DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Nukes, Foster Kids, and Complexity

Written by: on March 7, 2019

The U.S. nuclear arsenal is run by IBM Series/1 computers which were built in the 1970s that use eight inch floppy disks (the big black one on the left) to control them.i Why would we leave such an important part of our national defense be run by what is, relatively speaking, ancient technology? There are actually a lot of reasons, but two float to the top. First, the software works and fixing that which is not broken is usually foolish. Second and more importantly, these computers cannot be remotely hacked. They have never touched the Internet, they could not even if they tried. The phone in your pocket likely has more processing power. There are efforts, no doubt, to modernize these systems, but as it turns out it is really difficult to build a system that does everything the current system does and adds the modern bells and whistles and is not hackable. The hackable part is the most important thing, because these are nuclear missiles. The last thing we want is a rogue state to get in and start World War III because someone forgot to hash a password correctly. As such, they continue to be controlled by computers built in the 1970s.

In their book Simple Habits for Complex Times Jennifer Garvey Berger and Kieth Johnston attempt to provide a set of habits to form to help in making decisions and taking action on complex issues. They define three habits to repeat when encountering a difficult topic: ask different questions, take multiple perspectives, and see the systems at work.ii Their premise is that in our current time we cannot consistently expect what is probable to happen and instead need to be able to quantify what is possible and be ready to act.iii

Data seems to be the connecting factor for the authors, because you cannot lead or act without correct and, hopefully, complete data. Data collection really is the crux of the three habits they prescribe. Each habit helps to get at more data. They argue that without all the information our brains will make connections that are not necessarily true.iv With all this in mind they proceed to go through various situations where data collection, using the three habits, can be applied.

The story presented along with the theory actually hit close to home for me. Our first foster child was placed with us because his father had beaten his mother’s other child (from a different dad, obviously) to within an inch of his life. So the children were removed and we got Michael for a while until his mom had broken up and moved away from his dad. While I am concerned that we have nukes being controlled by 1970s tech, I am more concerned that we have over 400,000 kids in foster care, many of whom come from homes like Michael’s. A large percentage of those children will never know the luxury of a ‘normal’ family life.

When a child “ages out” of foster care – meaning they turn 18 without a legal guardian – he is left to fend for himself. If she is fortunate enough to live in a foster home then her foster parent(s) can allow her to stay with her at their expense for as long as they like. But for millions of foster children this is not an option since they are housed in group homes, because once a foster kid turns 7 (boys) or 8 (girls) their chance of being taken in drops precipitously and by the time they are teenagers it is nearly zero. So they age out without a safety net. The results of having kids age out without a safety net are like the half life of a nuclear explosion, devastating and remarkably long lasting.

  • 20% will be instantly homeless
  • 50% will find gainful employment
  • Greater than 97% of age out foster kids never earn any degree past high school
  • 70% of girls will be pregnant within the first 3 years out of care
  • 25% will suffer from PTSD for the rest of their lives because of a lack of servicesv

To say that this is a complex situation is an understatement. The first question usually asked is, “how do we make these statistics better?” Which is a good question and leads to services and ministries that care for kids after they age out. Unfortunately there are not many of these at present, but they do seem to be growing. But I think we need to step back and ask why the kids aren’t being adopted and then back one more level and ask how they got in the situation where they had to be in care in the first place. Each of these are decision points that need answers that come from a seemingly infinite number of other questions. And yet, none of them answers what may be the most important questions of how can we care for the individual child.

It seems that if we are going to ask different questions in this situation that we need to select a decision point and make that the hill we need to take. In my case it is the question of why kids are not being placed in homes and why specifically does it seem that the American church has had such a limp response in light of many biblical directives? If everyone wants to be the hero of their story,vi what is the hero arc for not helping? These are questions I would like to get answers for. That being said, Berger and Johnston’s book will be of use as I dive deeper into these, and many other, questions.

i Longley, Robert. “US Nuclear Weapons Control Computers Still Use 8-Inch Floppy Disks.” Thoughtco. Last modified May 14, 2017.

ii Berger, Jennifer Garvey, and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, (Stanford: Stanford Business Books, 2016) 13.

iii Ibid, 9.

iv Ibid, 37.

v 51 Useful Aging Out of Foster Care Statistics | Social Race Media -.” National Foster Youth Institute, Last modified May 26, 2017.

viBerger and Johnston, 23.

About the Author


Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

9 responses to “Nukes, Foster Kids, and Complexity”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    If everyone wants to be the hero of their story, what is the hero arc for not helping?

    Sean – this quote can preach! That said, this post is devastating. There are many issues the church is lagging far too behind in and you are right . . . this is one of them. Thank you for your voice and your research.

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      Thanks Jacob. It’s a provocative line wrapped in tons of nuance. I honestly consider the continual devolution of the foster system to be worse than a nuclear strike. Aged out foster kids make up 8% of our population and well over a quarter of the homeless population — some put it much higher.

  2. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    Thanks for this post, Sean. I thought of you and your research interests while reading this book. It’s so complicated and complex, as you mentioned. I appreciated you asking different questions. What can we do as a society and as Evangelicals do to ask better questions?

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      It starts with a single question, can I/we (as a family) do something for orphans directly. If yes, do it. If no, then what can you do to help those who are able to directly help orphans? It doesn’t have to be complicated, taking them coffee, babysitting for an hour while they clear up the most recent mess with social security/DCFS/DSHS/faceless-government entity, support orgs helping get homeless foster kids off the street. Then follow the rabbit hole where it leads.

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Sean, your questions are the same that I recently asked an organization fighting for religious freedom. “Are you really pro-life or just pro-birth? Pro-life means you are also fighting for the life of the child after they are born. It means you make sure the systems are not against them being safe, loved and cared for and that all children have an opportunity for these basic human essentials.” As you and I have discussed, being adopted, I have a great concern about this and appreciate your research and your lifestyle.

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Sean, Once again thanks for your unique and well articulated perspective. I look forward to seeing how your research will lead the Church forward in this complex area. You as the Church are certainly leading in your context.

  5. Porter says:

    Who can write more clearly than you about such things!
    I promise you, nobody, I’ve seen something like this only
    on I enjoyed the article and suppose you have more such material?
    If yes, so please post it because it is somewhat unusual for me at the present moment, and not just
    for me, that is my opinion. Hopefully, I can get an in-depth manual of yours and take note of all of the news and the
    most recent data.

Leave a Reply to Sean Dean Cancel reply