"I want the pro-life community to acknowledge more what is going on with the foster care crisis in this country. I feel very strongly that in a lot of ways it is connected to our desire to eradicate abortion,” said Lisa Ann Wheeler, the president of Carmel Communications. Wheeler has had five children, and has fostered 15.
For Sarah Zagorski, the connection between foster care and pro-life work is very clear.
“My mother consulted with an abortionist for my delivery,” said Zagorski. “She was a Hispanic woman, very vulnerable woman, who already had seven kids in and out of foster care. They were already experiencing abuse, neglect, you name it.”
After her mother chose life, Sarah said that “life got very complicated very quickly because I entered a family environment that was unstable.”
“Foster care saved my life, just like the choice that my birth mother made saved my life," said Zagorski.
When Catholic couples adopt or foster a child, they are living out the Gospel call for a “radical welcoming of the stranger, the orphan,” shared Elizabeth Kirk, the keynote speaker at “Fostering a Culture of Hope.”
"Pope Francis stated … that the choice of adoption and foster care expresses a particular kind of fruitfulness in the marriage experience," continued Kirk. “Pope Francis urged even those with biological children to find other expressions of fruitfulness that in some way prolong the love that sustains them. Christian marriages, he says, are fruitful by their witness.”
“Now is an important moment for the Catholic Church to step forward and really embrace fostering,” explained Kathleen Domingo, who led a foster care initiative in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles after Catholic Charities was driven out of foster care and adoption in California due to a lack of conscience protection laws.
“Fostering is definitely a work of mercy,” said Domingo, “and works of mercy are transformative.”
“Having families in your parish involved in fostering with the rest of the parish coming around them to surround them and support them, can be that transformative element that can help our parishes to overcome polarization,” she said.
There is a lot of untapped potential in our Catholic communities, according to Domingo, who together with Archbishop Jose Gomez launched a campaign to raise awareness of foster care needs in the Los Angeles archdiocese last October.
They organized presentations at just 15 parishes in the archdiocese, and “the response was overwhelming,” said Domingo.
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“We had over 300 families in just 15 parishes come forward to register to get trained as foster families,” she continued.
Even if someone is not called to foster or adopt a child, there are many things that Catholics can do to support these children.
"You can do anything from cooking a meal to providing transportation or even taking some of those children into your home. You can serve as a mentor. You can work and find ways to get your church involved,” suggested Natalie Goodnow, a research fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
One concrete way anyone can help is through respite care, recommends Goodnow. Respite care involves watching a foster family’s kids for a couple days to a week, allowing the foster parents to have a break.
People can also volunteer as “court appointed special advocates,” or CASA for short. Through CASA, a person is matched with a foster child's case, and advocates for the child throughout the duration of their time in the child welfare system. Goodnow pointed out that there is no legal experience required to participate.
Another organization Goodnow recommends is “Safe Families for Children”, which supports struggling families at risk of being separated through foster care.