By Molly Sheahan
Maryland Catholic Conference
Ed was 17 years old when he met his mom, Nia. They were brought together by foster care, but Ed calls Nia “mom” and she has embraced him fully as her son. Together, they’ve ridden out the highs and lows: Nia providing a safe, permanent, loving home and Ed learning to trust and receive the gift of home. Ed, now 21, is moving into his own apartment.
Nia says, “Although I won’t always be with him physically, I will always be home.”
As Catholics, we know that the family is the basic building block of society, the “domestic church,” where children find love, stability, and are nurtured to grow to their full potential. Being a parent means loving your child no matter what. It means showing up through late night phone calls, homecoming dance pictures, cheers at lacrosse games and thousands of loads of laundry. Kids need the loving guidance, security, and modeling in virtue that only a family can provide.
There are over 4,000 children in foster care in Maryland like Ed. Many experienced neglect or abuse in their families of origin. Each needs a loving foster family. For young people aging out of the foster care system, the concept of family can be foreign and the statistics are bleak: a fifth will become instantly homeless, just one in three foster youth will go on to college, and perhaps most shocking of all, 60 percent of trafficked youth come from the foster care system. These are kids who, through no fault of their own, lack the support system we all need.
At the same time, it is not unusual for families experiencing housing insecurity to fear family separation and the loss of their children because they couldn’t provide a stable home.
Maryland has a program called Building Safe Families for Children which helps keep these loving yet struggling families together and out of foster care. Safe Families surrounds a family in crisis with the radical hospitality of host families, family coaches and family friend volunteers. Working together, these volunteers foster a culture of encounter that sees these moms and dads as capable of healing for their kids and sees these children as worthy of love, stability, permanency and a home.
At baptism, God adopts us into His family as sons and daughters. Scripture tells us that pure religion is to care for orphans (James 1:27), leading Christians through the centuries to answer God’s call to welcome his little ones. Nia answered the call for Ed, and her neighborhood helped. When Ed was preparing to move out, Nia posted on the Buy Nothing Facebook group, asking for basic household items for Ed’s new adventure. The response? More than 40 generous neighbors reached out to help furnish Ed’s apartment, fulfilling his entire checklist! Armed with these gifts, Ed can make the leap with confidence, knowing that his mom will always have his back.
The truly unselfish loves in this life are brave. Can we add one more place setting as foster parents? Or open our homes with Safe Families to keep loving families together? Can we wrap around foster families like Nia’s community did to provide for their kiddos? Our homes can reflect God the Father’s open arms to more of His children. Because every child deserves a loving family.
“True parental love is ready to go beyond the bonds of flesh and blood in order to accept children from other families, offering them whatever is necessary for their well-being and full development.” – St. John Paul II, The Gospel of Life
Molly Sheahan is associate director for Respect Life Advocacy for Maryland Catholic Conference.