by Ed Harpring
“Things broken in an abusive parent-child relationship can only be restored through a compassionate, caring child-mentor relationship” stated Darren Washausen, Executive Director of Orphan Care Alliance.
As one of the presenters at the Archdiocese of Louisville Foster Care Awareness Event held at Holy Family Parish on October 16, 2018, Darren continued, “the state of Kentucky does a good job of protecting children in a family crisis, by placing children in safe residential facilities, but it is up to the Body of Christ to show mercy and compassion and care for these neglected children who find themselves in foster care. The state can protect, but it’s up to the Church to love these children. Orphan Care Alliance equips the Faith Community by connecting them to opportunities to serve children in foster care.”
Catherine Easley, Representative from Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, pointed out the staggering number of children and adolescents in the foster-care crisis that has now reached nearly 10,000! That is up from approximately 7,500 only 3 years ago, or a 25% increase! This grim statistic coincides with the nearly 55% increase in substantiated child abuse cases in Kentucky over the last several years. Much of that increase is due to the opioid epidemic that is skyrocketing.
The state of Kentucky is purposely reaching out to the Faith community to fill the gap. As Governor Bevin rightly asks, “What is the mission and the purpose of our churches? If we cannot be the literal hands and feet of Christ, to reach out to the least of these, to be our brother’s keeper, to take care of the orphans, then what in the blue blazes are we doing?”
Lisa Owen, the final speaker, has 6 children, with her husband David, including 4 whom they adopted. Lisa movingly discussed the special story of adoption with her daughter Izabella. They went to meet 11-month-old Izzy, the Hispanic biracial child in the referral, but she did not look African-American or Hispanic. “Izzy had summer blonde hair, crossed eyes and was slumped over in her car seat. She could not sit up or hold a bottle,” “We found out later that her biological parents kept her locked in a closet. No one knew what was ahead for this little girl. However, now, as a teen, she is athletic, plays on her school basketball team, is a chatterbox, smart and outgoing.” Lisa, acknowledged that adopting children I foster care has its unique challenges, but the joy of parenting and realization of rescuing a child from neglect and abuse far surpasses the frustrations.
As I wrapped up the event, I discussed how our family has been involved in helping Foster Care children. We began when my wife and I co-chaired the St. Barnabas Social Concerns committee and we held a “Christmas in July” food/gift card collection for foster children. Foster Care facilities use these cards as a special reward and for weekend outings. The foster children, like any child, relish those opportunities to get ice cream, a hamburger, fries, or pizza while socializing with friends. Afterwards, our parish always received hand-made, hand-written cards from these foster care children that we proudly posted in entryway of our Church.
After these experiences, two of our children decided to volunteer at Brooklawn-Uspiritus as a “homework-helper” and “Brooklawn-buddy” (mentor) on a weekly basis. As I heard ore about their rich experiences, I decided to become a mentor, myself, for a 12-year-old young man. On a weekly basis, we began a relationship that consisted of many typical and enjoyable father-son experiences such as playing basketball, games, conversations over a burger, and Church activities. Paris, the 12-year-old is now 17. He lives in another group home, but we stay in touch with him on a regular basis. He has stayed with us on a few weekends, and it has been a true blessing to have Paris as part of our extended family. He is comfortable with all of us, including our adult children and our dogs. Most importantly, he knows he can always call us to visit or ask for advice.
Finally, in the last year, our family has started a new foster home activity. We provide a monthly Sunday dinner for one of the cottages at Brooklawn, consisting of 12 boys and a few staff members. We pray and eat together and socialize with boys. We talk about how they are doing in school, catch up on the latest sports headlines, play games, and view their latest Lego design. As we say our group prayer before meals, we are always moved by their heart-felt petitions for their parents, siblings, each other. Even more touching for us, is when they prayerfully thank God for us for cooking and spending time with them. However, as we have discovered, we are not sacrificing anything, we are the ones who are blessed to serve them. Where else could we go to be surrounded by a group of “lost boys” who want nothing more than someone to listen, laugh, hug and love?