Last week, one-year-old Bianca Abdul was found dead in her crib in Staten Island, N.Y. Her mother told authorities the child had bumped her head on a coffee table. But Bianca’s family had previously been investigated seven times for abuse by the Administration for Child Services. This is one of several cases in recent years where children have wound up dead in the hands of abusive families and New York’s authorities seem to have fallen down on the job. It is the kind of pattern that makes you wonder whether we are capable of taking care of our most vulnerable citizens.
Which is why I was heartened a few weeks ago to read the story of five siblings in Kansas. “Family Wanted: Five siblings want to stay together”: That was the headline that kept appearing in my Facebook feed. In the first weekend it was online, it received 4 million hits.
The piece and accompanying video showed two sisters and three brothers, ages two to eleven. The oldest, Bradley, was described as “the music lover.” Preston, ten, “is an energetic animal lover and outdoor enthusiast.” Landon, six, “wants to teach physical education when he grows up. He enjoys racing his brothers and collecting Pokémon cards.” Layla is “already planning to save sick or injured animals when she grows up,” and the youngest, Olive, “loves to be cuddled” whenever she “slows down long enough.”
There was no information provided about how the children came to be living in separate foster care homes, but St. Francis Community Services is hoping to find the siblings a home together. At least 1,500 families have inquired so far.
This overwhelming response—local officials apologized that they could not respond to each one of these families immediately—is not surprising, though. In recent years there has been something of an adoption revolution. The number of children in foster care actually decreased 20 percent between FY 2006 and FY 2012 to a low of 397,000. Though it has ticked up slightly since then—some speculate that this may be related to the opioid epidemic sweeping much of America—there has been a proliferation of church-based programs to encourage more adoption out of foster care.
In 2004, there were 875 children in the state of Colorado who were legally available for adoption, but had no one willing to take them home. Pastor Robert Gelinas and others launched Project 1.27, which trains and supports prospective parents across Colorado to adopt foster children. The program was church based, meaning that there were direct appeals to congregants, based on the biblical mandate to care for the orphan. Evangelical leaders from Russell Moore to Rick Warren have made adoption a central theme in their ministries.
Despite the successful response to the five children in the Kansas City Star story, the truth is that most people do not pay much attention to the “Wednesday’s child on the nightly news” form of advertising for foster and adoptive families. These kids seem far away from the concerns of viewers, who likely assume someone else will step up. But many of the new adoption and foster care programs find children in the immediate vicinity of the church in order to show people that the need is close by and immediate.
These churches also provide a support network for the families that take children in. Thanks to Project 1.27 and similar church-run programs throughout the state, there were no children waiting to be adopted in Colorado by the end of 2012. There are now 1.27 ministries in Washington, D.C., New York, Kansas, and Arizona, among other places. And some church communities have become hubs for adoption. Observers note that the more you see other people around you fostering and adopting children, the more it seems like an option for your own family.
There is still an enormous need to be filled. As of 2015, there were 428,000 children in foster care. Older children and children with siblings are often the most difficult to place. But for Bradley, Preston, Landon, Layla and Olive, things are looking up.