My heart breaks as I drive them to yet another house. I hope and pray their foster mom is kind. But I get there and she is very annoyed with them. She puts them in their cribs without changing their diapers. Snaps about their crying. Tells me that they have to be picked up at 9 am and no later. I go home and cry. Cry for these babies that are so little but have not been given a chance.

That’s not the only time I cry. I cry for the five year old boy that was kept in a dog carrier with feces and urine smeared all over him. He arrives at the office and it’s the same story. A different place for the night every night and living in the office in a tiny room during the day.

He attaches himself very quickly to me and we play games and talk. He runs up to me over and over again for a hug and to cuddle. His speech and motor skills are that of a toddler. He can’t go to the bathroom by himself. Yet the agency insists that he is purposely wetting and pooping his pants. They say he is aggressive and mean. No one wants him. Have they never heard of trauma?

When it is time for the driver to take him to his placement, he falls on his knees crying, begging me pitifully to please go with him. I tell him I can’t, but that Jesus is with him. I put his seat belt on and tell him I love him and then off he goes. And I go home and cry.

I cry when I see the fear on the troubled teens’ faces. The fear of yet another new place for the night. The heartache of not getting to see their parents or loved ones. They fight and cuss. But inside they are broken and they are stuck in the office. In a tiny room in the office. They tell me that no one wants them and they ask me if I would take them and adopt them. My heart shatters and I tell them I would if I only could.

The 13 year old boy calls me from detention nearly every day. He writes me letters and I write back. I am his only connection. All rights have been severed and he has no friends and family. He is the kid who the workers yell and cuss at till he escalates and then hits. The police get called, he goes off to detention and to the agency workers it is good riddance. I receive yet another letter from him begging me to adopt him. Telling me that he will kill himself if he doesn’t get out of detention and find a family to love and care for him. Once again my heart weeps.

The 17 year old boy screams and cusses and threatens with a large stick. He runs around jumping on people and cars, growling angrily, saying that he has a wolf inside of him. His dad was killed and no one will tell him why or what happened. His mom picks her new boyfriend over him, saying she doesn’t want him back. He’s been expelled from all schools in the state. In a rare moment of vulnerability and honesty, he tells me that he’s never behaved this way before coming into the system, but he is hurting, and doesn’t know how to handle it.

These are the children. Only a few of the thousands of children who come into a broken system. A system where workers treat them with disrespect and cruelty. A system that provides no stability, no structure, no respect, and most definitely no love.  More than 300 children per day are without a home in this state. They live in the office and every night go to a different house. The foster parents don’t always feed them or let them shower. Many of the ones who keep them just for the night are only in it for the money. And the trauma goes on and on and on.

Meanwhile the church goes on. Spinning their wheels on rules and regulations. Building bigger and bigger empires.  Placid in their own realm, untouched by the suffering.  What happened to “Suffer the little children to come to me and forbid them not?” What happened to “Pure and genuine religion before God the Father is to care for the orphans and widows, and not be corrupted by the world?”

Are we blind? Are we deaf? Can we not taste or touch the suffering? Statistically, if every church in the state would take one child in, there would be no foster kids without a home. One child per church? My God, my God! Has your glory departed from the very body that should be caring for these children and suffering with them? Will no one care? Will no one weep? Will no one get their hands dirty and help? We decry abortion and support legislation against it. Yet we reject the ones already living. We deafen our ears to the raging cry of the orphan.

I’ve heard every excuse:

We are too young or too old.

We don’t want “bad” kids influencing our own kids.

We don’t have a big enough house.

We don’t have time or energy to go through the training and legal paperwork.

It’s not our calling.

Good God in heaven!  What has happened to the body of Christ? One child per church….

And so it goes on and on and on. The unending vicious cycle of abuse and neglect, by the biological family, the system, and the church. And the kids suffer and die with no hope, no compassion, no love, and no home.

This post was originally published by Joel Horst on his blog, written by one of his friends, and is reprinted here with his permission. Joel is unafraid to tackle difficult subjects, such as this one. His friend presents a compelling case for getting involved in foster care.

As a foster parent, this post affects me deeply. My experience with workers in the foster system has been overwhelmingly good, and I know that many of us foster parents love these kids as our own. We have spent untold hours rocking them, taking them to an unending stream of apppintments, feeding and clothing them out of our own pockets, and providing a safe space for them to heal.

Still, the American church’s lackluster response to the foster crisis breaks my heart. If we do not care for the fatherless and widows, can we claim to have a religion that is worth keeping (James 1:27)?

What we have done to these little ones, we have done to Jesus.

 Look for one more guest post, coming on Sunday!

7 thoughts on “What No One Ever Told Me About The Foster System

        1. All the suffering in the world is often overwhelming to me. But often we are called to make a difference to that one child. And making a difference to one…who knows what the far-reaching effects may be?


  1. Shirley

    One aspect that’s not mentioned is all the hoops that people have to go through to qualify. Yet at the same time there are stories of how healthy Christian parents are threatened by the system with taking their children. Combine the both and that’s a good reason that Christians aren’t taking more children. I would have loved to have taken foster kids but knew I would have never gotten past the application form!


    1. Shirley, it is a lengthy process to get licensed for foster care, but not impossible. It’s easier to do than to go overseas and help with the orphans there! The foster system is anything but perfect, but there is still much we can do to help!


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