Allowing God to Write the Name: Cards of Hope
We at Braid have some great news! Our Cards of Hope program that was a great success at Christmas is being extended. But before I give the details of the expansion, let me take a moment to recap what occurred at Christmas.
Rebecca and I discovered last October, by visiting the Lost Childhoods Museum, that many foster youth do not receive any gifts or cards – no recognition – around holidays or birthdays. This is for all the reasons you might imagine, the most common reason being they simply get “lost” as they move from home to home. We were disturbed that these youth were missing some acknowledgement on what are basic days for celebration for most of us.
As a result, we were moved to partner with a group home for foster youth and invited people to send these youth Christmas Cards and to say a prayer for them. The response was overwhelming, with over 300 cards being received from all over the country. We were informed by the group home that the joy these cards brought to these youth was overwhelming – you can read about it on the Cards of Hope page!
Since the holidays, we have heard from many of those who wrote cards to say that they have continued to pray for the youth and that they would like to continue to send cards, particularly on birthdays. Perfect! This is what we had hoped would happen and that these youth would continue to be remembered throughout the year.
But this is where it gets interesting. We have spent the last few months in conversation with the group home to figure out how to expand the Cards of Hope program for birthday celebrations. The resulting conversation is very instructive of the difficulties facing foster youth and those adults who offer care, whether within the system or without.
The difficulty stems from the fact that these children and youth are wards of the state. This becomes a reality as soon as the child/youth is removed from their home. As a result, their lives become conditioned according to the laws of the state and the state courts who make decisions on their behalf. Rebecca and I were amazed to learn that in many circumstances, even for medical care that involves hospital visits, foster parents, who are not guardians, have to get a court order before taking the youth to the hospital. After all, the state is responsible for the ultimate well being of the youth.
Over the years the laws and statutes surrounding the care of youth in foster care have evolved and grown. And one hopes for the better, offering better support and protection. But the statutes have become more numerous.
The point of this article is not to criticize the system. Far from it. These children need as much protection and care as possible. Also, it is neither the fault of the children nor the state that a “system” exists. And throughout the state system and the foster care community, there are wonderful advocates who are crafting protection and rewriting laws to make life better and safer for youth.
But the results of all these well intentioned laws can inadvertently make care and relationship difficult to build. Take for example the Cards of Hope. We need to make certain that the youth are safe by keeping details of who they are confidential. As you would expect, it would be irresponsible to use the full name of the youth. Confidentiality is not only mandated and guaranteed by the state, it makes reasonable sense for the protection of the youth.
Confidentiality is compromised if any details about a child are shared in association with their name. To publish a child’s name along with any other details such as their birth month, age, or gender would put them in danger.
So how does one send a card to a child who is lost and has a need to be found while still protecting this youth and their confidentiality? How do we manage our Cards of Hope program?
The result of our ongoing conversation is that we will place information on our web site, but that information will not include the name of the youth: just their gender and the age they are turning. This is frustrating for everyone; for us, for the case managers, for the social workers, for all involved in caring for youth. What would be ideal is having us all write the name of the youth and pray for them as we write our cards and throughout the year. But we need to honor the protections that are in place around foster youth. (The full instructions for how to participate are on the Card of Hope page).
However, we know that relationship can be found or emerge in any number of ways. Relationship can be born in a smile across a crowded plaza. Relationship can be no more than helping reach for an item on the top shelf in a supermarket. Relationship can be holding the hand of a child who needs to be guided back to caregivers. Relationship can be that simple and it can be momentary or it can be eternal.
So we trust that while it may appear that the cards are somewhat impersonal, we send them trusting that each card will let this youth know that there is a person who remembers and cares and holds them. And we know that this relating and new relationship is facilitated by a God who knows the name of this youth and knew this name when she or he was being formed in the womb. We send our cards knowing that the name of this youth is carried on the lips of God. We send these cards knowing that the name of this child is written on the heart of God even if their name is not written on our envelopes.