A lot can change in 24 hours: One evening you’re lounging around, watching a hockey game or strolling around the block hand-in-hand with your spouse; the next night you’re unpacking plastic bags of clothing and wondering how to fight traffic for the school drop-off and still get to work on time.
Such is the life of a foster parent! And as our churches seek to serve families that host foster children, here are some ways that we can provide support during these busy times. Keep in mind, this list is definitely not exhaustive, and will vary in each situation!
Curiosity is generally okay; forcing answers is not.
Our foster kids are sometimes asked, “Is that your mom?” – which puts our little ones in a tricky situation that they can’t always navigate verbally or emotionally. A helpful hint: Give kids an opportunity to answer their friends’ questions, but assist with language and be sure they know that they don’t have to answer. Their story is THEIR story and no one else has a right to know it without their permission.
For younger kids, I usually assist with a lighthearted, “I’m not _________’s mom, but she’s staying at my house for a little while, and I’m so glad I get to spend time with her!” In most cases, this satisfies curious little minds!
The same question/answer policy goes for adults: Unless there’s a safety-related medical or behavior alert, adult leaders have no right to ask or know a child’s story, no matter how well-meaning the adult may be. In our context, our community is not large and information can spread quickly; don’t risk a child’s physical or emotional safety by asking or sharing what isn’t yours to know or tell!
Be aware of language.
Consider from a child’s perspective potential trigger words when it comes to definitions of “family.” As a Children’s Minister, I try to address written communications to “Parents/Caregivers” but I sometimes slip into “ask your parents” language verbally. This marginalizes foster kids, as well as kids who live with grandparents, step-families, and in other contexts. We can all work toward communicating with increased sensitivity to a diverse range of family circumstances.
Set and maintain policies around facility access, pick-up procedures, reporting abuse, and photo/video permissions. If a child mentions a situation or allegations that require attention, follow your legal/church’s reporting guidelines. These boundaries can make or break our ability to bring our foster kids to church and know it’s a safe place for them!
I am amazed at the way our foster kids have been welcomed and adored by “our people!” More than once a child in our home has been given stacks of new (to them) clothing. Hugs, playdate invitations, and post-church games of tag abound. I don’t know if or when I’ll see any of our former foster children again, but I have 100% confidence that each time they drive by our church, they will remember it as a place of abundant love and acceptance.
Support the foster parents.
My husband and I are not saints or heroes … in fact, unlike other major steps in our lives, we didn’t even have a major “God told me to do it” moment that led us to fostering. We simply looked at the world around us, saw needs that we could meet, asked God to deter us if it was outside of His plan, and stepped into fostering as an opportunity to do the “next right thing.”
God strengthens and sustains us as we foster, but He’s still working with raw human material – and that means that we need support! A well-timed, “How are you REALLY doing?”, bedtime tip, or compliment can make all the difference in our day! Nothing warms the heart of this ponytail queen like a friend discreetly pulling our foster daughter aside to redo the sketchy hairdo I’ve mangled that morning! This is support that my husband and I can touch and see – and we are grateful!
Childcare laws vary by region, but consider opportunities to provide short-term care for date nights or school professional development days, to allow us the opportunity to reconnect and catch a breather!
Set realistic expectations.
Month-long memory verse contests and church “homework” assignments are great for regular-attendance kids, but we’re just trying to figure out the name of our foster child’s school teacher and what day to send him in his gym clothes! Please give us and our child extra grace and minimal responsibility as we navigate and establish a completely new set of routines and requirements. Don’t forget to add us to email lists if there’s info we’ll need, but don’t be offended if we unsubscribe from them once the child has left our care!
Continue to share basic truths.
We don’t know how long our kids will be with us, or what other connection to God they may have down the road. This may be their best shot at knowing His love! Join us in sharing the simple, profound Gospel story with our kids – through words and actions – so that they leave our home knowing there’s an amazing, powerful God who loves them more than anything and wants to be in relationship with them forever! If they absorb nothing else from our time together, help us ensure that they take the peace, comfort, and love of Christ with them wherever they go!
Pray . . . And don’t stop!
No one chooses to foster for the warm fuzzy feelings; saying goodbye to a child who’s been in our home is heart-wrenching! We know what we signed up for, but we still grieve. Please pray for us! Tell us that you miss ________; we miss them too! But understand that no, we haven’t heard anything and no, we don’t know how they’re doing …. And we probably never will.
No news is good news; it means that we served our exact purpose: a safe and loving home for the child to thrive for a little while … or a long while. Thank you for supporting us and showing God’s love to our amazing kids while they’re on this journey!