My real job

School started last week.  As a mom you feel such a sense of responsibility for these little people’s lives that have been entrusted to your care – even when they aren’t really “little people,” but also include teenagers towering over you.  You want to carefully craft every detail of their life so that they never feel discouraged, disappointment, sadness, fear, depression, failure, loneliness, or pain.  You feel you know best and no one could possibly care about their future as much as you do.  You feel like it’s all on you to ensure their world keeps spinning and, not only that, but it’s spinning in perfect happiness.  It just takes that big yellow school bus pulling away with your child in it to bring you back to the reality that as a mom, there actually isn’t a lot in this crazy world that is in your control. 

As a foster and adoptive mom, I find that feeling is magnified.  I have taken in this child when no one else in the world would.  I advocated for them; got long overdue medical care; comforted after loss; fed and clothed; sat awake during nightmares; rocked until peaceful sleep came; waited through tantrums; celebrated milestones; dodged fists and flying objects; rejoiced in victories; and held through sobs and disappointment.  I did that.  I tried with everything I had to shield them from the world that had brought them nothing but pain.  I went to court; filled out paperwork; fought for therapies; attended case plan meetings; requested testing; ensured every detail was written down and every legal requirement met.  I did that.  And then you realize that nothing is really in your control.  A case decision will be made, a child moved home, or adopted, or a judge’s decision is overturned. 

So how do you trust that God’s got it? How do you trust He’s in control of that big yellow school bus driving away? How do you trust that He’s holding this precious foster child who has experienced nothing but pain and is being moved to the next place that may or may not be safe? I want to trust God, but everything in me also wants to DO something. After all, it’s my job as a mom to DO something.

Here is where Proverbs 3:5 comes in, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…”  This verse gives me two jobs: (1) trust in the Lord; and (2) don’t lean on my own understanding.  Both of these jobs are required. If I trust in the Lord, I cannot also depend on my own ability to understand everything God is doing.  I have to let that go.  So often I want to just stop after the first part – Trust in the Lord.  I tell God, “I believe in you,” and often pray, “let your will be done.” But I do not take the second step and also let go of my own understanding, wisdom, plans, and schemes. God alone is trustworthy. It just doesn’t work when I try to rely on myself at the same time I’m trusting in Him.

Then I need to take it a step further – not only will I trust in God, I will have joy, hope, and peace while I do that! Here is where Romans 13:15 comes in,  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  My role is just to trust Him.  As I trust in Him, then it is God’s role to fill me with all joy and peace.  I can’t conjure up the joy and peace, and I certainly can’t do that if I’m leaning on my own understanding of what is happening in life’s churning circumstances.  I have to trust in the God who can do anything.  The God, who created the world, performed miracles, gave His son Jesus, and has proven Himself trustworthy over and over.  He is the God of hope, and as I trust in Him, then I will overflow with hope. Hope in God means certainty.  Hope in the world is just optimism, luck, fingers-crossed, wishing.  Hope in a constant, trustworthy God brings joy and peace. 

So while I tell myself it’s my job as a mom to control everything — my real job is just to trust Him. God’s part is to be God, constant, trustworthy, steadfast, and to fill me with joy and peace.  There is so much about foster care, “the system,” and trauma that seems hopeless, but may we lean into a God of hope and trust Him.  This week, I pray for each of you, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Romans 13:15.

-Sarah Oberndorfer

Co-founder, Chair of Board of Directors, foster mom

 

 

images-6.jpg

Let me see...let me show...let me do.

Psalm 90:16-17 (NIV), “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.

There are three things from this passage in Psalm 90 that I beg God for: (1) Let me see…. (2) Let me show…(3) Let me do. Just like it says in Psalm 90:16, “May your deeds be shown to your servants.” I want to see all of the miracles that God is doing. I want my eyes to be opened to what He sees. In the world of foster care (and life in general), it becomes easy to see only the hopelessness, the brokenness, the problems, and the impossibilities. I see what is right in front of me. I see a list of children who still do not have a foster home for tonight. I see a child who is confused and hurt by “visits” that may or may not happen. I see children who are grasping for stability and attachments. I see a child whose brain is literally etched with the lines of trauma and daily tasks such as sitting or focusing are an impossibility. I see a child who may be moved from “safe” to uncertainty. Instead, here is what I pray that God will show me: “May Your deeds be shown to your servant.” (Psalm 90:16). God is at work all of the time! God is victorious all of the time. God has authority over all things all. of. the. time. He has not stopped working. So what I pray is that my eyes would be opened to all that He is doing. I ask to see His miracles daily. I ask to see where He is moving in the past, present and future.

