By Kurt Jenson, OSV News

         WASHINGTON (OSV News) — A May 31 webinar on foster care explained the need for parishes to support parents who make the jump to either foster or eventually adopt children in need.

         "Catholics really need to re-envision what a parish looks like," said Julia Dezelski, assistant director for marriage and family life at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. "We are called to care for the widows and orphans, right? And that's not writing a check."

         In 2021, the latest year for which statistics are available, 203,770 children under age 18 entered foster care, a rate of three or four per 1,000, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based charity focused on youth. That rate has remained stable for decades.

         Catholic Charities USA puts the number of children in foster care at 400,000, with an average age of 8.5 years old. The average length of time a child is in foster care is one year. Catholic Charities estimates that 120,000 of children in foster care are waiting to be adopted. There are slightly more boys than girls.

         "You don't have to be extraordinary. God gives you the grace," said Kathryn Jean Lopez, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review, who hosted the discussion. The webinar was sponsored by the National Review Institute in Washington.

         Tori Hope Petersen, a former foster child who wrote a book about her experiences, said she suffered, as a teen, under others' delusion that because she was in foster care, she must be some form of "troubled child."

         "I think there needs to be a different marketing to this," she said. The correct approach to would-be foster parents ought to be "use what you have."

         Peterson, an abuse survivor whose biological mother was addicted to drugs, went on to become a high school track star in Ohio and eventually Mrs. Universe 2022.

         The webinar, part of an effort for National Foster Care Month in May, was intended to help people who identify as pro-life understand the need for foster parenting in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had declared abortion to be a right protected by the Constitution. In its June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the high court reversed that decision and returned the matter of regulating abortion back to the legislative branch.

         Although many may think that the end of Roe opens up adoptions, "Adoption is not foster care," Lopez observed. "There are not enough babies for parents who want babies to adopt."

         Kimberly Henkel, who runs the Springs of Love ministry in Pennsylvania, which helps would-be foster parents make discernments about foster care and adoption, said there are too many misconceptions.

         One of her goals is to "educate potential foster parents who think it's too expensive. The perfect goal is reunification (with the biological parents), and if not, they're eligible to be adopted."

         Catholic Charities statistics indicate that during 2020, 3,574 of their foster care clients achieved permanent homes. Nationally, 276,266 foster care clients exited care that year.
About 47% of children who left foster care in 2019 were discharged to be reunited with their parents or primary caretakers.

         Henkel said the statistics also show the real struggle involved.

         "Fifty percent of foster parents quit after the first year," she said.

         Henkel makes regular public appearances "to provide and encourage church communities to let people know about the need. Then support these families."

         Henkel pointed out that one alternative to full-time foster care is to volunteer to be a "respite family" after training. "And then you can be a respite provider" for children in need. "for a few hours or a few days" with "short-term weekend activities."

         "I just think people want to help, and I think a lot of people are just paralyzed," she concluded.

         Petersen wants people considering the jump to foster parenting to know "the power that God gives us to heal, to give hope to other people."

         "We have to jump through the hoops in our culture to get these children where they need to be," she said.

         "Especially if we love our own families ... then we can be a place of welcoming for children who need a family as well," said Dezelski. "The parish is the place to do that."