We knew things were bad when the veteran social workers told me that they had never seen a case like it. It was so bad that they had started a support group for the professionals that were involved in the case. Our family's job was to care for the preschool children that were caught in the middle of it. As I watched my big 16-year-old son scoop up one of the children in his arms when she started to cry, or my 8-year-old daughter get the breakfast cereal out for her new foster brother in the morning, I was confident that as a family we could work together to fight the corner for these children to make sure they got the love and care they needed. While my wife advocated for them at case conferences, I got to be DJ for an impromptu dance party in the lounge. I know that our family is not unique - there are hundreds of Christian families around the UK who are passionate about making sure looked after children get better life outcomes. A movement of people is coming together and I believe it is part of the next phase of the church's engagement with poverty and injustice.
Over recent years, the Church across the UK has been stepping up its visible involvement with vulnerable people in our own country. Food banks are helping families put dinner on their table, Alpha is helping those in prison to find hope in Christ, through CAP we are seeing people caught in debt get the advice they need, Street Pastors are offering compassion to those in trouble when the pubs and clubs spill out and in the process helping our city centres become safer places at night. Groups such as the Salvation Army have been at the forefront of reaching out to the homeless population and there has been a flood of initiatives to help with sex trafficking.
These are all wonderful initiatives helping Christians to live out their calling to demonstrate the compassion of Christ to those in need. Members of our churches are giving hours of sacrificial service to people they have no blood ties with in order that the grace of God might be shown to those most in need. This is a radical step forward from the time when churches were simply running events and services for the benefit of Christians. I am delighted to say that it is now harder to find churches that are only running worship services and prayer meetings. But there is another level of service that is needed.
We have opened our hearts to the vulnerable, but now it is time to open up our homes. This involves more than adding our names to a rota, or keeping Saturday nights free. There is a severe lack of foster carers to welcome in the young victims of abuse and neglect that come into care every 22 minutes of every day in the UK, and the Church is ideally placed to meet this huge challenge, if Christians will heed the call to offer God's love and hospitality to the most needy of our communities.
Ironically, many of the people the church is currently helping through our ministries of mercy could have had very different life outcomes had they found helpful foster homes as children and young people. Each year 9,000 young people age out of care in the UK. What happens to them? Sadly the statistics are against them:
22 per cent of female care leavers become teenage parents.
24 per cent of the adult prison population are care leavers.
11 per cent of homeless young people are care leavers.
At least a third of sex workers, potentially as many as 70 per cent, have been in care.
38 per cent of care leavers are not in education, training or employment (NEET).
Many young people leave foster care and have no network or support and end up getting caught into patterns of life that are ultimately destructive. The Church may be great at getting alongside the homeless and the jobless, prostitutes and prisoners, but where was the Church when those people were two or three years old? If somebody had loved them unconditionally and offered them safety and security, would this have changed the rest of their lives? This is not to say that fostering or adopting children into Christian families will mean neat happy endings for all of them. Sadly the neglect or abuse that lead to children coming into care is likely to have lifelong effects. But these children do much better with the love and affection of a family than without it.
Home for Good's aim as a new charity is to inspire and support more Christians to foster and adopt vulnerable children in the UK. Today we launch our manifesto calling on the next government to play its part in changing the lives of vulnerable children as we churches play our part in providing foster and adoptive carers.
Home for Good is asking the next Government to take five actions to change the lives of children in care.
- Prioritise the reform of foster care
- Investigate the introduction of a living wage for foster carers
- Support foster carers who adopt the children they foster
- Work constructively with the church
- Develop further training for all those involved with vulnerable children
You can read the full manifesto here.