A Texas federal court judge ruled that the state has violated the constitutional rights of foster children by exposing them to a flawed system where children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.” Like many other states, Texas phased out the old orphanage system around World War II, opting instead to follow the widely-held opinion that placement of children in group or foster care homes would improve their treatment and living conditions. Perhaps the present system is an improvement, but the Texas court judge wrote that, “Years of abuse, neglect and shuttling between inappropriate placements across the state has created a population that cannot contribute to society, and proves a continued strain on the government through welfare, incarceration or otherwise.” That is a fairly damning accusation.
Judging from some of the testimony, some children were treated horribly. For example, one 16-year-old girl entered foster care at age 6 and changed placements 28 times within four years. Similarly, a 14-year-old girl entered foster care at age 5 and has had 12 different caseworkers and 24 different placements in her 9 years in the system. For now, the court has appointed a court master to study the system and report back in 6 months with recommendations consistent with the court order.
What I have not read in the news accounts are the bitter comments I’ve heard over the years from people concerned with the system. Among them are that there is inadequate screening of foster parents and, as a consequence, a number of kids have been placed with neglectful or abusive foster parents and some have even been placed with sexual predators. In addition, many foster children are moved out of their home county—and away from any friends or support system—to homes hundreds of miles away. There also are continuing complaints about homes that are dirty or ill-kept.
The Bible, of course, is filled with verses concerning compassionate and caring treatment of orphans and children. For example, James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” More ominously, Exodus 22:21-24 says, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” Yikes! And then there is the Jesus “millstone” verse in Matthew 18:6, “If anyone causes one of these little ones . . . it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
It is easy to blame this on the Texas legislature as they certainly are certainly are a motley and hard-hearted crew more concerned with taxes than with helping the poor or marginalized. But, just as God put all of Israel under judgment in their lack of concern for the widow and orphan, so we are under that same demand and judgement. After all, the legislators are elected by “we the people,” so any shortcoming lies in all of our hard hearts.