The Dispatch: More from CWR...

National Adoption Month and focusing on foster care

“If we really are pro-life,” says Lisa Wheeler, “and if we are really about caring for the child in the womb, the unborn, the mother, then we have to be looking at the crisis of foster care.

Image: Ryunosuke Kikuno/

At a time when the emphasis on the nuclear family has noticeably weakened, thousands of children face the prospect of growing up without ever having established permanent family connections. There are more than 400,000 children in the American foster care system who have no permanent home. Some of those children will eventually be reunited with their birth parents, but more than 114,000 are legally free to be adopted. Many of the children and youth who are waiting to be adopted are at risk of aging out of foster care at 18.

The Children’s Bureau has designated the month of November as National Adoption Month, in the hope of increasing national awareness of adoption issues. In particular, the goal is to bring attention to the need for adoptive families of teens in the U.S. foster care system.

Lisa Ann Wheeler, founder of Carmel Communications and an adoptive parent, understands from personal experience how the foster care system in America is broken. Lisa and her husband Tim have joined the effort to provide a loving home for foster children in need. The Wheelers are the proud parents of five children, ages 13 to 6, all of whom were adopted through the foster care system. The Wheeler family now live in Texas, but as a resident of Georgia for many years, Lisa ran a program in Cherokee County which provided resources for foster care families.

The work continued year-round; however, especially at Christmastime, they would pair foster children with churches, businesses, or individuals to provide for the child’s needs and wants. Perhaps a foster child would like to play a sport but could not afford the uniforms and travel required. A musically talented girl might hope to purchase a guitar or a violin – and of course, there is the added cost of lessons.

“Not everyone can be a foster parent,” Lisa acknowledged, but added that even if taking a child into your own home is not practical, there are ways you can help. “All foster parents need support,” Lisa explained. “This can come in the form of mentorship in education or life skills. You can also support by helping with the needs of foster children and foster families, making sure they have the equipment they need. Perhaps a foster child would like to play on a baseball team; but there are expenses involved in that particular sport. Foster parents – especially those fostering babies and younger children – need cribs, strollers, car seats and diapers.”

As a Catholic with personal experience in the foster care system, Lisa worried that Catholics are really missing the mark in the area of foster care. “If we really are pro-life,” Lisa says, “and if we are really about caring for the child in the womb, the unborn, the mother, then we have to be looking at the crisis of foster care. So many of these children are in the system for the reasons why women choose abortion. It’s important for Catholics to recognize the need, and to support foster families, or become foster parents for these children. At the heart of the gospel is the knowledge that every child belongs somewhere.”

What steps can you take to help children in crisis situations? As Lisa notes, the foster care system is not a cohesive system around the country. How you can help depends on where you live, and on how your particular state advocates for foster care. Lisa encourages concerned Catholics to seek out their state’s Department of Children and Family Services, to learn whether there are information sessions to help citizens step in, either as a foster parent or as a resource.

One concern raised by potential foster parents is whether they are permitted to lead the children in their own faith tradition. Lisa explains that Catholic foster parents can take younger children to Mass and to religious education classes, as long as the birth parents don’t object. “You have to understand when you become part of this child’s journey,” she notes, “that while he is in foster care, he is not your child. You have to walk with him in the place that he is. It doesn’t have anything to do with your faith; your job is just to be the caregiver for him.”

It’s more of an issue for older teen children, however, since they’ve grown in their faith. Lisa reported that a personal friend of hers fostered children who had been raised in the Mormon church. One requirement imposed by the biological family was that the children be permitted to attend Mormon services and to be mentored by members of the LDS church. They could also take them to their own family’s church, unless doing so meant missing a service at the Mormon church.

While encouraging Catholic couples to consider foster care and adoption, Lisa is not unaware of the challenges posed by the hurtful events in a child’s past. “Parenting is hard,” she says. “It doesn’t matter whether your family is biological or in the situation that I’m in (my family came together through adoption). But raising children in foster care is next-level hard, because you’re dealing with the traumatic circumstances that marked their early life.”

Lisa’s children, like other adoptees, came from homes where they faced deprivation, neglect, and drug use. Her daughter’s birth mother was a lifelong drug addict; exposure to that lifestyle affected her early years. The younger boys, three brothers, came from a home where they faced physical abuse; in fact, their biological parents are incarcerated for child abuse.

Unfortunately, Lisa reports, the foster care system does not always work: Caseworkers are overworked, their caseload is so heavy that there’s not always sufficient time to evaluate a particular situation. There is a systematic emphasis on reuniting families, which takes precedence over the best interests of the child. The result is often a “revolving door” – children go back home to their biological families, only to be back in the system within a few months.

In the case of Lisa’s family, for example, her three youngest children were once returned to their family of origin, despite the incidents of abuse which had led to their being placed in foster care. Within three weeks of reunification, the middle son ended up in the hospital.

Catholics who are considering foster care will be encouraged by the warm adoption story told by the Kendrick Brothers in their recent film “Lifemark.” When “Lifemark” was released in theaters in September 2022, it was enthusiastically received by viewers – earning a 97% approval on the review site Rotten Tomatoes, and a 100% critic score on the site. Movie critic and talk show host Michael Medved described it as “Undeniably moving… with universally capable performances creating a range of sympathetic characters.”

