Why is that number important? It’s the average number of kids in foster care who shouldn’t be there. 76% of children in foster care right now were removed from their families because of unmet basic needs. That means food, running water, medication, housing, etc. Important things, yes, but notice these are all poverty-related causes.
Most of the time, it is financial instability that is ripping families apart – not abuse or abandonment. Those cases exist, of course, but the statistics speak for themselves.
The overwhelming majority of children in foster care were removed from their homes for reasons that could have been prevented.
Those 250,000 children represent 100,000 moms who simply fell into the cracks of our society. They didn’t get the support they needed when they needed it. And as a result, families experienced the trauma of separation.
Therapists in our field have shared when counseling children in foster care, the primary trauma they want to process is being removed from their families. It’s not necessarily remembering when their water or electricity was turned off, although those experiences can be traumatic, it is in fact the painful memory of their family being torn apart.
I dream of the day where foster care and adoption becomes the last resort for families in crisis, not the first response.
There is an army of people standing advocating for children, but very little support being offered to the moms. I have sat in courtrooms time and time again seeing mothers blamed and villainized for the crises they face outside of their control.
Once families are part of the child welfare system, it is so difficult to get out. The hurdles they have to clear can make reunification a long, uphill battle. Moms need holistic support earlier in their journeys to help them avoid going to that courtroom and walking out without their children.
Prevention is the Key
When my husband and I responded to the call to enter the foster care system years ago, I see how we approached it with a sense of heroism. As a foster care parent, I was doing a good thing by providing a safe, loving environment for children in need. But when my eyes were opened to the bigger picture, I was astonished by how short-sighted my efforts really were.
Families belong together. Kids want to be with their moms. Most of the time, the only thing standing in the way of a reunification is support and resources.
What would it look like to approach the foster care system with a family-first ethos that prioritizes prevention whenever possible.
How can we as a community get on the same page and direct our efforts towards sustainable solutions?
It was from those questions and that place of heartache that we founded ĒMA–Every Mother’s Advocate. We knew the volume needed to be turned up on these issues and our country and Churches needed to collectively address these complexities.
The ĒMA Model
We serve vulnerable moms at risk of losing their children into the foster care system, or who are actively working to be reunified with their children. Our court-approved prevention program provides wrap-around support in two key areas:
- Relationship with an ĒMA advocate. Our incredible volunteer advocates personally journey with moms from their place of crisis towards a place of stability. ĒMA advocates provide one-on-one coaching, mentorship, and support to guide families towards self-sufficiency.
- Support of an ĒMA Coordinator. Our ĒMA coordinators function as personalized case managers who connect moms to needed services, advocate for them in court, and represent and celebrate their forward progress.
Our advocates and coordinators work hand in hand to support families and offer sustainable solutions. We believe that with these two sources of support wrapped around her, any vulnerable mom can be empowered to keep her family together or win her children back.
This program has been tested and evaluated over the past 3 years and we’ve discovered that with this model in place.
88% of moms we served were able to preserve their families.
To date, ĒMA has journeyed with 800 moms and nearly 2,000 children. We’ve expanded from our home base in South Florida to equipping organizations around the country to operate their own ĒMA program. We are seeing an entire community of volunteer advocates rise up and say yes to standing in the gap. Churches are also seeing the value of prevention and how advocacy and resourcing can keep kids from entering into the foster care system.
We’re so thankful for our advocates, coordinators, and anchor church partners who are not just committed to this today, but for the long-haul.
At the end of the day, there is not one person, organization, or church that will eradicate the preventable causes of foster care. It is only through national collaborations, collective impact, and a redemptive focus that can sustainably impact the family separation crisis and advocate for moms in a way that offers lasting change.
Relationship-based advocacy is so different from transactional advocacy. There are wonderful organizations who specialize in crisis response and tangible support for vulnerable families. At ĒMA, we recognize that the journey towards meaningful relationship is long and the best thing we can do for moms is show up. We are dedicated to championing them and believing in their dignity, agency, and abilities.
Even if a mom is unable to achieve stability to reunify with her children, we still advocate for her as a woman. What does starting again look like? What do you need to ensure you never have to walk this road again?
When a mom has an advocate and is treated with dignity and equipped with the tools, support, and community to be successful–she can do anything. I truly believe that. I’ve seen it happen time and time again in the lives of families who just needed someone to walk alongside them.
I’m so excited to see what is ahead as ĒMA continues to grow and spread a vision for prevention and mother advocacy. Wherever you are, consider joining us on this journey. There are so many ways you can take a first step. Consider becoming an ĒMA Advocate, refer a mom in crisis to ĒMA, connect your church to our network, or even just pray with us for those 250,000 children waiting to see their moms again.
Every mother deserves an advocate and we are dedicated to meeting that need and strengthening families to stay together.