If pro-life Americans truly value the dignity of human life, they must become more involved in the foster care system, two foster moms say.
Kimberly Henkel and Tori Hope Petersen discussed how pro-lifers should defend and protect the lives of foster children in a Zoom webinar Wednesday titled “No Child Left Behind: The Urgency of a Post-Dobbs Response to the Foster-Care Crisis.”
“There is this what is called a lazy slander against pro-lifers that we don’t care about children after they are born,” moderator Kathryn Jean Lopez said. “But if there are children in the foster care system, there is some truth to that. … We really need to make sure that these children have homes and have a shot.”
Petersen agreed, adding: “We are often scared to say [this], because we don’t want to make anybody mad, [but] sometimes we have to say the hard thing, we have to speak the truth.”
Petersen, a former foster child herself, is author of the book “Fostered: One Woman’s Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family Through Foster Care.” Henkel co-founded Springs of Love, a Catholic foster and adoption support ministry.
Lopez is director of the Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society at National Review Institute, where she also is a senior fellow. Co-sponsors were Springs of Love and the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The main focus: How pro-lifers should and can become more involved in the foster system in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade, return the issue of abortion to the states, and end abortion on demand across America.
Petersen pointed earlier to Scripture and the multiple passages in which the Bible calls on believers to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ. Answering this call can be daunting for many, she acknowledged, especially when they see the foster care system through the lens of horror stories that occasionally surface.
Petersen encouraged Americans to begin participating in the foster care system simply by meeting foster children within their own communities and making opportunities to mentor them.
A track coach took the time to mentor her and changed her life, Petersen recounted. Thanks to his compassion, she said, she became one of only 3% of foster children to finish college.
“That’s where we need to start, right in our backyard,” Henkel agreed.
With nearly 400,000 children in the foster care system, Henkel said, individuals, couples, and families can ease into the system by participating in what’s called respite foster care.
This is when a family or individual cares for one or more foster children for a few hours or a few days. Grandparents also may participate and provide mentorship for young teens, Henkel said.
If this is too daunting for some, she said, Catholics and other pro-lifers can get involved in their parishes and support foster families there.
An initiative at Springs of Love provides a “foster love team” to help foster families. Teams make home-cooked meals for these families, pray for them, and provide other support.
Lopez, agreeing with Henkel, said that pro-life Americans “really need to in a new way reenvision what parish life looks like and its interaction with the community.”
“We are called—as Scripture says, as Tori said so beautifully—to care for the widows and orphans. That’s not … writing a check,” Lopez said.
DC 127, an initiative based in the nation’s capital, urges churches of all denominations to do just this, said Julia Dezelski, representing the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.
Based on James 1:27, a passage that instructs Christians to care for “orphans and widows,” DC 127 works with church communities to support foster children and their families, especially struggling families.
Echoing the words of Pope Francis, Dezelski said, “We call ourselves family of families.”
“If we love our family, then we can be a place of welcoming for those children who need a family,” she said.
The end goal of the foster care system is to reunite a child with his or her biological parents, all four women said, but when this isn’t possible, pro-lifers need to be ready to receive these children into their own families and communities.
“After this webinar, there is going to be a lot of wrestling in people’s hearts,” Petersen said in closing.
She encouraged listeners to remember the biblical call to care for “orphans and widows,” adding: “If you’re wondering what to do next, that’s a good place to start.”
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