This year around 35,000 children and young people will enter the care system in the United Kingdom; that’s one child every 15 minutes with Wales having the highest rate of children looked after away from home. There are around 3,700 foster carers in Wales, but hundreds more are needed every year, with many children having to be placed outside of their local authority, or in some cases outside of Wales. Additionally, there are currently 160 children waiting for adoption in Wales, a significant proportion of which will wait more than two years for the right family.
Each of these figures, numbers and statistics represents an individual, a precious child with a unique story. Many of these children will have experienced neglect or abuse. All of them will have experienced trauma and loss. Each deserves a home where they will be loved, nurtured and enabled to thrive.
‘Isn’t that social services’ responsibility, not the church’s?’ I was asked after I had suggested that perhaps we, the church, could be in the vanguard of those looking after some of the most vulnerable children in our society. Taken aback, a suitable response eluded me. Yes, social services have the enormous responsibility for children in our nation’s care system. As both an adoptive parent and a foster carer, my experience with social workers has been an immensely positive one; the individuals who have journeyed with us have been so helpful and supportive. Their job is an important one but often incredibly difficult with many social workers managing heavy caseloads with limited resources.
Yet the numbers above show us that more needs to be done to enable our nation’s children and young people to thrive in family settings that are right for them. Some children need somewhere safe to stay for a short time while decisions are made about their future; some will find love and security with a long-term foster carer, while perhaps maintaining contact with their birth family; and for some children, it may be decided that adoption is in their best interest. Some teenagers may find the support and encouragement they need to navigate towards adulthood and independence with a supported lodgings host.
Biblical care for the vulnerable
Home for Good believes that change is possible and that together we can transform the landscape of the United Kingdom’s care system. We believe that the church is ideally placed to be part of the solution and that the Bible is clear that this is our responsibility too.
Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people are repeatedly urged to look after the most vulnerable in society, with the poor, the stranger, widows and children who do not have the stability and protection of a family being specifically mentioned. Whether you’re flicking through the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah or the Psalms, to name just a few, this command is like the centre of a stick of Barry Island rock – wherever you bite, it’s there!
When Isaiah begins his prophecy, he wastes no time warning Israel that they have fallen short of their call to justice and compassion. Israel have substituted ritual sacrifice for true worship. God can no longer accept their offerings unless they are marked by justice, care and compassion. ‘Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me… I cannot bear your worthless assemblies’ (Is. 1:11-15). However, as is always the case when God is dealing with the people he so passionately loves, the antidote comes quickly: ‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed’ (Is. 1:17).
Later in Isaiah, God speaks of the One who would come with a true pursuit of justice. Through his incarnation, God came to earth, not with a great fanfare in a display of his power, but in weakness as a baby, fully human and totally dependent on his caregivers. As a child, he had to flee persecution and it’s possible that his earliest memories include displacement – and hospitality – in Egypt.
In Jesus, and through his ministry, we see God’s heart in action. Jesus treated men and women equally in a society where women were considered less important. He welcomed children in a radical, loving way. He ate with people that society looked down on and treated those considered ‘unclean’ with great compassion, even coming close to them. He challenged the racism and xenophobia of his time through teaching and parables. He had no time for empty religious performance that neglects what is most important. His invitation was to follow him.
Making a difference
There are around 50,000 churches in the United Kingdom. In every village, town and city in the country there are churches, big and small, filled with people who want to follow the example of Jesus and walk alongside the vulnerable, the lonely and the marginalised.
We at Home for Good believe that together we truly can make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children. We engage with church communities, whether at a local, regional or national level, raising awareness of local needs and inspiring the church to respond. Our team journey with individuals and families as they explore fostering, adoption or providing supported lodgings from the first moment through to welcoming a child or young person, and beyond. Recognising that it takes a village to raise a child, we resource churches and communities to better welcome, understand and support families who love and raise care-experienced children.
As I lead the work of Home for Good in Wales, it is my privilege to stand with individuals, couples, families and churches as they consider what their response, and their responsibility, might be. Together we can find a home for every child who needs one. I wonder, what part could you play?