We knew it wouldn’t be easy and yet we knew we felt called to this. While it’s difficult to raise any infant, we were prepared for that challenge. What’s more difficult is to be prepared for a life-altering waiting game. Will the child who we have come to love so dearly stay permanently with our family or return to someone in his biological family? The process of fostering a child is akin to the movements of a roller coaster: there are harrowing turns and loops, sudden starts and stops, but there is also exhilaration and excitement at the prospects for the future.
The ascending climb, so steeped with the fear of anticipation and worry, is so tangible, so present in the process of fostering a vulnerable child. And in that part of the process, not knowing if your foster child will stay or go is mentally and spiritually taxing. It’s taxing on your nerves, it’s taxing on your spouse, your biological children, but, foremost, it’s taxing on the foster child who is getting more and more attached to you each day. While, in theory, reunification with biological family is considered the best, in some cases, foster parents can have their doubts. These unforeseen bumps place an unbelievable burden of stress on the part of the foster family. Indeed, to hand over a child to family that a baby doesn’t know, a family that, one hopes, is equipped to share love and support is nonetheless a scary prospect.
The need for our collective participation is so urgent. According to statistics from Administration for Children and Families, a part of the Department of Healthy and Human Services, it was estimated that Child Protective Service units across the nation received 3.6 million referrals, which involved approximately 6.6 million children. Of these children, only about 150,000 of them will be placed in foster homes and only 50,000 will end up being adopted. Nearly a quarter of them will develop long-term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a fifth will be homeless by adulthood, 71 percent of the young women will be pregnant before 21 and over a half will be unemployed by age 24. So much needless suffering. So much wasted potential; the stomach-dropping bumps of an unsteady track.
The consequences of being raised in a broken home are real for so many children—too many—and the effects not only stunt the development of these innocent souls, they affect the economic and social bonds that bring our nation together. If you don’t grow up in a home with a loving family, then your chances at success in life are so much dimmer. We want to help give children their best start in life; to shoot for the stars! I believe we owe the emotional discomfort bringing these unfamiliar children into our care. As hard as that is, the alternative of children having no loving home in the interim is never a good option. We don’t have children to gain in some way or with some expectation that it’ll be easy. Rather, we must take care of vulnerable children – those we gave birth to and those we’ve brought in to foster or adopt – because it is the greatest moral obligation and spiritual privilege we are charged to fulfill: to ensure every child is loved!
In my personal life, I’ve been blessed to see the wonders of welcoming a foster child in my home. My wife, though often heroically exhausted by the rigors of caring for this defenseless baby along with our two biological babies, is an inspiration for giving this foster child all the love she gives to our birth children. To be sure, our kids are learning that our home is not just a private place, but also a space where we collaborate to nurture the vulnerable. I pray they will pass along this value to their children as well. What a ride that would be!
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of nine books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.