They walk in the door carrying their belongings, often with a look of sadness, confusion, anger and fear of the unknown. Little humans being asked to wrestle with BIG emotions and numerous questions. Oh, the questions.
Why am I here? Why can I not go back to my mom and dad? Will I go back to my school? Will I see my friends again? Do you know what is going to happen to my dog? Have you seen my favorite blankie? Will my sister be safe in that other home? Are you leaving me here? When will I ever see my mom and dad again?
This story plays out all across our country daily. In fact, the most recent data from 2018 shows that this occurs on average 720 times per day in the United States. Different kids, different ages, but similar stories. Big people make decisions and little people deal with the consequences of those often-disastrous decisions. Every day children across our country and our state experience being removed from their biological family and placed in foster care.
The foster care system was not intended to raise children, but instead, be a temporary safety net for children when needed. Over the years we have all read the tragic stories of a system overwhelmed and underfunded. And yet, for every horrific story there are hundreds of great stories about family reunifications, amazing foster parents, dedicated caseworkers, and mission driven agencies.
May is Foster Care Awareness Month. In our state we have some of the best of the best working daily to serve our most vulnerable populations, from Director Justin Brown and Dr. Deb Shropshire leading Oklahoma Human Services, to multiple compassionate leaders leading private agencies supporting amazing foster families across our community and state.
What can YOU do during May? First, be aware. Understand that there is a need in every community for individuals and families to open their hearts and homes to children and teenagers who need that temporary place to stay. Second, be educated. Reach out to Oklahoma Human Services or nonprofits like my own, Circle of Care, and learn more about how you can volunteer, support and be involved in the work we all are doing on the behalf of children and families. Lastly, do something. If you can open your home, do it. If you can support a current foster or kinship family, do it. If you can engage your church or civic group to host foster care date nights, parties or trainings, do it. If you can bring awareness to your circle of influence, do it.
These are Oklahoma’s children, moms, and dads. Let Foster Care Awareness Month remind you that sometimes – little people and big people need help, guidance and support to make it through a rough season. Together we can do that. Together we can strengthen a system to serve children and families, while also helping them become healthy and whole individuals.
In the 2+ minutes it took you to read this article, 1 more child has entered foster care in America. May is Foster Care Awareness Month. There is no time to waste – be aware and do something.