By Kimberly Offutt, national director of family support and engagement at Bethany
Editor's Note: Time was running out for Carlos, a 15-year-old teen in foster care, in danger of aging out of the foster care system. Would he find a family before it was too late?
Hundreds of thousands more vulnerable children across the United States are in the same situation, and author Kimberly Offutt believes the American Church is a key part of the solution.
For more than 17 years, Kimberly has served in a variety of roles on Bethany’s foster care and adoption teams. Kimberly’s passion to serve vulnerable children extends beyond her work. Her family welcomed children in foster care for eight years, and they have adopted four children from foster care.
This year she published her first book, They Need You Now: A Mother’s Plea for the Church to Embrace Adoption, which details some of her own adoption experiences and calls the Church to action.
As part of our November celebration of National Adoption Month, we’re highlighting a key chapter from Kimberly’s book. It is reprinted here with permission from the author. If you enjoy this excerpt, please consider buying the book to learn more about Kimberly’s story and her mission.
IF NOT YOU, WHO?
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
(Ephesians 2:10 NIV)
I will never forget the day that I met Bishop W.C. Martin of Possum Trot, Texas. He jokingly shared that Possum Trot has two stop signs and one red light. As leaders, he and his wife, Donna, were the first in their small town and church to respond to the call to adopt. His simple act of obedience and leadership inspired families from his congregation to adopt 72 of the “hardest to place” children from the Texas foster care system.
What does the phrase “hardest to place” mean?
The hardest to place children in foster care are who I often refer to as the “forgotten” ones. Children who have lingered in foster care for years after their parent’s parental rights were terminated. The children who have been to every recruitment event and have been featured on the adoption exchanges and still seen no change except for their picture that is updated every six months.
The harder to place children are typically older, have been in multiple foster homes over the years, and are primarily Black. These children may have several medical diagnoses as a result of trauma, and they may be prescribed several medications. My son, Darius, even at the age of 8, was on three psychotropic drugs. One of them was what is typically prescribed to people with schizophrenia.
Before joining our family, he had been on these medications for three years. Unfortunately, this broken system was only medicating him to manage his behaviors. The foster care system is filled with children like my son. No one is knocking down the doors of the child welfare organizations to take one of these children home. It is heartbreaking, but it is real.
Too many of these young people have given up hope; they have heard it whispered that they are “unadoptable,” and they are starting to believe it. What they need most of all is a family. In a family is where the healing begins for our children.
When Reverend Martin spoke at a training that was hosted in the community, in closing, he implored all of us to move into action with one final question:
**“If not you, who? If not now, when?” **
That question rocked me to my core. Why not me, God?
Why not you?
Why not NOW?
Carlos was 15 years old when he entered a poster contest where he had to depict his feelings about finding a forever family. He won the poster contest that year, and if you can imagine his poster in your mind’s eye as I describe it to you, you will understand why.
On the poster was an image of himself. You could see the bottom half of his face down to his waist. His growing facial hair was one indication of his maturity. This was no little boy in foster care anymore. This was a young man with a goatee and a mustache.
He wore a white T-shirt that had a big hourglass in the middle of it. You could see the sand dropping and piling up at the bottom of the hourglass. The sand at the bottom was high, and the sand at the top was slowly decreasing.
Across the top of the hourglass was scrawled the word “TIME.” In the middle of the image were the words “IS RUNNING OUT.” Finally, at the bottom were the words “FOR ME.”
IS RUNNING OUT.
You see, teenagers like Carlos, “the harder to place” youth like the ones from Possum Trot, need you NOW.
They realize that the clock is ticking, and with every birthday, they are getting closer and closer to aging out of foster care. Birthdays are no longer celebrations; they are more anxiety-producing in the presence of such uncertainty.
Without a family, there is so much that our kids must worry about. Who will they call if they are ever in trouble, need advice, or need help? Teens in foster care do not have time to think and worry about typical teenage stuff; instead, they are thinking about real-life issues.
Where am I going to live when I turn 18?
Will I be able to go to college, and if so, where will I go when the dorms close?
When I fill out this job application, who do I put down as my emergency contact?
Our kids need you, and they need you NOW.