“Lifemark” stars Kirk Cameron as the father in an adoption success story. Eighteen-year-old David’s birth mother, who had become pregnant while still in high school and who gave him up for adoption, reached out hoping she might meet the son she’d held only once. There is some tension, but David decides to accept the invitation to connect. The end result is heartwarming: Birth parents and adoptive parents meet, and express their love and appreciation – to the birth parents for choosing life, and for allowing their son to be adopted into a loving home; and to the adoptive parents, for nurturing David and giving him the opportunities he might have missed.

Following its successful theater run, “Lifemark” is now streaming exclusively on Pure Flix. Executive producer Alex Kendrick said of the film, “We’ve loved hearing stories of the life-changing impact this movie is having. That’s why we’re excited for even more people to see this inspiring story when it comes to Pure Flix in time for Thanksgiving.”

And in case you’re interested, “Lifemark” is based on a real-life story, told in real time in a shorter (30-minute) documentary, “I Lived on Parker Avenue.” That documentary is available on YouTube.

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About Kathy Schiffer 30 Articles
Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.


  1. This is a helpful article. Tens of thousands of children ready to be adopted into caring families. Too many couples see adoption as a cure for childlessness rather than what it is: a remedy for people who have no parents.

  2. My husband and I adopted TWO children. In going down this path I learned many things, much of it disturbing. Foster care in the US is not the greatest way to help children. Far too many languish in the system for YEARS with no resolution. The bearing problem is the sole government goal of “family reunification” of the child back to his broken home. To accomplish this the children are stuck in foster care for YEARS. Freeing the children for adoption and a loving home is not on their primary agenda. Too many foster children end up abused in foster care, or dead once returned home to their often dysfunctional parents. The reunification often takes place irrespective of whether or not the bio-parents are prepared to safely parent this child, and sometimes over the objections of the child themselves. These folks are often in the throes of addiction or other issues and are unprepared to raise a child. But the system refuses to release the children for adoption. I am sure that there are many selfless foster parents out there. But when my husband and I attended an information session for potential foster parents, the ONLY questions we heard from the potential foster parents there centered on how much money they were going to get to do this job. This is a money making operation for some people. Period. As for the snarky comment that many couples see adoption as a cure for childlessness…well, duh. But lets not pretend that the US foster care system helps facilitate adoption in any way. American couples travel the world to adopt because adoption is almost impossible within the US due to government intervention and insistence on family reunification, even when it is clearly inappropriate. Many of the over 100,000 children who are claimed to be free for adoption are either much older teens, or have significant physical and emotional problems, which means the average person is ill-equipped to handle raising them. In some cases these issues arise BECAUSE they were shuttled from home to home in the foster care system. These are not by any means simple placements. American couples can and do adopt children who are malnourished and often ill, suffering from heart and eye maladies and facial clefts and other issues. They secure them medial aid unavailable in their home countries, and provide them a loving home. Are the adoptive parents hoping to adopt these children, often stuck in an inadequately supplied orphanage setting? Yes indeed. Is such a motivation criminal or even selfish? Absolutely not. Not any more than any other parent conceives a child out of “selfishness”. Adoptive parents are vetted by social workers, must provide personal references, are fingerprinted for a criminal check and must provide proof of financial and work stability before being approved to adopt. One could suggest its too bad that biological parents are not required to do the same. While the govt here refuses to concede that some biological parents CANNOT be “saved” or fixed in a timely way, children will continue to spend their lives in foster care without a real family to call their own, with ongoing damage as a result. That is a national disgrace.

    • What you describe is not out of sync with my and my wife’s experiences. But our society buys deeply into parental “rights,” sometimes to the detriment of the greater aspect, responsibility. Our daughter’s case was extended in the courts until she was five years old. On the whole her four foster homes offered a positive experience. She wasn’t well-socialized when she arrived at our home, but we had a lot of good support from the state, the school system, and many friends.

      One problem with couples seeing adoption as a solution for childlessness is that many families do not consider adoption when they already have children. It’s not a matter of selfishness, but of openness to new horizons. However, there are parents who do have selfish motivations: how much money will be in the stipend, how much the child will look like them, the malleability of an infant as opposed to an adolescent. Sure, it takes heroes in some instances.

      What is the role of the Church in all this? Why not support couples and families with children who want to adopt?

      Foster care is indeed not the greatest way. Sadly, for a few hundred thousand Americans, it is the only way.

      • Well Todd, I do think you are picking on the wrong people. The only people I have ever seen get a “stipend” are Foster Care “parents”. The fact that your daughter was not well socialized when you adopted her says something about the care she got, and you are fortunate the situation with her was not worse. I know more than a few adoptive parents. NONE of them ever got a “stipend”. In point of fact they were required to lay out a great deal of money to agencies for fees. Understandable as revenue to operate the establishment must come from someplace. But NEVER did any adoptive parent of my acquaintance GET money. Not a dime. Plus of course we had to pay out of pocket for social worker visits, documents, notaries, medical records, all sorts of things. In the case of my youngest son, we paid for the two of us to fly to Europe and pick up our baby, remaining there for a week at our own expense as the adoption worked it’s way through government processes.