The second thing I beg God for when I read Psalm 90:16-17, is this: (2) Let me show. “May Your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children." When I am living in the perspective of rejoicing in all that God is doing, not only will I see the amazing things God is doing, but I will then live to show others. When I step out of living in the hopelessness right in front of me and move into the joy of seeing what God actually doing right in front of me — I can share those miracles, those testimonies, those stories, and the hope with others. I want my children to know God is a present, miraculous, and powerful God. And I want these children in foster care to know that God is working on their behalf. He has not forgotten them. When I let God show me His deeds, then His miracles can be shared and shared again and shared again for generations.

So this we ask God: (1) Let me see God’s deeds, (2) Let me show God’s deeds, and only then do I jump in to do His work…(3) Let me do. As the rest of Psalms 90:16-17 says, “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.” I pray that Joy Meadows would do the work that God has established for us to do. If we stop and celebrate all that God is doing and live in that victory, then we can see what He is doing and follow His lead. Daily we ask that the presence of the Lord would rest upon us, and that He would determine the work for our hands to do.

Lord, we do not want to create agendas just to be busy or implement contrived programs, but we want to walk in obedience. Let each of us do the work you have established for our hands to do so that we can celebrate your miraculous deeds and impact generations of children. Let us see, let us show, and let us do.

-Sarah Oberndorfer, foster mom, Co-Founder & Chair of Board of Joy Meadows, Inc.

IMG_1590.jpg

"He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy..."

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust Him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filed with joy.” Psalm 28:7 (NLT).

Here is what often happens…you get a call. A case worker is asking if you will take a child, or three. They arrive at your home late at night with nothing. There isn’t a convenient time in your schedule to decide when their are no distractions going on in your own life, or when you’ve had time to plan and think. There isn’t preparation for their age, gender, bedding needs, or clothing sizes. There is a just a child that needs you showing up at your door because their crisis is right now. So the need is right now. And you say yes, or you say no. Thank goodness we have amazing foster families who continually say, “Yes.”

One of the blessings we get to be a part of at Joy Meadows is the Clothing Closet. We have it available to foster families for clothing at any time. But we also get to use it for families when they get those last minute calls to take a child who shows up with nothing. In the last few weeks this has happened many times. At Joy Meadows we have the blessing of taking that call, giving a word of encouragement to the foster parent, getting a list of their needs, and then heading up to the Closet late at night to pack a suitcase with several pairs of clothing, pajamas, socks, underwear, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Then we get to drop it off at the foster families’ house with a card, and a hug. Recently I got a text from a foster parent who woke up to find a suitcase on her porch that said, “Thank you so much for bringing things by last night. [Child] was so happy to have some clothes to choose from this morning. I honestly think that sometimes it’s the little wins that make a big difference in these kids lives.” This foster mom had a lot going on and still said “yes” to take in this child. I can tell you this mom had shed many tears for the heavy burden she carried for children who have gone through so much trauma and it can be exhausting. But for one morning, the appearance of a gift card and suitcase of clothes meant that of the many sad tears shed, “this morning tears of joy came out, knowing there are such good people out there…”

At Joy Meadows our vision is to change the look of foster care. We have big dreams to create a new kind of foster community and we will do that. But it’s also the little things. It’s meeting an immediate need of a child, and easing the burden of a foster family so they can love them well. We want to provide the little things and the big things so we can bring joy. Most of all, we want to share the love of Jesus, so they will know, “He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy….” (Psalm 28:7 NLT). It’s that joy that will never go away.

-Sarah Oberndorfer

Foster mom, co-founder Joy Meadows, board chair

I am doing a new thing, do you not see it?

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up. Do you not see it? I am making a way into the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

Now that is a promise! Instead, what I often focus on is the here and now that is right in front of me. I measure the work that God is doing based upon the “wish list” that I’ve given Him. If things aren’t getting answered and checked off that list quickly, and in the way that I want them to happen, then I pretty much assume nothing worthwhile is being done. The result is that I feel like I am in the wasteland, no water to be found, and definitely nothing new and exciting is happening!

