Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.
– 1 Peter 2:25
Over the past couple of months we have experienced several teen girls running away. It’s amazing that the teen boys tend to stick around for the most part. The girls, however, have been lured to this life of perceived freedom that awaits them on the outside of the walls of our shelter, group homes, foster homes, and residential facilities. As adults who have lived a lot longer than these children, we see the danger and the emptiness that they are pursuing, but they don’t get it. For many of them, life will have to be their teacher instead of sage advice and guidance from a trusted adult. Besides, adults have already let them down, which is why they are in foster care in the first place.
The pattern is that these teens will stay for a couple of days after being placed at SafePlace following a placement breakdown or their initial entrance into care. A placement breakdown means that the child was put in a licensed setting (group home, foster home, residential facility) or with a person related to the family by blood or nuance of association, and for whatever reason that placement did not work out. Most times it is because of a child’s behaviors. When a child initially comes into care, he or she has been removed from an abusive situation where their caregiver isn’t being much of a good caregiver and they are brought to SafePlace while they wait to be placed in one of the aforementioned scenarios.
There is one child in particular that has SafePlace in a true upheaval. She is 14 and has only been in care for a year and a half and has already had several placement breakdowns. She has a child who is currently in foster care and she definitely knows the ins and outs of prostitution. She is a chronic runaway, but something keeps bringing her back to SafePlace. She knows it’s safe. Sometimes when she leaves she will encourage other teens to go with her. We are not a locked facility and we can’t force anyone to stay within our walls that can make decisions whether to stay or to go (obviously a 4 year old would not be walking out of our doors because they said they were “over it”).
Her running has become more frequent now. My fear is that she will end up seriously hurt or even dead and there is nothing that we can really do about it. We cannot restraint her.
As staff pull their hair out about this and other situations, I am reminded about the prodigal son described in the bible. The parable found in Luke 15 speaks of a young man who was well kept and had no needs. The lust of his flesh drove him to become entitled and self-righteous, which subsequently led to him to leaving the security of his home, squandering his inheritance, and loathing his life. He came back to his father with his tail between his legs and begs to become a servant. His father would have no such thing! His father placed him back in his position as heir and celebrates his return.
Our heavenly father does this with us. We many times do what these teens are doing. We get comfortable in our Christian bubble, but it begins to get boring. The world that we once knew or want to know beckons us enough for our flesh to rise up and overtake our discernment, and we run out and have a good time. People crying Y.O.L.O (you only live once) all up in the streets while they are participating in all kinds of debauchery! Then, when the hand of lust that waved wonderful indulgences in front of us now slaps us in the face and laughs, we go back to our father crying foul. It’s habitual. We come and go in our sinful cycles. What does our God do? He cleans us, loves us, and puts us back in our place as heir every.single.time. As long as our hearts are in the right place he will do this, but once we become hard and really want the life on the “outside” God will let us keep that life and there will be hell to pay for it. We will truly suffer at the biding of our own hands.
Knowing this, why is it so difficult for us to help these kids? They run our patience down and make us weary. They create safety hazzards for other children who we are serving. It feels like we are hitting a brick wall with our hands tied behind out backs because there is not much that we can do for them. We advocate for them to the powers that be and sometimes we have to be stern in what will accept, but there are days when it feels like it is not enough.
Lord fill us with compassion, mercy, forgiveness, love, and urgency for justice for these children that visit us. Help us to remember that these children represent us. Their actions, rebellion, hurts, fears, and anxieties are all things that we experience as your children. Help us to serve them in a way that glorifies you.