Changing The Culture

I am increasingly bothered by the vitriol that is spewed towards CFS and against our social workers, the government, and foster families in our province. My wife and I have been foster parents for 6 ½ years now and have had the privilege to meet many wonderful people in the system as well as many precious children who needed a home for a season or for forever. Here’s what I’ve learned; the system is broken and humans are… well… human.

The stark reality that we face in our human agencies is one that was precisely predicted by Jesus in John 16:33 (NIV), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We don’t find peace for our hearts in this world, and we certainly don’t look to government for inner-peace. This world is governed not only by broken human beings but influenced by spiritual forces in the unseen realms (Ephesian 6:10-18). What may I ask, would anyone expect from an agency like CFS other than a level of brokenness that is present in every other human endeavor?

The part of the whole thing that boggles my mind is that dark side of the human heart that seeks to break others because of its own brokenness. May I suggest that when the system goes awry, and it will, that the way to address the situation is not to become irrational and inhuman in our critique of the system!

I say inhuman because it is my belief that when people are acting as their “true selves” that we remember, above all, that the person in the broken system is also a human being that reflects the image of their Creator. To treat any human being as anything less is to become inhuman in our actions.

But unlike many who only see (and relentlessly name) the problems, I have a solution. For the most part my strategy is to ignore the loud critics, those angry Facebook voices that are so wounded that they cannot see the human being they are attacking. A human being, perhaps a social worker, who is struggling to keep their professional head above the water, and who is limited by polices and hierarchies that don’t always actually help a child in need. Sometimes, the greatest action needed, is silence while the angriest of critics dig their own grave, so to speak. (This strategy is remarkably difficult.)

Occasionally, my personal solution is to write a blog, like this one, to get things off my chest, and then, I often pray. But in addition to these strategies I do something truly radical; I play with my children. I build them a treehouse. I feed the baby and change his diaper.

Listen, the way to change a system is not to scrap it and start over with a brand-new set of laws and policies that are unable to address the deficiencies of a human heart. Critiqued, no less, by people as broken as those they wish to replace. The way to change a system is not to rant on social media and endlessly demonize those who have given their life to helping – and know that they often get it wrong.

These things are not helpful!

What is helpful is to be the best parent possible. If I could change one thing, or at least challenge my fellow foster parents to one thing, it would be this; stop complaining about social workers and silly policies and be the parent that your children desperately need. Joyfully fill in the gap missing in the life of a child from hard places. Never work against the system, always find ways to work with it and within it. You may actually know better than the new social worker fresh out of college, but you don’t have the right to point that out endlessly!

And above all, as much as you are able, treat your foster children precisely the same way your treat your adopted and biological children.

When you are tired and need a break, as we all do, don’t send the bio kids to grandma’s for the weekend and the kids in care to respite. If grandma can’t handle them all at once, at very least make sure every child has an equal opportunity to spend time with grandma! Kids in care need sleepovers with grandma too.

If you have family chores, then guess what? Your foster child also has chores! It makes them feel like they are the same as the other children (and no doubt they’ll prove that in their complaining about chores!)

And practice this line. It is a line that we now tell every social worker when they play stork and drop a new child into our home, “This child is now our child. No different than any other child in our home. We will never give up on them and we will never arbitrarily give them up. This child does not, and will never have, the ability to change my love for them. And the only person that will change my relationship to this child is, you. Until, you decide that they can return to their birth home, or must be moved for whatever reason, they will be my child, whom I love as my own.”

Do you know what I think would happen if we rehearsed and repeated this phrase? CFS would change. I mean it! There would still be mistakes made (we’re humans remember?) But if every foster family would actually embody this truth, the kids would change, broken families would change, social workers would change and, I believe, however gradually, the human system of Child and Family Services would change.

My fellow foster parents, I’m issuing a challenge here! It’s time to tell our workers that if they can’t find a driver for our kids, that we will drive them to visit! Why? Because they are our children and we drive our children to important appointments. It’s time to look past the FASD in the eyes of our children and into their souls and dream big dreams for them despite any limitation placed on them. It’s time to look past the behavior caused by trauma and see the heart that God crafted in His heart and with His hands.

We must stop complaining about a broken system and start loving the kids that are right in our home!

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  • Michelle Lee Friesen- Plett

    Thank you Thom for sharing that! I would agree with you. We have no bio kids but have two foster daughters and we love them and treat them the same way as if we gave birth to them. They love that. Makes them feel loved and wanted. It’s hard for them to except that but we keep on keeping on and one day it will sink in that we do love them like our own.