Friday, August 02, 2013

Children in Need

Guest Post by Foster Mom

Every once in awhile I get an e-mail from one of my readers that touches my soul. I received one from a truly dedicated Jewish woman who cares about her fellow Jews. Especially children. And even more so children that parents have abused or abandoned – whether by choice or circumstances. To say that this woman is a Baalas Chesed would be a massive understatement.

Her story is a very poignant one about a subject that few people want to talk about, let alone do anything about. It is a story that needs to be told and to be heard. Perhaps we could all do better… Her words follow.

I am a foster mom with a kosher home in walking distance of many shuls, and the majority of the children who have stayed with me over the past decade have come through JFS.  Some have been here two weeks, some for months or years, and one has been adopted and is now my daughter.  Last Friday my very first foster son was killed, quite possibly by one of his birth parents, several years after he left my home.  

His name was Josh and he was a young adult who chose to return to the home of his birth family after aging out of the foster care system.  I hadn't seen him in years, but I grieve deeply. His sister was here longer, but also moved on during her teen years and has returned to my home as a visitor many times.  Today she is here preparing for a funeral, the only official mourner who will be at the funeral.  And we are a house of mourning -- in that terrible stage between hearing of the death and the burial itself.  This has been an extended period for us because the medical examiner did not release Josh's body for several days.

Josh's death touches on those who loved and cared for him, but is also a deeply sad and frightening thing for the other children who live here, even though only one of them knew Josh.  They're sad for his sister.  They're sad for me.  But they are also very scared.  Almost every child I have cared for over the years has suffered or witnessed violence by a parent. All of them have living parents who they no longer live with.  Only one of those parents is in jail.  And all of them thought they were safe.  Mostly because I told them they were.  

My kids are not are allowed to use their own last names or photos on facebook, or to ever share our address without my specific permission, or to contact their birth families without my knowledge, and they know this is for their safety.  But they also know of siblings and other kids who have violated those rules.  And now they are worried about their own safety and that of other family members.  Together we are getting through all of this.  JFS counselors have been phenomenal as have two rabbis. We will survive this. We will allow the community to comfort us.  We will comfort each other.

But what of the children still in abusive homes? What of the children who don't have a loving, healthy foster family? 

I can't keep every abused child safe.  We as a society can't. But the job of a Jewish foster parent is the epitome of our values.

Please, if you can care for a child, if you want to keep them safe, if your heart has room for more love, if you have an extra bed and want to help, call JFS in your area and find out what's involved. Josh died last week. But first he lived in a Jewish, safe and supportive environment for a few years. As have many other children I know.  Do it in Josh's memory.  

But more importantly, do it because there are so many other Jewish children who need our love and our homes and our values for days, weeks, months or years. If you're not in a position to offer a bed to a Jewish child who needs one, may I ask you to make a small donation to Jewish Family Service in your own community in memory of Josh?

We had the funeral yesterday.  More than 60 in attendance, with about 20 to make a minyan.  My son-by-birth, my adopted daughter, her older sister (who was in foster care with me for 2 yrs but was too old to adopt) all stood with Josh's birth sister, Chaya, as she said Kaddish for the first time.  The kids' next concern is actually for the boy who was here for a year and was recently returned, at age 15, to his birth mother.  He knows what to do if he is in danger, but still we worry about him.

We are fully in the arms of a loving community.  Rabbis, social workers, friends, other foster families, my congregation and the congregation we attended when Josh lived with us, my online community.