I see case plans going ever so slowly through the court system and it seems that a child will be in foster care forever. I see a child’s behavior seemingly stuck in the trauma with no improvement in sleeping, attachment, following directions, honesty, and angry outbursts. I see a calendar, and it seems like there is no possible ways the timeline for paperwork, decisions, red tape, and approval can ever get done within the days needed. I see a biological parent who makes huge gains, only to fall back to old ways, and it seems as though we are at square one. I see a huge lack of resources for children in foster care, and despite our best efforts, it seems like there is a never a net gain. I see a plan for Joy Meadows and buying a home and property, and then delay on finalizing plans. I see sweet foster moms who are asked to start looking at the child they’ve cared for as part of their forever family and making plans for adoption, only to be faced with a new plan that might include a forever good-bye. That seems like a wilderness and wasteland all around me. It seems like God kind of forgot my prayer list and there is pretty much nothing new happening and instead, just the same-old, same-old of brokenness.

But here is the exciting thing! God moving is not dependent upon what I can see in front of me! Right there in Isaiah 43:19 God asks us to look at things from His perspective. God is always at work. He is always on time. He is always moving. He is always in the business of creating something new. If we just ask Him to help us see, He will show us the amazing things He is doing all around us. So I need to get rid of my “wish list” and ask God for Him to show me what He is doing so I can jump on board and celebrate in that. He alone can make a way in the wilderness and it won’t just be a tiny path. He’s going to make it transformational. He will bring “streams to the wasteland” (43:19) so it won’t be a wasteland anymore.

God, open our eyes to see what you are doing! Let us perceive it every day, and let us be a part of your good works. Let us celebrate that you are victorious in all things at all times.

-Sarah Oberndorfer, foster mom and Chair of Board of Joy Meadows

IMG_0787.JPG

Therefore, my heart is glad...

Here’s what we know — our state is experiencing a record number of children in foster care. We aren’t alone. There has been a steady increase across the nation. We know there are many causes for the 45% increase here in the State of Kansas. We know that this increase of children in foster care has led to a statewide placement crisis for the over 7,500 children in care. As a result, placement decisions can’t be made based upon the best interest of the child or family because they instead have to be made out of desperation. Services provided to children are available from a system that is stretched way to thin, and supported with little to no margin. As a foster parent, this can translate into a feeling of hopelessness, despair, grief, and exhaustion when we see the little faces that this impacts on a day-to-day basis.

I have recently been on a journey (while at home in the chaos!) to discover what true “rest” really is so that I can keep doing this. How can we continue to advocate for children and be confident or find joy when so much seems chaotic and hopeless? Psalm 17:8-11 says: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will also rest secure…You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” It starts with a choice: “I have set the Lord always before me…”, and only then do I get the “therefore.” “Therefore, my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices.” My heart is glad only because I have set the Lord always before me. When God is in HIs right place of Kingship in my life, the by-product is that my heart is glad. I have to actively choose to set the Lord always before me. God is who He is - Always. That will never be dependent upon me. But, my acknowledgment of Him is what changes me. I will not be shaken” (v. 8). “I will be glad (v.9)”. All of the feelings of gladness and rejoicing and praise come as a response to WHO God is and the authority He has in my life. The peace, joy, gladness, and rejoicing are not a response to the events that are going on in my life.

The second part of the “therefore” from setting the Lord always before me is that my body will also “rest secure” (Psalm 16:9-10). I can have rest right now in my life and always in eternal life with Jesus. I choose to set the Lord always before me and, therefore, I have rest in the security of a Loving Father and a Savior. The day-to-day changes do not affect me, nor does my future. And further, when God is in His right place in my life, I do not live in confusion of what each day should look like, or doubt that God is in control. “You have made known to me the path of life (16:11). It is not a game of “what if’s” or a feeling of despair when others are making life-changing decisions for hurting children. Instead, when I focus on Him, “I am filled with joy” (v. 11). So God’s rest, peace, joy, strength, gladness — all of it is offered in the now, and not just when the hard is over.

