Putting Foster Children on the Jewish Communal Agenda

By Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

One of the great tragedies of the modern world is the startling lack of innovation in the field of adopting and fostering children. Every passing year sees the introduction of more bureaucratic stringencies, international pettiness, and surges in cost that makes the process exhausting and exasperating. The world over, there are hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of children whose only wish is to be loved, to have a stable family structure, and to escape the transitory conditions of a life in the foster-care system. It is one of the most shameful aspects of the contemporary moment: that we live in a nation with plentiful resources, yet an untold number of children are left to fend for themselves in an uncaring social environment.

Most disturbingly, the amount of adoptions performed in this nation have dropped, with the rate plunging nearly fifteen percent in the period of 2001 and 2012.

I do not speak from a perspective of detachment. For many years, my wife and I have gone through the tribulations of providing a loving home to foster children to the best of our ability. We’ve gone through the counseling, the certification, the frantic late-night calls from agencies looking to place a child at a moment’s notice, and the pain of seeing the foster child who we’ve loved and cared for taken away in the blink of an eye. We always support reunification with family, even when it feels misguided. We’ve learned to completely give up control.

The Torah speaks forcefully about the obligations one has to the vulnerable, that they not be oppressed and that justice must be rendered unto them. The entire community needs to take responsibility for those who don’t have living parents or don’t have parents equipped at the moment to care for them. Yet, this Biblical precept seems to be forgotten in the present-day, where the barriers for adoption are so high and the prospect to extend a loving home to a child in need is so difficult, demanding, and arduous, that too many feel that are not up to the task. But if we know that the Torah is constantly talking about the yatom (vulnerable child), why isn’t our Jewish community doing more to prioritize this cause to protect these children?

This idleness cannot remain the status quo. And the Jewish community must lead the way if we are to repair the broken elements of our world so that all children can live in peace and within the walls of a loving home. Something had to be done, and I hope, in our own modest way, that the steps towards nurturing a more proactive approach to fostering and adopting from a Jewish perspective are now underway.

About three years ago, we launched YATOM: The Jewish Foster and Adoption Network, a hub and resource for Jewish families interested in adding a child in need to their home. In the years since the launch of the organization, we have encountered so many who have always thought about fostering or adopting children but, for one reason or another, never moved forward with the process.

Through trial-and-error, and the launch of our YATOM Family Fellowship (now in our third cohort), we found that there are three barriers individuals felt that made them pause before pursuing a journey on the road to fostering or adoption: cost, know-how, and community. We launched our family fellowship to incentivize those interested in fostering or adopting children who have been abused or neglected or just need a home by addressing these particular concerns:

  • Costs involved – The YATOM Family Fellowship provides a modest stipend to support families to consider adopting/fostering at a more serious level
  • Navigating the complex process – The Fellowships provide webinars for each cohort to learn from experts and thought leaders about best practices.
  • Alleviating loneliness and deepening community – The Fellowship creates a micro-community where those embarking upon this journey talk, learn, and explore together.

From the beginning, the fellowship has been open to husbands and wives, to single parents, and to same-sex couples. Any Jewish family unit can apply to participate in this special mitzvah to give a child in need a temporary or a forever home.

At this moment, it is becoming more difficult to secure children in safe homes. In all that we do, YATOM is committed to providing all those who long to protect vulnerable children the space and resources to do so. Wherever there is a loving home that is open to adopting or fostering a child, we should be doing all we can to ensure that a loving match can be made. Please join us to improve the tangible quality of life for children, and loving families, here in America and around the world. In doing so, we’ll be actualizing a holy mission designated to the Jewish people.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of YATOM & the author of 14 books on Jewish ethics.

The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.