As of 2015, there are an estimated 427,910 children in foster care in America, with a median amount of time spent in the system of 13.5 months. These numbers have increased since 2006. The median age for children in the foster care system is 7.8 years old, which is a decrease from 2006 when the median age was 10.2 years old. What does all of this mean? The age at which children are entering foster care is getting younger, and the time they spend in and out of foster homes is getting longer.
These are formative years for them, and as the video above indicates, foster children often have their lives determined before they even have the chance to make any decision for themselves. They are a product of their environment and will become just another statistic, just one more number in the ever-growing population of foster kids in America. They will grow up with abuse, neglect, and poverty. Because of the trauma and instability they experience, they will suffer academically and socially, turning to the very drugs, abuse, and reckless actions that put them in foster care in the first place. They will perpetuate the behaviors they have been taught all their lives, because there is nothing and no one to show them there is another way. Unless someone breaks the cycle.
In 2008, the student-driven organization XCED sought out to do just that. Standing for eXtra-Curricular Educational Development, a group of high school students was formed to look for the needs in the community around them and develop projects in order to meet them. One of these projects was an annual Holiday Toy Drive. Pairing up with Bay Area Christian Church as the gateway to agencies, XCED started and ran this Toy Drive to give Bay Area foster children even a ray of hope when they were so used to darkness. In the past nine years, BACC and XCED have donated over 16,500 toys and tens of thousands of dollars in gift cards to foster children all over the Bay Area. This past year, Bill Freeman, from the non-profit organization Samaritan House, spoke on the difference this makes to the kids in their care:
“Your gifts really help our families feel the spirit of Christmas. Because of your generosity, many families have toys. It’s wonderful that your members give a part of themselves to the families. It’s the true spirit of the holiday.”
At the Holiday Service that hosted the Toy Drive, Russ Ewell spoke on the “Spirit of Christmas” that Bill mentions. More than any toy or gift card, it is this very “giving a part” of oneself that makes all the difference. To many it is simply just another Christmas present, but to a child in foster care it is being remembered, noticed, and cared for. It is being told that they are worth being given to. It is a break in the cycle.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
-Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
In his lesson, Russ Ewell used the above Scripture to describe the “Radical Grace” God wants to give us. No matter the circumstance, he will always walk with us and give us rest when we need it most. Because God gives a part of himself to us when we feel at our weakest and most tired, we are able to do the same for others.
Though not everyone can adopt a child or start their own organization, we are all capable of doing good. Whether it’s giving a toy at Christmas to a foster child, volunteering at services for those with special needs such as E-Sports, or simply noticing a need in our community and working to meet it, we can all make a difference in the lives around us. We only need to try.