A question was posed at the amazing Joy in the Journey conference for foster/adoptive moms recently, “What are you looking to be given in order to rest? When do you believe you can rest?” Rest comes only to our soul. Its the deepest part of us and not from our circumstances. May we each find rest in the person, the presence, and the promise of Jesus Christ so that we can continue to love deeply these foster children God has entrusted to us, and do it with joyful hearts that are at rest. Psalm 62:1-2, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

- Sarah Oberndorfer, foster mom

IMG_0276.jpg

Having faith to place the basket in the river...

Recently I was faced with the reality that it may soon be time to let one of our sweet kids go. It was not of my choosing. It was not because of a happy ending and reunification with parents. It was not because it was in the child’s best interest. It was simply a decision that had been made in a case by another person who had never met the child. We have loved, treasured, suffered with, and grown with this child for several years in the foster care system. We watched a newborn grow into a child. We are mom, dad, brother, sister. On the night of this news, we did our usual bed time routine that ended with a prayer, big squeeze, a kiss and a song. I pondered the thought of the loss that we may face as I watched this child fall asleep. My heart ached to think of the deep confusion and trauma the child would also face from a forced good-bye that, at this young age, would not be understood. The night-time CD that played was a lullaby of scripture after scripture. I prayed fervently that every Word would wash over this child’s life. That the God we have loved and served and taught in our home for the last several years would be embedded in the heart of one so young. That even if we could not be there forever, I prayed desperately that the Creator and Heavenly Father would be ever-present and known by this child.

My heart was heavy and sad, and as I held a little hand , I wondered how I could trust God with this little life? I had been the protector, care-giver, advocate, rescuer, and giver of love and encouragement for this child for years. What would it mean if I wasn’t there? How could I trust God with this future that made no sense? My mind went suddenly to the story of Moses. Another mother who faced this same reality. Think of it. Moses’ birth did not occur in happy circumstances (Exodus 2). His people were oppressed and by the king’s decree all baby Israelite boys were to be thrown in the river at birth. But Moses’ mother, Jochebed, believed in God. After his birth, “she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.” (Exodus 2:2-4). She told his sister hide and watch. Then God, the God of every circumstance, however great or small, directed the steps of Pharaoh’s daughter to come to the Nile at that very spot and that very moment. The princess “saw the basket among the reeds” and when the baby cried, “she felt sorry for him.” (Exodus 2:5-6). She did not follow the Pharaoh’s order or tell her slaves to throw the baby in the river, instead, her heart was moved. Moses’ sister bravely ran to her and said, “shall I go and get one of the women to nurser the baby for you?” And just like that, Moses’ own mother, Jochebed, was paid to do what she most wanted — raise her baby. Jochebed cared for Moses for the first three years of his life. And then, “when the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son.” (Exodus 2:8-10).

What an amazing roller coaster of trust and faith for Moses’ parents! They saw God move in each detail to save their child. His mom placed her child in God’s hands by placing him in the river, and then God returned him to her for a time. Somehow this must have strengthened Jochebed to trust God for her child’s future as she raised Moses and then took him to the palace and gave him to another mother who did not know God. I can’t imagine that strength and faith! Don’t you know she must have prayed over him? And sang every song of scripture imaginable to pray it would be planted in Moses’ heart? I’m sure she spoke every minute of God’s promise to Abraham, their people, and that God had a plan for Moses’ life. Don’t you know every second she spent teaching him God’s truth even at such a young age? And then she walked him to the palace and let him go. She must have been amazed at God’s saving the life of her son, but at the same time begging God for a different miracle. A miracle that didn’t involve giving her son away. But God was at work in the parents’ plans, the baby’s cries and the steps of Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses would grow up into an educated Israelite man that God would use to save His people from slavery.

So, while I am in no way ready to say good-bye to a child I’ve been given to raise, I am praying I find the faith to trust God with how He orders the steps of our lives. I do believe that God is at work in all circumstances of our lives, even if we never experience a miracle. Or at least not the specific miracle we are praying for. The Bible says that “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). We pray this truth will be so in the life of each child in foster care. We pray for all of the foster parents who love fiercely and deeply, and then have to let go and trust God with the next steps of a child’s life. Steps that may not be safe, and that may not include the Word of God. We pray that every child will know they are loved by a Heavenly Father who has a special, cherished, divine plan for their lives — even when the beginning of life may not be in the best of circumstances.

