Lend a Hand to Foster Families
Foster care. Those two words may bring a multitude of emotions to mind. Maybe for you it’s a sense of sadness for the children who have been taken out of their homes and placed in the foster care system. Anger may be stirred up in your heart as you think about those who take advantage of the foster care system by using it as a means to financial gain. Foster care may bring back painful memories, as you may have been that child in the foster care system. Or maybe the saying, “I could never do that, I would get too attached” comes to mind.
Regardless of what comes to mind for you, we want you to know that this article is not designed to guilt you into becoming a foster parent, nor are we hoping that you’ll give all your money away and take a vow of poverty to fund an orphanage. After all, If foster care is over-romanticized and you make a decision to become a foster parent based on an unrealistic picture of what foster care truly is, we are not only setting your family up for failure, it could also inadvertently inflict further trauma on the child that is placed into your home. Our heart’s desire is that our church family, and maybe even other church families, would see that foster care is one of the greatest opportunities to answer Christ’s call to care for the orphan (whether temporary or otherwise).
Contrary to popular belief, foster care is an incredibly approachable way to serve a massively underserved demographic within every community. The truth is that the wider church is dropping the ball in foster care. In the US there are currently about 125,000 children that are awaiting adoption from foster care and 380,000 churches. The math here is sad—if even one family out of every three churches adopted one of these children, we would empty out the orphanages of the United States.
We want to share the top three lessons we have learned after two months of fostering. We hope that by the end of this article you will not only see how challenging foster care can be, but also how much of a blessing it can be to your family. We believe that the challenging nature of foster care in and of itself is not a good enough excuse to omit yourself from Christ’s call to care for the orphan. So read this article, truly search your heart, and ask yourself the question, “how can I get involved?” rather than, “should I get involved?”
Here are the top three lessons we have learned two months into fostering:
Foster care is a picture of the gospel
We are going for the big one right from the start. Hang with us here.
When our first placement arrived, we were filled with so many thoughts: Are they supposed to call us mom and dad? What time do they go to bed? Will they tell me if they have to pee? Or a frequent one: Help!
After the initial shock wore off, we realized that foster care is one of the most articulate pictures of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we had ever tangibly experienced. Much like how Christ came down to our level, we—as foster families—enter into the traumatic and painful realities of sin, embracing it with our whole lives in order to be a conduit for a child’s healing. We too were broken and couldn’t help ourselves; we were destined to be a product of a generational curse if someone hadn’t stepped into the uncomfortable gap on our behalf. In the moments where fostering a child feels too messy, when relations with the biological families seem as though they are all too much to handle, we look to the cross and are reminded that Christ gave it all for us.
While fostering, there are many moments where a child is expressing their trauma in ways that leave you speechless. It’s in these moments where we want to shout, “If only you knew how much I am sacrificing for you!” Then we are instantly convicted by the irony of that statement. Christ came down to save people who berated him with profanity, mocked him, and hung him on a cross. Ultimately, we foster to glorify Christ and to represent how Christ didn’t hold anything back when he gave his life for us. So also, we must be willing to sacrifice our comfort, our selfish desires, and, oftentimes, our hearts for these children. The sacrifice we make is a smaller, imperfect rendition of Christ’s willingness to care for us, even when we didn’t know him. Part of this sacrifice means having a willingness to accept the pain that will likely come with saying goodbye to a child that we’ve grown attached to. These kids are worth getting attached to, and if we as the church don’t embrace this need, who will?
We are being taught more than the children in our homes are
Have you ever stood next to a massive bodybuilder and suddenly your scrawniness is glaring? Foster care feels like that at times. The closest comparison would be the marriage relationship. You may have heard the saying “marriage doesn’t cause your problems, it amplifies the problems you already had.” Having foster children in our home has made the selfishness in our hearts more apparent. While this refining process has been painful, God has graciously revealed the areas where we need to die to ourselves.
