Daniel was four months old when the police knocked at his parents' door. They came to save the newborn, but nothing could prepare them for what they saw.

In the first 120 days of life, Daniel had been bitten, shaken, and thrown against walls. He also had a fractured rib and a black eye. On the night the police came to rescue him, he was hiding in a pile of pillows, unable to distinguish between those who wanted to help or hurt him.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Daniel is just one of 565,000 children who are now in foster care in America. The goal is almost always reunification with the birth family. Sometimes a relative will care for children. Other children need foster care for a day, a week, or a month. Others end up being legally adopted by a new mom or dad.

The number of children in foster care has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, but the number of foster homes continues to dwindle. Some families eventually adopt these neglected children, but that often means they reach the limit of children allowed in a foster home. Either way, there's a shortage of beds for kids like Daniel.

How We Got Involved

My wife, Amy, and I were at a Rebecca St. James concert just before Christmas 1997 when the popular Christian recording artist paused to talk about the need to sponsor children through Compassion International. The concert reminded my wife of John 21:15-17 where Jesus asked three times if Peter loved Him.

"Lord," Peter replied, "you know I love you."

"Then feed my sheep," Jesus replied.

To Amy, that meant taking care of needy children, ones who need the basic love, protection, and guidance to thrive in life.

We agreed that God wanted us to care for children in the foster care system.

After attending the training courses required to be a licensed foster parent in our state, we redecorated one of the bedrooms in our house to make it feel like a "home away from home". In the weeks following our certification as foster parents, we received dozens of calls from social services.

"We have a 14-year-old boy who just needs a home for the night. If you can't take him, he'll have to go to a youth shelter."

"A nine-month-old was found in a filthy house with nails scattered about and holes in the floor. Could you provide a home while the parents clean up?"

"We've had to close down another foster home due to abuse. Can you take two sisters?"

Unfortunately, we had to say no more often than we were able to say yes. Over the next two years, we were able to invite 15 children into our home, but our house could never hold more than three kids at a time. We even had a chance to care for Daniel.

These children aren't just numbers in the foster system; they are precious gifts of life, and we remember every child who has come into our home. Four-year-old Amber often got her words confused and had a cute laugh. Baby Doug sounded like he was laughing when he cried. Six-year-old Brad and 10-year-old Janet missed their mothers and sometimes cried themselves to sleep at night. Eight-year-old George learned to play baseball and liked going to the radio station where I worked at the time. Two sisters named Nicole and Robin were with us for only a day while another home could be located. Daniel had a wonderfully contagious laugh. Of the 15 children we cared for, we were fortunate enough to adopt one little blonde girl. We call her our "forever" daughter.

Where to Start

Foster care is in high demand, and families that consider the option should research it thoroughly before making the commitment.

One of the best places to start researching foster care is in the phone book. Call the child welfare division of social services and ask about how to become a foster parent.

The task may seem impossible, but taking things step-by-step can equip parents like you to make your way through the licensing process. This includes a home study (for safety) and a criminal background check. Larger cities typically have private agencies they use to license homes and place children. In rural communities, foster parents may be dealing with the same state caseworker for all the children in their home.

There may even be some non-traditional ways to help. Foster homes often need donated clothes and furniture. Business owners could offer free services or discounts to foster children and foster families. If round-the-clock care seems too overwhelming at first, some potential foster parents could become certified respite care providers, taking children for a few days at a time to give long-term foster care parents a rest.

A Future and a Hope

Today Amber is living with her grandma. George is back home with his mother and step-dad. Although she's not living in what I would consider ideal conditions, Janet has been reunited with her mother. Fortunately, baby Daniel was adopted by a distant relative and is doing much better.

There are many children who need foster care. Can you help feed the sheep?

* Names of foster children have been changed to protect identities.

John Tracy is a broadcast producer at Focus on the Family. Copyright ©2003, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.