I do believe that God is at work in every aspect of my life, and of my children’s lives. He directs all things for the eternal good of each of His people. So may we have the faith to place the baby in a basket in the river— we surrender them to the will of God. May we rejoice in the opportunity to raise the child to know the Lord — for however long that may be. And may we trust in the Father when we have to let them go — whether to a palace or the unknown.

-Sarah Oberndorfer

Foster mom, Co-founder of Joy Meadows, and Chair of Board

IMG_5642.jpg
IMG_5644.JPG

Why we need Joy Meadows...

One of the many heart-breaking things about foster care is that sibling are often separated. With a shortage of foster homes in general, there is definitely a shortage of homes with enough space to keep siblings together! This means that children are driven to the agency office on a weekly basis from their various foster homes across the state for a one-hour visit. We've had sibling groups who have done this for years. We've had sibling groups who drive 5 hours round trip for their 1 hour sibling visit, which means they are taken out of school, driven by a stranger, and they often have triggers from being in a vehicle. We've watched siblings experience trauma, anger, and anxiety each week -- not from separation from their parents -- but due to the separation from siblings, and the fear of not knowing where they are and if they are safe. It's an un-necessary and painful part of foster care that we can do something about.

Over Thanksgiving break I sat in the agency office for yet another "sibling visit". There was no "thankfulness" anywhere. Just a broken family, broken children, and broken promises being lived out. It was hard to watch these little shoulders carry this burden that they didn't even understand. Over the last 4 years I've watched this same sibling group as they have been in and out of foster care. Now their eyes have darkened and a look of hopelessness has set in.

Then the hour was up and the visit was over. Strangers arrived to transport them to their various homes across the state, and the quiet tears began to roll down their cheeks.

We need Joy Meadows because siblings matter. They are often the only safe family unit for the child that can be maintained. We need to provide homes where sibling groups can go through this process of foster care together, and we can teach them how to be a family and give them hope.

-Sarah Oberndorfer, Chair of Board

IMG_5488.JPG

Why Not?

I see parents running kids to and from school, sports practice, church events, doctor’s appointments, school activities, and in the daily grind of the dreaded “pick-up line” at the school parking lot. In fact, I am definitely one of those crazy parents whisking my mini-van (or sometimes our big 12-passenger van) in and out of the parking lots, whipping open the sliding door, and letting kids jump out just in time — or more often a few minutes late — to the designated activity. We are all busy. Every family and every parent is busy whatever your life involves. We will always find a way to fill our time with something. So when people tell me, “I don’t know how you do it, being a foster parent when you have so many kids and things to do, and you are so busy all the time!” I guess my thought is, “Why not?” There is never going to be a perfect time of peace and calm and zero activity. There is never going to be a perfect time to become a foster parent, or to add children to your home. So why not just go ahead and add that element of “busy” into your life that actually helps people? We have to choose what our time will be devoted to. Why not choose a way to devote your time to meeting the needs of someone else?

When we are out in public and people see our blended family, we almost always get questions about foster care. It’s amazing to me how many people will say, “I’ve always thought about doing that.” I think that is so great! So to all of you I say, “Why Not?” Why not just go ahead and take the training classes to find out more about foster care, more about the kids that need you, and more about ways that you can support foster families. Why not just go ahead and take that next step? We can choose to be intentional about our time, our commitments, and our response to those thoughts that come up in our hearts and minds. We can choose to take a step towards helping children and families affected by foster care.

A favorite family verse for many reasons is Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” What if we applied that verse to our schedules? What are we doing that is simply “conforming to the pattern of this world”, instead of stopping and asking God what He would like to do with our busy schedules? What exciting things might God want to add to our schedules and commitments if we let Him? I hope that for many it might be taking that next step in the foster care journey — whatever that might be for you.

-Sarah Oberndorfer

IMG_2148 (1).JPG

Here am I...