God will teach you so much when you foster a child, and he is faithful to provide the strength you need to face your shortcomings. If you are involved in foster care in any capacity, you will quickly realize how little you know. Maybe it’s just us, but most of the time you feel as though you’re in over your head; it is only then that you begin to truly comprehend what it means to be wholly dependent on God.
The experience that we’ve had in foster care has been visceral and real. It has allowed for many moments where we have had to actively embrace patience and rid ourselves of selfish ambition. The truth is, we aren’t here to fix these kids. We’re here to be faithful, meet them where they are, and be a part of bringing them to where they will be. That process can be massively humbling and requires patience, discernment, and a willingness to royally fail. In the midst of these shortcomings—if you pay close enough attention—you can see the lessons God is teaching you through the trials you face.
The cycle of generational sin is real
This cycle has to be broken. The cycle of abuse, the cycle of addiction, the cycle of generational sin. Many children being placed in foster homes are like the Israelites—innately having the desire to worship the idols that previous generations taught them to worship. The painful reality is that these children’s parents likely inherited these tendencies from previous generations too. With foster care, we get an opportunity to help families break free from the cycle of generational sin. We are not only ministering to the children that are placed in our homes, we are also ministering to their families. Foster care is simply glorified daycare if we don’t also minister to the broken families of these children. Matthew 5:46 says it better than we ever could, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Empathy, to the degree that is required to love these families, is something God will grant you if you have a willing heart.
The harsh reality is that your foster child’s parents may never turn from their sin, and we have to accept that. We must recognize that God has already written the story for this beautiful child that has been placed in your home, and sometimes distance from family is best for the healing that God will perform.
Back to the question: How can you be a part of it?
While jumping headfirst into becoming a foster parent seems like it may be an unrealistic commitment at this stage in your life, that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved at a level that fits the stage of life your family is in. Here are some ways you can get involved:
Serve the foster families around you
I’m confident that for each family who is fostering one or more children, it takes at least one to two other families to walk alongside them to help meet their practical needs. It could be a meal, it could be inviting them over to your home to play with your kids—despite the extra needs their foster children may have, or it could be as simple as being a listening ear. As a foster family ourselves, we can tell you that the support we’ve received has been immensely encouraging, and we genuinely believe that the servant hearts of our friends and family have been God’s grace to us. Without supporting our foster families, we are effectively saying “no” to God’s call to care for the orphan in any capacity. Can you answer the call in this way?
Respite and childcare
If you thought that finding childcare for your cousin’s wedding next weekend was hard, try finding childcare when a background check needs to be performed, fingerprints need to be taken, and paperwork needs to be completed for your babysitter before you can leave your child with them. We don’t bring this up to make you feel guilty; rather, we say this to display the great need for childcare and respite among the foster parent community. Maybe you can find some foster families in your church family and ask them how you can get on their approved childcare list.
Taking childcare one step further would be offering “respite care” to a foster family. Simply put, respite care is longer term childcare—usually a day or more. If you are a foster family, you quickly realize how you can become weary in a short period of time. Foster families need respite so that they can continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus with a cheerful heart. Without respite, it can be extremely challenging to parent and care for these children with excellence. Can you answer the call in this way?
Becoming a foster family
Maybe you’ve read this and you feel a tug on your heart to become a foster family. If so, and you want more information on how to become a foster parent, check out the website for White’s Family and Residential Services or the website for the Indiana Department of Child Services.
My challenge to foster parents
This will be short, sweet, and to the point. My challenge to you is to speak up. We need to advocate for ourselves when we need help. The church was designed to be a support system. We cannot expect people to meet the specific needs we have by reading our minds. We have to say something—graciously—to those who are in our church family when we are weary. Even if it is something as simple as “I’m tired, can you talk?” Foster care is hard, but it is absolutely, 100% worth it. People say that all the time, but you cannot comprehend the truth of that statement until you’ve experienced the blessing that is foster care for yourself.
 White’s Family and Residential services is a Christian organization that will walk hand-in-hand with you along your foster care journey from licensing to ongoing support with your foster children. Bethel Church is not affiliated with White’s Residential and Family Services in any capacity.