What is Our Jewish Community Doing for Vulnerable Children?

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The number of foster children in America continues to rise as we fail to contain child abuse and child neglect. And with each passing year, even with countless potential parents ready to open their homes to vulnerable children, the process to foster or adopt remains incredibly difficult.

Beyond our American borders, around the world, there are millions of children whose only wish is to be loved, to have a stable family structure, and to escape the fleeting conditions of life in the foster-care system or raised in institutions. Along with everything else happening in the world today, the fact that countless children don’t have a permanent loving family or a safe home to call their own is one of the disgraceful truths of modern times. Where there is great suffering, the Jewish people must emerge to bring healing.

The plight of foster children is not an abstract concept for me and I don’t write about this topic from a distance. For many years, my wife and I have gone through the tribulations to provide a loving environment to foster children to the best of our ability. We’ve gone through the counseling, the certification, the frantic late-night calls from agencies looking to place a child at a moment’s notice, and the pain of seeing the foster child who we’ve loved and cared for taken away in the blink of an eye. We always support reunification with family, even when it feels misguided; we learned to give up control.

During times of greatest challenge, I turn to the wisdom of the Torah, which speaks so powerfully about the obligations that we all have to vulnerable populations. A community needs to take responsibility for those who don’t have living parents or don’t have parents equipped at the moment to care for them. Yet, this Biblical precept seems to be overlooked in the present day, where the barriers for adoption are so high and the prospect to extend a loving home to a child in need is so difficult, demanding, and arduous, that too many feel that are not up to the task. But if we know that the Torah is constantly talking about the yatom (vulnerable child), why isn’t our Jewish community doing more to prioritize the ability to protect these children?

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As a response to what I saw happening in the world around me, I founded YATOMThe Jewish Foster and Adoption Network, an evolving hub and resource for Jewish families interested in adding a child in need to their home. In the years since the launch of the organization, we’ve grown exponentially in truly remarkable ways.

At YATOM, we found that there are three primary barriers individuals felt that made them pause before pursuing a journey on the road to fostering or adoption: cost, know-how, and community. We encountered so many who have always thought about fostering or adopting children but, for one reason or another, never moved forward with the process. To support families interested in adopting or fostering, but who haven’t started the process yet, we created the YATOM Family Fellowship; the fellowship is now launching its fifth cohort.

We launched our family fellowship to incentivize those interested in fostering or adopting children who have been abused or neglected or just need a home by addressing these particular concerns:

  • Costs involved – The YATOM Family Fellowship provides a modest stipend to support families to consider adopting/fostering at a more serious level.
  • Navigating the complex process – The Fellowships provide webinars for each cohort to learn from experts and thought leaders about best practices.
  • Alleviating loneliness and deepening community – The Fellowship creates a micro-community where those embarking upon this journey talk, learn, and explore together.

From the beginning, the fellowship has been open to husbands and wives, to single parents, and to same-sex couples. Any Jewish family unit can apply to participate in this special mitzvah to give a child in need a temporary or a forever home.

And to honor those who have already adopted or fostered children, YATOM created a micro-grant program, which has now been received by eleven family units so that they may continue to raise their foster children knowing that they have financial support from the broader community.

While it can be immensely challenging to secure children in safe homes, we are able to gather the tools and resources to ensure that we, as a community, are able to join together to take care of those who need it the most. In all that we do, YATOM is committed to providing, all those who long to protect vulnerable children, the space and resources to do so. Wherever there is a loving home that is open to adopting or fostering a child, we should be doing all we can to ensure that a loving match can be made.

Idleness in the face of great challenge cannot remain the status quo. The Jewish community, with its clear ethical history, must be a leader if we are to repair the broken elements of our world so that every child has the ability to live in a stable environment with a nurturing family. While we are a long way away from creating more opportunities for children to find loving homes, I hope, in our own modest way, that the steps that YATOM takes towards creating a more proactive approach to fostering and adopting from a Jewish perspective are realized.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of YATOM and the author of nineteen books on Jewish ethics and social action.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash (Jewish pluralistic adult learning & leadership), the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek (Jewish Social Justice), the Founder and CEO of Shamayim (Jewish animal advocacy), the Founder and President of YATOM, (Jewish foster and adoption network), and the author of seventeen books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.
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