My husband and I have been married for twenty years. Before we even got engaged we both agreed that a future plan in our life would be to adopt kids. Thankfully, we both felt that someday we would create a house for any child in need, whether they were ours biologically or not. Fast forward about eight years later and we were pretty surprised that we somehow had managed to have three biological kids within three years of age! And a few years later we would have a total of four kids! And yet, that call, that stirring that we were supposed to adopt was there. Even in the craziness of having a 4, 3, and 2 year old we managed to take our foster care licensing classes. I remember reading Isaiah 6:8-10 a lot, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I, Send me!’” I kept praying God would send us to the right child who needed us. I told God that I would go in a heartbeat to help a child. Send me! But as a tired, working mom of three little ones I also began to doubt. I wondered why God would give me such a burden for adoption, while he also had given us three biological children? It was as though I thought it had to be one or the other! I could either adopt children, OR I could have all of these biological children. People would even tell my husband and I that it wasn’t right that we were thinking of doing foster care when we had children “of our own.” They told us our children could get hurt, or neglected, or wouldn’t have enough love to go around.

One night after a news story I remember feeling so sad that there were so many children without a home and I was stuck and unable to help them. I was reading Isaiah 6 again. But How could we possibly help as two busy working parents, also in ministry, and with little children? I told God that I remembered He had called us to foster and adopt, but then He gave me these beautiful biological children and so I guess that call was over for now. And then, my Bible fell open to a few chapters later. “Here am I Lord, and the children the Lord has given me.” (Isaiah 8:18). It was an answer just for me. The call to foster and adopt was from God, just as much as my beautiful children were from God. Both were mine to bring to Him and let God do what He would. I just needed to give it all to Him in the first place.

So now, almost 10 years later as we foster many children and prayerfully move toward adoption, I often have to look back at that verse. “Here am I Lord, and the children the Lord has given me.” (Isaiah 8:18). Being a foster parent is hard. Foster children are from hard places and they often didn’t ask to be rescued. In fact many times I think they feel more like they are kidnapped and my home is their prison! But as hard as it is on my husband and I, I know it is also hard on my biological children. There are many days that I worry that my choices to give all of our lives to God in this way is hurting them. When an over-medicated foster child is aggressive, will they be hurt? When another foster child is moved and they are grieving, will it be too much for them? When a youth foster child is suicidal and requires our attention 24/7, will they feel neglected? When a toddler foster child is screaming because the toddler doesn’t have the words or ability to describe their heartache, will they feel silenced? When a drug-exposed foster baby can’t sleep from withdrawals and I am up all night and too tired to make it to school events, will they feel unloved? But it is no accident that God called me to foster care, and also gave me this family. He called us all. It is our family offering to give, and it is God’s to share. I have to trust that all of my children are from God and there are no accidents. He has a plan, and I can see this constant giving, loving, sharing of our lives is expanding my children’s hearts. They have an understanding of brokenness, and pain, and sin, and the need for a Savior that they would not if it were not for this world of foster care that we bring into our home. So I bring my heart and my children to the Lord and ask Him to send us. Send us to the child that needs a home.

Sarah Oberndorfer

44052894_577298596059164_7157767439227289600_o.jpg

When we do nothing, a child pays the price.

It was difficult to read the article in the Kansas City Star last week about a thirteen year old girl in foster care who was sexually assaulted by an older male in foster care while waiting in an agency office to find a foster home placement for the night. It is a heartbreaking reality for this child who was removed from trauma at home to then experienced trauma while in the “safe” custody of adults and the agencies who were charged to care for her. As a mom it was difficult to process, and I was just as an outsider reading an article. I’m sure that all of those involved in the situation in that office were also heartbroken. The reason they are involved in the child welfare business is because they want to help children. Clearly they would never want to be part of a situation that caused harm to a child. Throughout the week I read various responses and criticisms on social media regarding fault, liability, and punishment and I won’t go into that or add my opinion here. But I do want to share that the story left me with a nagging feeling that we all have a shared burden to respond.

When we do nothing, it is impossible to meet the needs of our children because lack of response to a need makes the burden fall on one person, or one agency, or one critical moment. How many times have we heard over the last few years that there is a mounting foster care crisis in our State? Why is that and what have we done to respond?

