There are an estimated 400,000 kids in foster care right now. Some are awaiting adoption, some will go back to their parents, and others will age out.
Foster kids can suffer from PTSD at almost two times the rate of returning vets. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, fight-or-flee responses, anger outbursts, and hyper-vigilance (being on "red alert" at all times).
The average age of a foster kid is nine-years-old.
Almost half of foster kids are in non-relative homes. 8% are in institutions, 6% are in group homes, and only 4% are in pre-adoptive homes.
Some foster children experience multiple placements. In some cases, eight or more. This means they lose not just adults and other kids they are establishing a bond with, but friends, schoolmates and pets.
The average foster child remains in the system for almost 2 years before being reunited with their biological parents, adopted, aging out or other outcomes.
8% of them remain in foster care for over five years. Of the 238,000 foster kids who left the system in 2013, about half were reunited with parents or primary caregivers, 21% were adopted, 15% went to live with a relative or other guardian and 10% aged out.
In 2013, more than 23,000 kids aged out of foster care with no permanent family to end up with. One-quarter of former foster kids experience homelessness within four years of exiting the system.
Many foster children are likely to suffer serious mental health consequences. They are four-five times more likely to be hospitalized for attempting suicide and five-eight times more likely to be hospitalized for serious psychiatric disorders in their teen years.
So how can you best minister to the foster kids in your church? Here's some keys.
Show them you care. You've heard the saying, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." This is especially true with foster kids. Show them by your actions that you really care about them. They may act like they don't want you to care, but deep down they do. They are just trying to protect themselves from being hurt again.
Give them unconditional love. Often foster kids are coming from a place of pain and are hurting. This means they may reach out with anger, hate, harsh words, manipulation and disobedience. Respond with a love that reaches beyond this.
Show interest. One of the best ways to show interest is to listen. Ask questions about what they like. Video games? Toys? Sports? Favorite subject at school? When you ask about their interests, you are showing you want to connect with them. FYI - do not ask personal questions about their family, background, etc. Keep it to general topics.
Don't single them out. They often feel "different" because of the situation they find themselves in. Don't add to this by treating them differently than the other kids or by calling attention to the fact that they are a foster child.
Partner with the foster parents. Ask the foster parents how you can best minister to the kids and then keep an open line of communication. The foster parents will know what they can and cannot share, so let them take the lead in the conversation.
Foster kids are a very important part of the local church where I serve. We established a ministry for foster kids called Place of Hope. It is a faith-based, state licensed child welfare organization that provides family-style foster care (emergency and long-term); family outreach and intervention; maternity care; safety for victims of domestic minor sex trafficking; transitional housing and support services; foster care recruitment and support; hope and healing opportunities for children and families who have been traumatized by abuse and neglect throughout our region.
We have the privilege of ministering to the kids who are part of Place of Hope each weekend in our children's ministry.
The floor is yours. What are some other tips for ministering to foster kids? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.