By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
Fostering is not for the faint of heart! Putting your home, heart, and resources on the line for a child and family in need is draining, to say the least. Maybe even more than that, it requires training, expertise, availability, and a good amount of grit. So why would you even consider taking on such a role? I often wonder why we felt compelled to say yes to such a crazy undertaking! Our lives were happy and full before feeling the Lord nudge us towards opening our home; what sane person would mess up such a comfortable, cozy life? Yet, I can't imagine not going on this journey! Our hearts and home have been so abundantly blessed through the children, child-welfare workers, families, and most of all, our son during our time as foster parents.
So the big question is, is fostering right for you? Not everyone is called to this work, right?
I would propose that everyone, most especially all Christ-followers, are called to be involved in caring for those involved with or at risk of being involved with CPS and Foster Care.
The foster system is where the least of these in our communities live. These children and families are the least supported, most impacted by trauma, and struggle through other challenging issues in our localities. Foster care is not just a parent's failure; a child enters the system when an entire family unit is unable to step up and care for a child that has experienced abuse or neglect. The systems that handle these very complex systems are underfunded, overworked, and under-supported.
If we want to see change in the lives of vulnerable children and their families in our community, it's going to take everyone deciding that this issue matters to them.
It means being a mentor to a teen in a group home, offering to supply meals or other support to foster parents, showing social workers appreciation, intervening in the lives of vulnerable parents before CPS has to get involved, educating the community on trauma and how it affects the behavior of children, showing love to unseen youth stuck in the system by making an effort to celebrate their birthdays and other holidays, being a willing babysitter for a foster parent who needs a break, sending gift cards to DSS to support their work when funding is not available for necessities, it means being a foster or adoptive parent, it's making ways to make visitation rooms more welcoming for families working to reunify, offering affordable childcare to single moms, helping a birth parent navigate the piles of paperwork given to them by DSS, and on and on the list goes on how we can come alongside those involved in child welfare.
We are all called to this work because God calls us to care for the least of those around us. But are you specifically called to foster? Are you in the right season of life that opening your home feels safe and manageable? This can be a hard question to answer.
1. Don't Let Fear Hold You Back
First, it's easy to list reasons not to step out and become a foster parent. Most people love to lament about the fact they could never foster because "they'd get too attached." Going through the training is time-consuming and invasive. If you have children in your home, their welfare is always a valid concern. Basically, there are many good reasons you can be convinced not to do this work. My challenge to you is to pray past that list and ask God to guide you with the wisdom to know if you are equipped in this season to step out in faith and make yourself a little extra uncomfortable for the sake of another.
2. Go to a Foster Care Interest Meeting
The first step to fostering is to get information and then go through foster parent training. The information will help you know if you are eligible to be a foster parent in your locality. There are actually very few restrictions on who can foster. You can be single, you don't have to have a considerable income, your foster child can share rooms with other kids in your home, but they do need their own bed, and you have to undergo some training process. If you are feeling called to this work, I encourage you to start by going to an interest meeting. Hear about what the process looks like in your area and ask God to guide you in your journey.
That was my and my husband's first step. We went to a foster-to-adopt meeting and left feeling certain that what we thought we'd be called to do much later in our lives was something God wanted us to step into right then. God provided the things we needed to open our home, and even though we were afraid, we just kept saying yes until we made it through the training!
3. Complete Foster Care Training
When we went through our training, our teacher told us that you would leave the class with one of three outcomes; you will become a foster parent, you will say this is great but not the right time for us to be doing this, or you will say this is not for me. It's okay to step out and do the training, completely unsure if you are up for the work. The training is designed to give you a clearer picture of what is required of you. As you go, it's okay to say this is not right for us in this season, or maybe we will support foster youth in a different way. But if you never get trained, you can never say 'yes'!
4. Grow Your Expertise
While your parenting experience may help you as a foster parent, there are nuances to this role that requires extra support and expertise. Trauma, neglect, and substance exposure are all common among children in foster care. These experiences rewire brains, and to step into these kids' lives with grace, it's vital to understand what that can look like and have a few good strategies for handling behaviors related to these issues. Read about foster care, become trauma-informed, and listen to others that have gone before you. Take time to hear the stories of former foster youth and adoptees.
I love The Honestly Adoption Podcast! This couple and their ministry offer a tremendous amount of honesty, expertise, insight, and support to foster and adoptive parents. Take time to sample their podcasts if fostering is on your heart.
Jamie Finn at Foster the Family is an amazing voice of God's truth in this world. Her book is fantastic, I love following her on Instagram, and she offers other support to families worldwide. Tori Hope Peterson is a former foster youth advocate who loves Jesus well. She offers some excellent insight into the foster care crisis. These are just a few of the many Christ-followers in this space that offers sound wisdom and insight into what fostering really looks like.
5. Grow Your Support and Pray Fervently
Fostering is done best when you have a village that you can lean on. Identify people that will support you on this confusing and emotional journey. Have a list of people to call when a placement comes, and you need diapers and formula delivered to your home in mere hours. Get some trusted babysitters that can help give you a break when things feel like more than you can handle!
Along with that practical support, you need some prayer warriors to join you on this journey. There are real powers of darkness at work in these families and children's lives. Prayer is vital to break the chains of sin and darkness that want to swallow up these young ones' futures. The emotional toll of stepping in as a full-time caretaker on behalf of these children and almost instantly loving them so wholeheartedly can feel heavy. Living in seasons of uncertainty for you and your foster children is scary! You need people to lift you up as you step into this complex role. Don't be afraid, though. God is so faithful to care for you and your children. He loves these kids so much that he will move mountains to care for them and you!
How do you know if Foster Care is for you? That is a question I can't fully answer, but I know if your heart is for these kids, then God will lead you! The foster care crisis is ongoing, and one fact is TRUE these kids and families need you if you are willing to open up your life to them. In our locality, teens regularly sleep in the DSS building because there are not enough homes to take them. The numbers of kids in care continue to rise as the ramifications of COVID continue to play out. I encourage you to start with step one and see where it leads you! God is faithful to guide us, and his story is always better than the ones we try to write all on our own.
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.