ADOPTION & FOSTERING
There has been lots of recent comment and concern around both following on from the controversies earlier in the year about Christian couples and fostering. There is no doubt that there is work to be done in all areas to try and ensure children who are to be adopted move through the system more rapidly, without losing clear safeguards for the well-being of the child. There has been little reference in these comments to the place of the courts in the process though there are now proposals on the table to tackle this. It is they who are often slowing the adoption process in particular down by anything up to 18 months. All agencies concerned will need to work hard with one another at seeking to ensure that the child’s best interests are served. Given the importance of permanent, stable, loving care from 2 parents wherever possible it must be the case that moving more children into adoption as speedily as is wise and feasible should be society’s priority.
In relation to the concern about ‘exclusion of’ or ‘discrimination against’ Christians I want to note that running a very negative response to a small number of difficult cases has not been helpful. As a diocese we work with a County and a City authority of 2 different political hues and have found them entirely positive about us encouraging church members to put themselves forward for fostering and adoption roles.
So I believe the best response to any perceived negativity is a proactive response in raising up fostering and adoption as a possible vocation for Christian parents – whether as singles or couples. Let us be more on the front foot showing how Christians can offer wonderful homes for children who deserve a loving family home environment in which to grow and develop. We are working on such a positive campaign in our area with the full cooperation of the local authorities who believe that the churches, and indeed the mosques, temples, synagogues and gurdwaras, do have many people who would be excellent foster carers and adoptive parents.
We are after all a people who believe in ‘being adopted into God’s family’. Adoption is something we all experience with God so why not mirror it in our lives by fostering and adopting children?
PLAY & SPACE
Play England, and others, have done a wonderful job in recent years of highlighting the importance for children of play, and of space in which to play.
The importance of space was also highlighted this autumn by RIBA as they reported on ensuring that new homes which we build have adequate internal space for children as they grow, and access to outdoor space for play. Their report suggested we are building new homes with too little internal space – and we are not building enough of them as well.
Yet the importance of play and the vision of it as part of childhood and evidence of a healthy, wholesome community, is nothing new. Isaiah offers a wonderful vision of a child playing with a snake (Isaiah 11.6ff). Zechariah offers a vision of children at play in the streets alongside the elderly secure and at peace.
Jesus observed children at play in the market place and saw their games as a picture of how his society was responding to hi and John the Baptist’s ministry (Matthew 11.16ff)
Then there is the Creator God making play, even at play, in the variety and hilarity of creation.
Play is God given.
So where are we engaging in debates about house/home size, open space and play space in our local and national settings?
Many of our church premises are used for toddler and playgroups, children’s and youth clubs. But might we be able to be more enterprising in creating play space on our church land and in our church premises? There are some fine examples of this already happening. Let us look to do more.
The nature of the Christian Child Care Forum means I shall only mention this in passing. But in considering the total wellbeing of children we must be fully aware of the huge changes taking place in education – Academies, Free Schools, debates about Curriculum, the changing structure for Higher Education are all massive. It is good that we have people significantly engaged with government and local authorities
In this 200th anniversary year of the National Society there are huge questions to be addressed. I was pleased to be a part of The Watson Symposium 2 weeks ago which sought to explore some of the debates about Christian distinctiveness and about spirituality in all schools.
The growth in youth unemployment is one of the biggest wastes in our society at present. There are a whole range of issues to be tackled including those for whom work has not been part of their family life for several generations; the help needed for them is very different from that needed for those for whom it is a new experience. Both need to be tackled. There is a huge waste in graduates who are either unemployed or in jobs that hardly stretch their capacity. The latter is often taking away work from others for whom it is stretching rewarding work. We need further work from the public sector, businesses and the voluntary sector to seek to create meaningful, rewarding employment for all young people, appropriate to their level of skill and education.
I know there are leaders in business, including banking, who are deeply concerned and not only want to take action but are beginning to be creative about doing so.
I think this will require a radical shift – those of us in work might need to think about agreeing to reduce our income to create capacity for others. We might need to work less – it does seem madness that those in work in many cases are working longer and harder to the detriment of their family life very often; whilst others who have capacity are not being engaged. Using public money to create jobs must be a better use of our corporate resources than simply paying out benefit. Perhaps churches should take some prophetic steps to create jobs locally by a greater sharing of our common wealth. We already do it through paying pastors / ministers/ youth workers etc – let us see how we might create some more. There are no easy answers but simply trotting out a mantra about the need for ‘growth’ will not lead us to think differently and act radically, which is what we need to do.
But we, as Christians, are not simply concerned with ‘education’ or ‘social work’ we are concerned with the total transformation of society. This means the spiritual change of our society.
We do believe in social capital – we are concerned about bonding, bridging and leveraging but we also believe in spiritual capital.
We believe in a world in which values are turned upside down; where the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted and the reviled are the truly blessed. We don’t believe might is right nor that it wins; we don’t believe the market is all or that the market rules; we don’t believe it is a world for adults, we believe it is a world for children and adults together; we don’t believe there is no hope, we have a God of hope; we follow a teacher, a leader, a master, a saviour who places children in the midst, blesses them, points us to them, welcomes their worship and lays down his life for them.
In all we do for Children and the Big Society we have to keep Jesus example, teaching, dying and rising ever before us. Only that way will we contribute in a truly Christian way.