August 24, 2012

Foster parents serve a critical role in our country in meeting the needs of children either on a temporary basis or permanently. The following is an interview with a friend of mine from Care Net who has been a foster parent for 12 years, fostered 17 children, adopted three, and currently has two foster children living in her home as part of her family.

Why did you and your husband decide to become foster parents?
Initially for the typical reason of wanting children and not being able to have them biologically. We decided to pursue domestic adoption believing that there are plenty of children needing homes, but the process of marketing yourself to prospective birth mothers felt odd, so we decided to investigate fostering.

What was the process? We enrolled in a 10-week class with the Department of Children and Family Services that was designed to weed out people who were not really interested in fostering. Nothing was sugarcoated. We learned that there are three kinds of fostering:

  1. People who are interested in fostering only; 

  2. People interested in adopting only which means that they had in their home only those children that were legally free. 

  3. People interested in fostering that would lead to adoption. There is a great deal of uncertainty in that area. How long will the child stay? Will they become legally free? 

We decided that #3 fit us.

What were your emotions at the time? We were very nervous. We would be new parents. We were afraid of getting in over our heads. You had to fill out a survey form indicating what sort of difficulties or situations you can handle—we checked very few and were surprised when we got a call to foster a child.

How did you start out? We started doing respite care which is fostering children who are scheduled to go to another foster care family, but for some reason, like vacation, they cannot go immediately. This was a good way to start. The time frame is limited. Everyone knows it is temporary and it gave us a chance to alleviate some of our concerns over fostering. I knew that I could do anything for two weeks.

What is your greatest joy in fostering? It caught us by surprise that we could make a great deal of impact in a child’s life in a short period of time. Most of our kids were under the age of seven and had never heard of God. Within days they heard about God, became excited, and then thrilled to know that God was out there caring and watching over them. It is so important for children to know that there is a God.

What is your greatest sorrow? Loneliness is probably the biggest. You don’t get to share with friends or your church family a pregnancy and you don’t know families with similar children when a child arrives unexpectedly. You might not be able to share your child’s medical or family histories because of legal restrictions. Of course, anxiety over how long the child will stay or if you will be overwhelmed by the child’s experiences, and the messiness of the biological family. These are normal fears of fostering which many people have which can be eliminated by respite care and starting out slowly.

What can a church do to promote fostering?

  1. People in the church need to be educated about foster care. Most people think fostering is an all or nothing proposition. People need to take it one step at a time. 

  2. Have a way for parents of certain age children to meet each other so that foster parents have a way to find friends for their children. 

  3. Encourage people to go through the licensing process to educate them and then offer respite care for those parents who are fostering. Legally, foster children are not allowed to stay with non-licensed people. 

  4. Encourage your church to view foster children as just another child in need of parents who love and provide for them. Include these families in Mother’s Day observances and other church activities. 

  5. Set up a borrowing list—a place where foster parents cans borrow cribs, baby items, or clothing to provide for children who arrive suddenly. Not every family can supply everything for a child. 

  6. Set up a transportation support system for foster parents that will help them meet doctor appointments, social worker sessions, or other requirements. 

  7. Encourage your staff to be helpful in special needs cases and not to judge foster parents if sometimes that child misbehaves. These problems are not caused by the home in which they are now being cared for. 

  8. Prayer. Pray for a family even though you don’t know all of the information or issues. They are there and the family is in need of your prayers.

Thank you to my friend for sharing her knowledge based on experience. She is a foster care and adoptive parent and I am an adoptive parent. Over the years we have had many great conversations about our children and the role God played in forming our families, which is what unites all parents no matter the family!