Kids and Community Responsibility

Jun 23, 2020


When we hear about foster care, it is often in the context of failure – specifically, that someone, somewhere who is responsible for the “foster care system” is failing. Blame is often attributed to government actors and agencies who run the state foster care system and, therefore, are charged with the care of children in that system. Although there is some truth to the deficiencies of government systems, generally, and in foster care, specifically, the ultimate responsibility here lies with us.

Our collective approach to the care of children in state custody suffers from a phenomenon known as diffusion of responsibility, in which individuals in large groups assume that others either are responsible for taking action or have already done so. This phenomenon, also known as the bystander effect, has been used to explain the failure to render aid in emergencies or during crimes occurring among large groups in public.

The effect of the diffusion of responsibility phenomenon is even more pronounced when the victim is not readily visible to us, such as the approximately 1050 children in state custody from West Texas.

1049 – Children in state custody from West Texas

211 – Children in state custody from Ector County

123 – Children in state custody from Midland County

296 – Children in state custody from Tom Green County

Children in state custody have been failed by those primarily responsible for their care and safety. In West Texas, about half are placed with relatives. The rest are cared for in licensed foster homes – community members who have accepted responsibility for their day-to-day care.

These children come from our local schools, neighborhoods, and small towns. When our government must intervene in their families, they become our kids. Our community responsibility to them cannot be fully outsourced to government actors and agencies. Those administrative units are necessary but not sufficient to care for our kids.


There are those in our community who have seen the need and responded. They are the foster and adoptive parents, caseworkers, volunteer advocates, donors, and others who live next door to you. They are silent heroes, not only to the children but also to their communities.

“We need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” – Fred Rogers

The problem of vulnerable children and families is a community problem. It reflects on our community values and priorities. It is true that when parents fail children, they also fail us. However, it is also true that when communities fail parents, parents fail children.

The goal is not just a “foster care system” in which we all share responsibility for children in state custody and do our part (no matter how small) to improve the lives of those children. More broadly, the goal is a community that creates an ecosystem that supports parents and protects children. We create that community by recognizing need and responding as individuals, neighborhoods, social groups, and faith communities.

Thank you to those who have seen the need and answered the call!