If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my tenure as a foster (soon to be adoptive) parent, it’s this: We. Can’t. Do. It. Alone.
When it comes to supporting foster and adoptive families, the Church (big C and little c) is in such a wonderful position to be able to provide wrap-around care. And this doesn’t just stand to be true for families who attend churches or who are followers of Jesus. This is true for every foster/adoptive family because they all need a little extra help loving and raising kids from hard places.
Author Glennon Doyle once said, “There is no such thing as other people’s children.” I think Jesus would agree with her. And by that estimation, it is the responsibility of the Church to do what it can to support the men and women who step into hard places so that kids and teenagers can heal in safe places.
So what can the church do to support foster and adoptive families?
- Pray. This isn’t the lame option or the last ditch effort. It is the greatest thing you can do for these families. If you believe that prayer works and that God listens when we pray, then love foster/adoptive families by praying for them. Pray that God would move in their homes and situations. Pray that God would raise up more foster/adoptive families to care for vulnerable children. And pray that God would lead your church towards effective means of supporting those families. Consider focused prayer time in November which is Nat’l Adoption Awareness Month or May which is Nat’l Foster Care Awareness Month!
- Train your staff to be trauma competent. Every child in foster care and every child who is adopted has a history of trauma. These kids need people in their corner who understand the effects of trauma and who have been trained to be patient and measured in their response to it. Trauma is messy, and ugly, and it feels like a landmine. But if the Church is going to be a part of the solution, then it has to recognize that the way we love and lead these families, these children, and these teenagers begins by becoming trauma competent. One of our favorite frameworks is the TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention) Model out of the Karyn Purvis Institute in Texas. Another great resource is Dr. Van Der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score.
- Meet felt needs. Foster parents get calls out of the blue with potential placements, and oftentimes, the kid who shows up at their home isn’t exactly who was described to them in the phone call. These families need supplies—cribs, diapers, strollers. Sometimes, they may need beds quickly. They may need meals left on their doorstep or grocery store gift cards in their mailbox. They need a community around them who understands that while we may wish for your company and want to invite you in, now isn’t a great time. But we’d gladly accept a casserole. If your church has an empty storage closet somewhere onsite, consider filling it with things that a foster or adoptive family might have need of in a last minute pinch. In meeting those needs, you bless those families.
- Consider hosting biological parent visitations. This one may seem less obvious than the others, but if your church has child-friendly spaces, this may be a great way to serve your foster families. Parent visits can be a source of tension and discomfort, but they’re a necessary part of the reunification process. So consider opening your facility to act as a neutral place where foster parents and bio parents can meet with the children. This may also work to set your foster families a bit more at ease as they sit in a space that they’re already familiar with.
- Offer parents a night out. Parental burnout is no joke, and when you’re a foster or adoptive family, you may have even less options as far as childcare goes if your agency or local child welfare offices have strict guidelines about who can babysit kids in care. So by hosting a parents’ night out a few times a year and providing these families with a safe childcare option, you are giving them the gift of time—time to rest, run errands, be alone, be quiet, take a nap, go on a date, and recover. And time can make all the difference to a parent or family who is struggling to form attachments, make transitions, and overcome traumas.
- Familiarize yourself with their context. I know that being a parent in any context is difficult. But being a foster or adoptive parent is difficult on a whole other level. And it can feel very isolating when most families around us aren’t foster/adopt and therefore can’t really understand the nuance and complexity. So do what you can to familiarize yourself with this space.
- Read the books foster/adopt families read. The Whole Brain Child and The Connected Child are excellent.
- Listen to the podcasts. The Archibald Project covers foster care and adoption from every angle.
- Make an effort to use the right language. How we talk about foster/adopt families and children matters. So learn what to say and what not to say.
- Undergo some of the training that foster/adopt families are required to attend. You’ll be surprised at what you learn along the way. They’re easy to find online, and oftentimes, they cost little to nothing.
Supporting and serving foster/adopt families will take a little extra work on your part, but the work is worth doing. If these families feel supported, then they just may be inclined and able to stick with it a little bit longer. And for these kids, that makes all the difference. Loving kids from hard places is hard work. So do what you can to make that load a little lighter. This is where hearts are mended. This is where world-changing happens.
Adriana and her husband, Jamie, are the authors of The Polaris-Away: A Book That Makes Talking About Adoption Fun. This book helps any parent engage their kids in a conversation about foster care and adoption in a fun, meaningful way. Check it out here!