California's high foster kid population offers opportunities for Christian families


Five-hundred thousand is a pretty large number when it comes to a lot of things. Most people would probably not leave $500,000 on the table, but that is the same number of children being left in foster care each year—enough children to nearly replace the entire population of Portland, Ore.

"I think it is an epidemic," said Cathy Richman founder and director of Angels Foster Family Agency. "We have to turn away children all of the time and it saddens me."

Richman runs one of several foster care programs in the state of California where 100,000 foster children live—which at 20 percent of the national total is drastically higher number than any other state.

Richman's private agency, supported by donors, takes in babies and toddlers in San Diego and Riverside counties. She started Angels nine years ago after serving as a court-appointed advocate for foster children in the state's care.

"I was seeing children coming into foster homes where they are supposed to be safe, but they were being re-abused, many of the homes were overcrowded and in particular, I was seeing children needing one-on-one time and not being able to get it because there were so many children in the home," she said.

Richman said there are so many children that there is always a need for good foster parents, and she has tried to raise the bar when it comes to foster parenting so that the babies and toddlers they serve get better care.

"Good foster care can be life changing," she said. "Our whole focus is early attachment and bonding. The brain is growing so fast in that first 24 months developing the abilities to feel empathy and sympathy, that if a baby never develops an attachment to one person by the time they are 2 years old or attachments continue to be broken… that same child is the one who revisits the criminal justice system for years to come."

Angels is not a Christian-based agency, yet Richman said many of her foster parents are Christian church-goers.

Groups like Angels, as well as state foster care organizations are trying to raise awareness during May's Foster Care Awareness campaign.

"Not everyone is cut-out to be a foster parent, but there are so many other things that people can do to help out these children who are in such great need," Richman said.

Statistics show that even someone who is not affected by foster care directly will be impacted indirectly.

Besides the state and federal dollars that go to help foster parents support the children, statistics show that many government-supported adults were also raised in foster care. Another harrowing number: the estimated 70 percent of prison inmates who said that they spent some time in a foster home.

Needs from birth
So, where do these half-a-million children living in foster homes come from? State and federal numbers show that most are taken out of their homes due to some form of abuse, such as physical, sexual, emotional or quite often drug abuse, but others come into foster care on day one.

"Just last Friday, we had four hospitals in San Diego call with babies that needed a foster home," Richman said.

Richman said that many of the hospitals call after mothers of the newborns test positive for drug use and there is no family member to step up and take the child. She said that in these and most cases, a plan to get the family back together is devised and put into place.

At six months, the idea of putting the family back together is visited, if the home is deemed safe, the child is then sent back home. However, she said in most cases, it is usually not until the one-year visit that a reunion happens, if it ever does happen.

"We tell our foster families to be prepared to keep the child at least a year," Richman said. "However, it can be a lot longer than that or a lot shorter than that, depending on the circumstances."

Southern California has one of the highest needs for foster families, according to state statistics. In Los Angeles alone, there are more than 56,000 children living in foster care.

Transient population
One reason that foster advocates say the need is so great in Southern California is because of the broad transient population that has no roots to the area—therefore no family support when times get difficult. The lack of support leaves the door open for the state to step in when situations get bad.

While Angels is always searching for strong families in the San Diego and Riverside areas who will take just one child, or siblings, there are dozens of others who are also searching for willing families.

Olive Crest is another agency looking for foster families for emergency shelter care, for fill in care for other foster families who have to be away for a few days and for long-term foster care. Olive Crest has locations throughout California, including San Diego, plus Washington state and Las Vegas.

"We are always looking for foster and adoptive parents," said Kerri Dunkelberger, director of foster care and adoptions for the Orange County branch of Olive Crest Foster Services. "But we also know that people need to take first steps before becoming a full-blown foster parent."

Dunklelberger said it was important for people to realize that a mission field could literally develop in their own backyard. She added that such work is a biblical mandate from Jesus who singled out orphans and widows.
Churches, she said, are realizing the need and beginning to step up their ministry efforts. Olive Crest is helping by going into area churches and helping them map out exactly how they can help the children.

San Diego
Angels Foster Family Agency —
Rancho Jireh Foster Homes —
Olive Crest —
Koinonia Family Services —

Orange County
ChildShare —
Olive Crest —
Koinonia Family Services —

Inland Empire
Inspire Lifeskills —
Angels Foster Family Agency —
Olive Crest —
Rancho Jireh Foster Homes —
Koinonia Family Services —

Los Angeles
ChildShare —
Next Steps —
Olive Crest —
Koinonia Family Services —

Tacoma Youth for Christ Foster Care —
Bethany Christian Services —
Olive Crest: Pacific North West —