After the joyous celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee and the elation of being back at church together, many of us are looking to forget the bleakness of the pandemic. It's been a hard time for everyone, and I for one am glad things are getting back to normal. Seeing my children being able to see their friends again brings so much joy to our family. Yet, for thousands of children living in the care system the impact of the pandemic is as real as ever.
We are still yet to see and understand the full impact of the pandemic on children and their families. Evidence shows that the UK's fostering and adoption service is in crisis. It's estimated that around 8,600 new foster carersare needed over the next year to meet the rising numbers of children coming into care, and currently there are almost 2,000 children in England who are still waiting for an adoptive family. On top of this, one in four children in care are aged 16 and over, and there is a bigger shortage of foster carers willing to care for older teenagers.
As a youth leader, I'm made aware of the need for a safe home and a supportive family to raise a young person on a daily basis. I've worked with many young people who have longed for both and yet not had either. Many children can end up waiting for years for a home where their needs are met. The disruption and uncertainty can be devastating for children in care and have a lasting impact on their lives, including their sense of worth and capacity to form strong and healthy attachments with others.
When my husband and I learned we couldn't have birth children and said no to further fertility treatment, we discovered the wonder of growing our family through adoption. We didn't adopt our children because of some theological conviction or direct divine message. We didn't even adopt because we felt it would be the 'Christian' thing to do after infertility. We adopted our children because as we found out more about why they had come into the care system, we were overwhelmed with a desire to do our best to love and raise them to help them reach their full potential.
The compassionate response of the Church to the plight of Ukrainian refugees has highlighted that we know the importance of a safe and stable home. It's also been a powerful reminder that there are some crises that require more from us than 'just' money or awareness, or even prayer! There are times when we have to respond in ways that take courage, perhaps stepping outside of our comfort zone, rethinking our lifestyles to make space in our hearts to open up our lives and homes to others.
I am convinced that the Church has a powerful part to play in this crisis because it can provide not just families for children, but whole support networks that can gather around families, supporting them practically and emotionally which can make a huge difference when families are encountering challenges.
Jessica* and Thomas* welcomed a foster child into their family in March 2020. As soon as he arrived, he became part of their church community. He would pop into church Zoom calls and learn people's names, and bump into members of the church family in the street, almost always getting offered ice cream! When Jessica and Thomas listed their support network to their social worker, it included almost all the names of their church family. When they celebrated having him with them for one year, the whole church came to a party to celebrate him being part of their church family.
Home for Good and Festival Manchester are giving churches the opportunity to step up and be there for and with some of our community's most vulnerable children and young people. Together, they are seeking to find 500 new homes for UK children and teenagers through fostering, adoption and supported lodgings.
Festival Manchester is the biggest Christian mission in the North West in a generation, which culminated in a huge Gospel-centred celebration in Wythenshawe Park at the festival weekend on 1st-3rd of July. Organised by hundreds of churches, businesses and charities The Message Trust and Luis Palau Association, the festival was attended by over 65,000 people from across the North West, with almost 3,500 responding to the gospel.
In championing the role all of us can play in the lives of looked after children, Home For Good and Festival Manchester are helping and supporting us to be the change we need to see, to change the culture in the UK and find a home for every child who needs one. They would love to journey with you to support you in considering how you could be part of the solution.
I can't lie to you and say that adoption has been completely easy. It's a challenging and costly path. We give ourselves to care for these children. But as we've walked this journey, we've met Jesus who stands among the dejected, the hurting, the ignored and raises his voice to tell them that theirs is the Kingdom of God. We champion adoption, fostering and supported lodgings because we want to stand with all children and young people, believing that the path of hope and safety from harm should be available to all.
Every 15 minutes a child comes into the care system. Imagine if the Church could turn that statistic around and to help say that every 15 minutes a child finds a home. We all have a part to play – what could yours be?
To find out more about Festival Manchester's partnership with Home For Good, visit: https://www.homeforgood.org.uk/festival-manchester.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Rachel Gardner is Director of Partnerships at Youthscape and Ambassador for Home For Good.