        I dont know when you adopted but no adoptive parent since 1970 has likely had any opportunity at all to”select” a child based on the child looking like them. They are lucky to get a baby, period. Often these days those children look NOTHING like them.Many caucasian adoptive parents for example, come home thrilled with their baby from a foreign land who is black, hispanic or asian. The only folks I hear can “special order” a baby are those involved an in-vitro process, where they can select for characteristics if a donor egg or sperm is required.Those folks are undergoing medical procedures or hiring a woman to carry a baby for them and are really not “adoptive” parents in the real sense. When we adopted our first son, the birth-mother was given the profiles of several adoptive couples by our agency to look at, and SHE chose who would get her baby.

        I do think few people chose to adopt if they already have children. The reason is, it is too emotionally difficult, and too intrusive a process, too expensive and takes too long. You are being judged and measured at every step in a way biological parents NEVER are. Who wants to do that if they do not have to? Only the most altrustic would CHOOSE to dive into this pool if they already have a child. . To those who do, I say kudos. But I think they are few in number indeed.

        My final word: I am extremely grateful to the women who gave birth to my sons. They did so in an era when abortion was an available option for them, but they cared enough to chose life for their babies. Getting our boys was the best, most amazing and wonderful thing that ever happened to my husband and me. I love them dearly and cannot imagine my life without them.

        • Not sure it’s “picking on” as much as critical of the complaints about adoption, and a certain lack of knowledge about the possibilities. There has been a lot of fussing about so few infants available from Catholic Charities, but the Church’s charity arms have rarely, if ever, sought to address the adoption crisis by helping parents prepare. Or organizing ways to draw young people out of foster care and into welcoming Catholic families.

          “The only people I have ever seen get a ‘stipend’ are Foster Care ‘parents’.”

          We received an adoption stipend for our daughter until she was 21. The state also provided secondary medical insurance which covered copays on cardiology and other costs.

          I am aware that many couples choose private adoptions through agencies. Then yes, they bear the costs. We knew a few families who did this.

          And yes, even for families such as ours who received a lot of moral and economic support, the process was grueling, two years of training and seminars and home studies, especially as we were declined about a dozen times for individuals and family groups.

          However one looks at it, or whatever one’s experiences are, it takes heroes to adopt. The world needs more heroes. The cause is great and worthy.

          • Todd, I dont know how you qualified for a stipend . We were never offered such a thing. Neither of our adoptions were “private” (by which I mean conducted with a lawyer acting as a go-between for the two parties . One of our children came from a Catholic agency and the second from a foreign orphanage setting via an American adoption agency. That child, unlike my American-born son, came home malnourished and significantly underweight, and reached their physical milestone markers of standing, walking, etc late. We were told it was due to lack of stimulation and personal attention in the orphanage . I do not think I am comfortable with the concept of getting money to parent a child unless there are significant health maladies which would stress the adoptive family, or otherwise make an adoption unlikely. We also had to endure home studies and parenting classes as you mention. In addition we are asked to take an infant CPR class, something I am rather certain no bio parent is asked to do. I think adoption is a wonderful thing which sadly appears to get little encouragement in the church when it is trying to support the pro-life movement. I have NEVER heard it mentioned at all.

          • Iowa had a very liberal definition of “special needs,” and our daughter was designated as such because of her medical condition. Multiracial children were also termed that, and all of those adoptions, infant through later teen, included stipends. As we moved around the country, we learned Missouri, Kansas, and Washington also offered stipends–larger than ours. In the case of WA, about 80% larger. My wife would have needed to shift from part-time work to full time for us to afford a child on my church salary.

            A diocesan Catholic Charities social worker did make a quiet offer to bump us to the “front of the line,” for one of their few children. That didn’t seem right to me, nor to my wife. So we went with the state DHS. They were excellent.

            While many libertarians and conservatives get nervous about government funding, it is more economical by far to fund parents to do what institutions *could* do, but for costing a lot more money.

            Your testimony here brings back memories of our early contacts with other parents. Our daughter is in her mid-20s now, so we’ve drifted away from the adoption circles we once knew and in which we were active.

            Yes, all those classes–birth parents would benefit from them, and their children especially. Some people I know do them anyway, and improve their skills as much as they can. But no, it is not required. People feel parents have a “right” to their children and to raise them however they see fit. There’s no bucking that trend, especially on this website.

  3. Tod, I can see where a stipend would be needed in cases you describe. But I remain concerned about the motivations of some people. As I said earlier, our brief experience in a Foster Care agency was disturbing in the extreme with those folks clearly financially motivated. Not a good reason to parent.
    I agree…. It’s been some time since I have attended an adoptive parents meeting, something I used to do with frequency. My children are also well into adulthood. There are aspects of it I miss, like sharing the common adoption experience with others in the same situation. I do think the church should make adoption a more familiar option to church members.

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