Originally published 12/31/19 in The Virginia Lutheran newsletter

By Ray Ratke

When it comes to helping children and adolescents in foster care, we have collectively missed the mark for many children. Too often, kids in the foster care system – who have typically experienced abuse or neglect in their families of origin – are further traumatized by frequent moves while in care. Thirty-five percent of youth in foster care have experienced two or more placements, which could include foster homes, group homes, or residential treatment centers.

Frequent moves are disruptive and make it harder for children to connect with adults and peers and find success in school. It should come as no surprise that these youth often experience worse outcomes in adulthood than their peers in foster care who obtain stability.

Lutheran Family Services of Virginia (LFSVA) is leading the One Home Initiative to improve outcomes for these youth. The goal is for each child to have only ONE placement in a foster home before being returned home or adopted. The organizations and individuals that are part of the initiative plan to make “one home” a reality for 200 youth in foster care this year.

LFSVA’s effort is part of a national initiative by Lutheran Services in America to provide teaching and coaching to a variety of organizations that work with youth in foster care. LSA’s goal is to dramatically improve the trajectory of the lives of 20,000 vulnerable youth in America by 2024.

Why are kids moved around so often? The short answer is that the youth’s behavior is challenging and disruptive, and the foster parents request a move. To understand what’s behind the behavior, the One Home Initiative partners dug a little deeper to find root causes. Youth and foster parents alike often have unrealistic expectations about living together. When a child has experienced multiple traumas, foster parents need specialized training and must remain flexible. Parenting techniques that worked for their own children might not be effective with a traumatized child who has trouble connecting with new people and may also have neurological or biological challenges. Sometimes, cultural differences lead to misunderstandings, and foster parents may not have adequate support systems to cope with challenges.

Black youth and males are moved more often than other children because their challenges are more often perceived as behavioral (and possibly dangerous) as opposed to emotionally based.

What can we do? The root causes of disruptions point to improvements that can be made by organizations such as LFSVA to better support foster parents and youth in care. The One Home Initiative is developing recommendations based on the perspectives of the participants, including representatives from treatment foster care (TFC), adoption, residential services, advocacy and outreach organizations, statewide mental health organizations, the public youth welfare system and the faith community. Importantly, the initiative includes youth who have formerly been in care.

Congregations and their members can play a vital role in supporting this effort in several ways. The One Home Initiative is seeking additional partners – whether organizations or individuals – to join in the effort. In particular, LFSVA is seeking former or current foster parents and parents who have adopted children from the foster care system. If you or someone you know would like to learn more, please contact Jeanne Hollingshead, director of treatment foster care and adoption, at jhollingshead@lfsva.org.

LFSVA also welcomes financial contributions to support its foster care and adoption services. If you would like to make a one-time donation, or if your congregation would like to consider becoming a 2020 Sponsor of LFSVA’s Foster Care and Adoption Program, please contact Melissa Leecy, director of development, at mleecy@lfsva.org.

The needs of youth in foster care are complex, particularly for those who have experienced multiple traumatic events in their short lives. Working together through the One Home Initiative, caring individuals, families, and organizations can help create better outcomes and more abundant lives for these young people.