When you step into the world of foster care, you’re stepping into the great unknown. You don’t know when the phone will ring asking you to take a placement. You don’t know how much time you’ll have to prepare for that placement. You don’t know the child, the case, the issues, or the outcome. You just don’t know. And for those of us who have said yes to being foster parents, we’ve learned this is a part of our journey.
But if you’ve never walked the foster care journey, perhaps you have questions too. It’s natural to want to understand situations that are new to us, and we do that by asking questions. But some questions are better left unasked, especially in front of the child!
Here are the answers to three common questions people ask (or want to) when a foster child is placed with a family along with three tangible things you can do to support a foster family instead of asking that question that’s on the tip of your tongue.
We hope this sheds some light on the process for you.
- How long will they be with you?
Foster care is unpredictable. In life, we rarely get the opportunity to prepare for a crisis, or to prepare to help someone walk through one. When a situation arises that requires children to be removed from their family, there is often very little warning. A child may have a few moments to gather his or her favorite belongings to stuff in a trash bag before being dropped off at a new home. A foster family may receive a call at any moment and find out a new placement is coming, now. The world of foster care is filled with a lot of unknowns and the timeline of it is perhaps the greatest. As the case progresses, we may have more of an idea of how long the children will be with our family, but often unexpected decisions by caseworkers and judges surprise us too.
How can I help? Treat the children like a part of my family from the very beginning. Welcome them warmly, but also remember that these children have been through a lot. Give them the space they need to adjust. And for the foster family? Look at their life and then jump in where needed: bring a meal, offer to take their kids to activities so they have some extra time to bond with the new foster child, cut the grass, or do a load of laundry.
- What’s his story?
Simply put, as a foster parent, I cannot tell you. Details of the case are private. On a deeper level, one of the lowest moments of someone’s life resulted in their children being removed from their home. The specific details of that heartbreaking story do not need to be broadcast. Kids who are in our care deserve privacy. They deserve to choose for themselves who gets to know their story and who doesn’t. At the root of this question is a desire to understand how someone could do something so bad to lose their kids.
Please understand kids don’t go into foster care because their parents don’t love them. Kids end up needing to be in care because of brokenness that their parents don’t know how to manage. Whether that’s because of addiction, poverty, or bad choices, many parents have not had the same supports as you and I have. Don’t automatically vilify the parents. Instead, consider where you would be without a family teaching you how to parent, without friends jumping in to help when you need a listening ear or a babysitter, and without mentors who have shown you how to navigate the world. Without those pillars that we often take for granted, we too could be in a very different situation.
How can I help? Respect the child’s and their parents’ privacy. You can support the foster family’s journey, the child’s journey, and the parent’s journey without knowing all the details. Your prayers for each of the three parties can be incredibly helpful even without specifics.
- Will you adopt her?
God designed children to be raised by their biological parents. In His design, there is no sin and brokenness that would separate a child from his or her parents. Unfortunately, though, in our world, sometimes for a child’s own well-being she must be removed from her family. Carefully vetted and trained foster families step in to provide a safe, loving home to care for kids who have been removed. The goal of foster care is reunification with her family as quickly as possible.
Sometimes, after a period of time, families are unable to meet their court-ordered goals; the child needs a new, permanent family. This is the last resort. So, when you want to ask the question, “Will you adopt her?”, please consider what you’re asking. For a foster family to adopt, her mom and dad have to fail. That’s heartbreaking, and it’s not the best outcome. While the answer may end up being yes, eventually, this is a question that is better left unasked.
How can I help? If a child goes home, recognize the dichotomy of emotions foster families are navigating: we’re both incredibly excited for a family brought back together and broken over losing someone we’ve come to love. Now is another great time to be present. Drop by with a cup of coffee, bring (another) meal, or invite us to join you for a game of basketball. And if she stays and we do adopt, celebrate the addition to our family just like you would celebrate a brand new baby. Every child deserves that!
Foster care offers a beautiful opportunity for the body of Christ to engage and live out Jesus’ extraordinary love. Even if you’re not considering stepping out and becoming a foster parent, step up and wrap around those families who are. As believers, when we choose to step into the brokenness and bring with us the hope of Jesus, we can make an eternal difference in a family’s life. How can you make a difference?
We want to hear from you! What other questions do you have about foster care? We’d love to answer.
Written by Erin Brothers, OrphanCare Ministry at North Way Christian Community