Prevention. We continue to hear of the needs for stronger preventative services and an improved foster care system, and yet we think of it as a giant problem we can’t respond to as individuals — and so we do nothing. Kansas spends 3% of its state and local child welfare dollars on prevention compared to the national average of 17%.1. Over the last 5 years, Kansas increased foster care spending 100x more than prevention spending, and we still can’t keep up. In addition, we have seen an increase in physical neglect, which is parents’ inability to meet children’s basic needs. We need to help families manage risk factors for child maltreatment by increasing families’ access to food and cash assistance, home visiting for new parents, child care, job training, healthcare, and more. We have also have a need for mental health services funding and substance abuse treatment so we can help these parents and keep children out of foster care as a preventative measure. If you have a burden to help families and volunteer on the preventative side to foster care, then find a way to get involved. Helping just one family matters.

Overburdened Foster System. We know our foster care system itself is overburdened and we need to respond. In Kansas, we have an increase of children in foster care with high needs and an inability to care for them. A 2016 juvenile justice reform bill intended to shift juveniles from detention to treatment. Due to lack of community resources, many of these youth entered foster care. The number of licensed beds at youth psychiatric residential treatment facilities (PRTFs) decreased 65% during 2011–2017 from an original 780 to just 272. Many are serving youth with more serious mental health issues during much shorter lengths of stay than historically seen. In addition, due to the high volume of children in care, about 7,700, and less than 2,700 foster families in our State, there simply are not enough homes to place these children quickly, safely, and with single-family homes who are matched for the best interest of the child and the foster family. With a shortage of foster homes, child placing agencies are forced to place children in short-term homes, far away from their counties or origin, and they do not have the luxury of waiting to match families and children based on their needs and experience. Due to our overburdened system, foster families quit in Kansas in less than 10 months, much of this is from lack of support. If you have a burden to help foster children and foster families to improve our foster care system, then find a way to get involved. Helping just one foster family matters. Helping just one foster child matters.

When we wait until there is a tragedy like what happened to the innocent 13 year old girl, then we are too late. We needed to intervene and help her family before she was placed in foster care. We needed to get involved with family prevention services to ensure families have what they need to care for their children. We needed to answer the call to become a licensed foster home so that child placing agencies had an abundance of homes waiting to take in a child. We needed to sign up to support a foster family by bringing them meals, giving respite care, helping with expenses, driving children to appointments, giving a listening ear… so that the foster family can keep doing the work they are called to so we don’t lose 500 foster homes a year in Kansas. We needed to increase support of our social workers so they aren’t over-burdened with long hours, overtime, impossible case loads, all while taking on secondary trauma so that they have lapses in judgment to leave children unattended in an agency office. When we each look away and do nothing, or when we are content that simply complaining and criticizing our child welfare system, child placing agencies, case workers, or legislators constitutes “doing something,” then we have failed. We will go from crisis to crisis and inevitably it will be an innocent child that pays the price.

OR….we can all do something! We can each decide what part we will play and share this heavy burden of brokenness. We can offer support and healing by each doing our calling. At Joy Meadows we have a calling to come alongside this overburdened foster care system in Kanas. We want to support foster children, foster families, case workers, social workers, DCF, and child placing agencies by doing our part. By building a community of foster homes we want to: (1) Increase capacity — at a basic level, we will be able to provide more beds for more children in foster care; (2) Create stability for the child – Children can be placed near their county of origin with their siblings, stay in one placement where they can receive support services immediately, reducing trauma; (3) Sustain qualified foster parents – Keep experienced foster parents by removing financial and emotional obstacles to taking on multiple foster children in one home and give them on-site support and training to handle challenging behaviors of children and the associated secondary trauma to caregivers so they do not burn out. We will network with existing organizations, care providers, and agencies so that we can maximize resources available to children in care. We will also strive to reach permanency for the child more quickly through our model by: (1) Working with the biological parent for reintegration as all siblings will be placed with 1 family, thus providing more opportunity to connection and mentoring; and (2) If children are not reintegrated, since they have been placed together the entire time in care they are much more likely to have an adoptive resource through their existing foster home or by those who have interacted with them at Joy Meadows. There is SO much we can do! We are eager, excited, humbled, and ready to do our part. Thank you for your ongoing support of Joy Meadows. And we thank you for listening to what God is calling you to do, and for your response.

-Sarah Oberndorfer,

Foster mom, Co-founder and Chair of Board of Directors of Joy Meadows