That is, until I read an article in our daily newspaper recently. The article exposed the plight of the foster care system in our city, stating that last month alone, 55 children were taken out of their homes due to abuse or neglect, and there was not one open foster home in the entire city to take a child in. Because there is no facility in Torrance for them to stay in, these children are taken to a shelter in downtown Los Angeles to spend the night, many times without any comfort items from home. Around 9am in the morning, they are shuttled back to the Department of Children and Family Services office in Torrance, where they sit in an office building waiting to hear if they'll have a house to sleep in that night. By 4pm, if a place has not been found for them, they are transported back to downtown LA for another night in the shelter. This goes on and on for these children, ranging in ages from newborns to teenagers. These babies and children are from our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches - and they are being taken to new cities to stay, away from everything and everyone they know.
So where are all of the foster families? That is the mystery and the problem that the DCFS is now trying to solve.
Last night I went to an informational meeting that arose out of the response from this newspaper article. Apparently so many people called in for more information that they scheduled this impromptu meeting. Expecting the room to be packed with people, I arrived early. About 10-15 people showed up. I could hear whispers, "Where is everybody?" and "I thought more people would be here." I was wondering those things, too.
There were about 10 community leaders presenting at the meeting, from a local councilman to representatives from two foster family agencies, to DCFS employees. Each of them reiterated this urgent need for foster families. They were pleading with the people of Torrance to sign up and fill this need.
One of the women speaking shared her perspective of watching the many, many babies come into the office with nowhere to go, no one who would take them in. She shared about all of the kids who round-up at 4pm, whose names were not called during the day because a home was not found for them, having to get back on the bus to head back to the shelter. She asked, "Do those kids have pajamas? Is anyone helping them brush their teeth? Is anyone tucking them in?" and I felt a lump in my throat. I thought of my own two boys, ages 6 and 8, and how lost they would feel in that type of environment.
Afterwards I spoke to many of the leaders in the room. I wanted to ask what was required to be a foster parent. I also felt led to ask the woman from our local office about help they may need. I asked, "Who is playing with these kids during the day? What are they doing in the office? Is there any way that my church could help somehow?" She said that yes, they are in need of volunteers at the local office and this is one way we could help.
She shared other ways that we can help:
1) Be a temporary home - provide shelter for a child for up to 21 days while they search for a foster home.
2) Provide respite care - get certified to take a foster child in for a weekend or up to a week while their foster family goes out of town (foster children have to stay in town, so sometimes their foster families are unable to get a break).
3) Sign up for the Covenants for Kids program - these are volunteers who give foster children rides to church each Sunday, and then take them home.
4) Volunteer in other ways - this is where I am feeling led to step in - to coordinate volunteers from local churches to provide help at the local office during the day, while the children are waiting for placement. The downtown LA shelter is also in need of volunteers to hold babies, play with kids, and comfort them. We can also make overnight packs for the kids, with a toothbrush, stuffed animal, coloring books, and more.
5) Sign up to be a foster family. The DCFS' goal is to reunite foster children with their families within one year. That does not always happen, but you might be able to provide a loving home to a child who would otherwise be staying at a shelter or sent to another city to live.
What I realized in this meeting was that this is like a modern-day orphanage. Yes, it's important to serve in missions and go minister in orphanages all over the world - but we have this need, right here, right now, in our own backyard.
The councilman who spoke at the meeting shared that his goal is to get one foster home open for every school in the city (there are 30 of them). But what if we were able to get one foster home open for every church in the city? I don't know how many churches there are, but I would bet there are over 50.
You might just say that my heart is being wrecked. This is the beginning of the journey. Please follow along and pray about how you might respond to this need as well. These children need us.
If you don't live in Torrance, I am sure this is a need in your city as well. Please contact your local DCFS to find out how you can help. If you are local and would like to get involved, contact me and I will send you the information you need.