Five years ago, we set out on a journey that we thought would change the lives of others. We were right to some extent, but as it turns out, the lives in our family have been the ones to benefit the most from our foster care journey. May is Foster Care Awareness Month, and with this ministry being so dear to my heart, I’m honored to share some of what I’ve learned.
The Numbers and Facts
Did you know there are currently around half a million children in the United States foster care system? Did you know that over 6,000 of these children live in Alabama? Just a few years ago, I had no idea these numbers or these children existed. I had grown up in the church, but it wasn’t until my family started navigating international adoption that my eyes were opened to the thousands of kids in need of homes and families right in our back yards. Somehow I had missed this and I had not realized that, as a Christian, I should be caring for these children. I began my research and although I’m not an expert in this area, I do feel compelled to share what I’ve learned with anyone who will listen. I did not know because no one had told me. Now, thank goodness, they have.
Children typically enter the foster care system for one or more of a few reasons, including neglect, abandonment, abuse, or addiction, incarceration, or death of a parent. As you can imagine, any of these situations would cause trauma and severe pain to a child. Of course, most of us would want to scoop these children right up and love away their hurt, but as you probably already imagined, it’s not quite that simple. Children coming into foster care do need love, support, security, hope, and safety. Be encouraged because there are several ways you can be involved in providing support and care to a child in foster care.
Fears and Concerns
First, let’s address a few common concerns and fears around becoming a foster family. One of the greatest fears is the concern that biological children will be affected by adding foster children to your home. Absolutely, your children will be affected by this journey. I think we tend to focus on the possible negative effects, but it’s been my experience that the positive effects far outweigh the sacrifice. For us, my husband and I are not just foster parents, but we are a foster family. We consider it ministry and include the whole family in every aspect and decision. When a call comes for a placement, we discuss where we are as a family and how well we think we can invest in that particular child. Everyone needs to be on board so that when the going gets tough, we can remember that we are all in it together.
Keep in mind, foster care is not so much about removing a child from brokenness but more about joining them in the brokenness. This is what a child in foster care needs, and this allows our family to see the world through a different set of lenses. It gives our kids the opportunity to show compassion, love, and hope to these children. It also allows us to be part of helping foster children experience some normalcy and belonging during a difficult time of loss and brokenness. It’s not easy, but it is so worth the joy it brings.
Some people worry that they could not become a foster parent because giving a child back would be too hard. I hear this so often and I do understand — I’ve been there many times. However, I have two thoughts surrounding this concern. First of all, the hope is always that the very best place for a child is with his biological family. We must receive a child in hopes that his return will be in his best interest. I would rather have had the opportunity to love a child and then see him or her leave my home, rather than never have the joy of loving and caring for him in the first place. Hard, yes, but worth it. My second thought is one that sounds a bit harsh, and I have to tell myself this all the time: foster care is not about you (or me), it’s about the child. What is the very best plan for that child now and in the years to come has to be the cry of your heart and prayers as a foster care family.
Getting Involved :: You Have Options
The exciting thing is that there is more than one way to be involved in foster care. Let’s discuss a few ways you can prayerfully consider joining this ministry as a family. Taking the required training courses and becoming a certified foster home ready to take on a full-time placement is a huge need, but there are other options as well. A family can be certified and become a respite provider for foster children, which means your home would be available for short-term stays for children already placed in a foster home, giving the foster parents a break.
Another way to get involved is through a church or organization that provides personal items, opportunities, or services to children in foster care. It takes a village of moms and dads to provide for the overwhelming needs of children in foster care and the families that are caring for them full time. I would encourage you to research and seek out ways that you and your family can join in this journey and make a difference. I promise, you will be more blessed than the children you get to serve.
Every family has different dynamics and is in a unique season of life. Maybe this is something you feel led to jump on the phone and get enrolled in today. Maybe you are in a season of life right now where the thought of caring for a child in foster care overwhelms you. If so, I encourage you to consider what you can do and store this knowledge in your heart and mind for another time. If you are on the fence but think your family may be a good fit for this, don’t ignore those tugs. We have been transformed by the kids we have provided a home and family for in ways that I never imagined. We joined in their stories and they changed our lives.