With more reports published this month highlighting the discrimination against children in care, and more failures to protect them from harm, our Chief Executive, Ross Hendry, reminds us of God’s expectations that His family does not forget these children in their plight.
What does it mean to you when the Bible calls on God’s people to protect the widow and the orphan? I ask because I’m baffled why so many are crossing the road to walk on the other side to avoid having to help extremely vulnerable children.
Don’t get me wrong, when people hear the reports about children in the care system they care. But only so much. We feel sorry but do not grieve for them. Our sympathy stops before it becomes sacrificial. The cause of the orphan is in plain sight, yet we choose to walk on by.
Last week the Huffington Post led with a story about Academy Schools turning children in care away by rigging their admissions policy. The story is not a new one. I was part of a team at the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in 2013 that found children in care far more likely to be excluded from school or off-rolled.
It’s not just schools who are failing these children. Countless Ofsted reports draw attention to Councils struggling to keep children in care safe. One inspection report of a North East Council, published earlier this month, echoed many others when it stated that “risks to children are not well identified or well managed” and there was a “weak response to children who are vulnerable to exploitation.”
A failure to care
The recently published Independent Care Review in Scotland concluded that the care system should have love and nurture at its heart. But, instead, it said that many young people experienced a “fractured, bureaucratic and unfeeling” system.
So why do we accept such a failure to care for some of our most vulnerable children?
Is it because we are unclear about what the Bible teaches us? Surely not. Orphans or the fatherless are referred to over 50 times across both testaments of the Bible.
Even as a child I learned that “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalm 68:5), and that living in response to Jesus’ grace means “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
In previous generations this led Christians to act. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, our charity’s founder, was a great evangelist, known across the world as the Prince of Preachers. Dear to his heart was the title ‘father to the fatherless’, linking Psalm 68 to Spurgeon’s great achievement of founding the Stockwell Orphanage. He often noted that he could not preach about God’s love and justice without having a deep longing that it be expressed through action.
The scale of the problem we face today is even bigger than in Spurgeon’s day. Around 128,000 children in England are in care or have a child protection plan, while 2.3 million children woke up this morning unsafe, living in homes where there may be domestic violence, substance misuse or parents with serious mental health problems. At least 800,000 are “invisible” to any statutory service (2019 figures from the Children’s Commissioner).
People who care
As I have written before, money and the Government can help but cuts in services since 2010 have had a huge impact. Yet money and public services alone cannot answer the needs of these children and young people because the State does not have the tools or ability to give children love, a sense of belonging and safety. That comes from people who care. It is the basic job description of the family.
There are Christian charities working in this space. Like those promoting the need for people to foster and adopt children who cannot live with their birth families; there are others, like Spurgeons, that are working to help families function better so children do not need to go into the care system in the first place.
These charities offer hope. Our intervention works. To say nothing can be done is wrong. Jesus came to save and transform the world, the universe, but also you, and me, your neighbour, and the orphan.
Church congregations can help. Pray. It shows you love, and fosters greater love for those children who the world wants to forget. Pray for charities like Spurgeons and others working with expertise in the dark places. Learn about the injustices and harm being done to children in the care system and the difference that can be made in Jesus’ name by partnering work that seeks to bring light and hope into their lives.
Care and love enough to ask awkward questions to your local Councillor, challenge your local head teacher, study the impact of the charity you support and, yes, raise your voice and cry out in your church on behalf of those who have been silenced.
The Holy Spirit fills us with compassion to act and believe that hope is real. May we have the courage to be changed by that same Spirit to act in the name of the Son and in step with the Father’s heart.