Foster care can be cold and sterile.
Like courtrooms, medicaid offices or doctors office waiting rooms.
The humanity of foster care is often lost in the bureaucracy of foster care. In the midst of training hours, paperwork, court hearings and doctors appointments the fact that we are dealing with real people who have real struggles and are suffering real consequences can be easily forgotten.
This is not to say foster care is boring and monotonous - it's anything but that. It is to say, however, that the places foster care takes you and the demands it requires of you can sometimes feel more legal than relational and more painstaking than life changing.
Cases can languish on for months if not years while our emotions follow suit. Shock over the atrocities committed against kids can haunt us deeply and harden us to the core. Frustration with an overworked case worker, an inexperienced lawyer or an overrun system can numb us to the reality that all parties involved, including ourselves, are humans. Not systems. Not governments. Not bad guys and good guys. Not machines. Just people. Broken and vulnerable people.
No one is strutting their way through foster care; we’re all limping in some way – each wired for struggle and worthy of grace. Biological parents, kids, case workers, lawyers, judges and sometimes especially us – the foster parents.
Nowhere is this more true than in our interactions with and attitudes towards four groups of people that contribute their own uniquenesses and limitations to the process from the beginning to the end. While they're distinct in their own regard they do share at least one common experience with each other - they're all human. At the end of the day, they're people. It's important for us to remember how...
Child welfare case workers step deep into the throngs of brokenness, abuse, neglect and oppression on a daily basis. They stand in court on behalf of vulnerable children and do the hard work of documenting the implications and outcomes of brokenness most of us go to great lengths to avoid. They're told to use their best judgment when deciding the fate of a child by determining whether or not the evidence of an investigation warrants removing them from their home - assuming a significant risk of leaving them there and hoping everything will be okay. They're then expected to sleep well at night and function socially, emotionally and spiritually as if it was just another day at the office. They are overworked, overwhelmed, under resourced and overly criticized. They are humans expected to do a job that only a machine could effectively perform. They are not robots. They are people. They are not emotional vacuums. They are souls and consciences that carry a heaviness most of us would crumble under the weight of.
I do believe there are some case workers that prove incapable, unwilling and utterly inadequate to do what's in the best interest of the child. Their humanity is not an excuse for their incompetency. But we don't judge the whole on the basis of the actions of a few. Instead we empathize, we humanize and we pray for their strength, their wisdom and their endurance. They do hard, hard work.
I will never forget the first time we sat across the table from the biological mother of the little girl who would eventually become our daughter. A few months had passed since the fragile newborn she had given birth to was brought to our home by Child Protective Services - a period of time in which I had vilified and demonized her in my heart for doing what she had done to such a precious, innocent child. We now sat across the table from the very woman I was convinced was nothing but evil - and while one part of my heart wanted to hate her I was surprised to find another part of me wanting to hug her. Through deep sobs she shared her story of childhood abuse, chronic drug addiction and demons in her life she just couldn't ever seem to shake, and for the first time I realized something profoundly simple - she was not a demon, she was a human. A broken one, like me. She was not my enemy, she was actually somehow, some way, my responsibility. Her brokenness broke me. It forced me to put the weapon in my heart down and take a good long look into the mirror of my soul.
Our hearts must humanize biological parents, not demonize them. They're real people with real struggles in need of a real Savior. It is entirely possible to see biological parents as humans, not demons, yet still stand adamantly against the heinous things they have done. We can be against their actions but still for their souls. We can hate what they've done but still hope they find Jesus. Hard, indeed, but a struggle worth wrestling with.
It was a Wednesday night, around 7:30. The first time a child was brought to our home. We watched through the front window as the case worker parked in our driveway and walked towards the front door. Strapped into the carseat dangling from her arm was a tragically fragile little girl who needed a home to live in and a family to love her. It was the best and worst day of her life - and one that would change ours forever. While pain, abuse and brokenness brought her to our front door it was hope, love and healing that welcomed her in. We celebrated the opportunity to care for her, yet also found ourselves aching over the reality that someone had put her in a position of needing to be cared for by us in the first place. Years later, it's now our joy to call her our daughter; it's also our great sadness that any of this ever had to happen to her in the first place. This is her real human story - one that we, in the most ideal of senses, have unfortunately had to become a part of. It's a story of deep emotions that will undoubtedly work to shape and define her for the rest of her life.
Kids in foster care are not causes. They are kids. They are not objects to be obtained, projects to be undertaken or trophies to be displayed. They're real people experiencing real tragedy in need of real help. When they become anything less than human to us we have ceased serving their best interests and have started using them for ours. While we certainly celebrate the opportunity to care for them we also mourn over all that's been lost for them in the process. Trauma, neglect, abuse. Real, deep human emotions.
You don't have to be a perfect parent to be perfect for foster parenting. Inherent in the role is this pressure to be amazing because you are doing something amazing - an expectation no human can live up to, nor should ever have to. Foster parents are not saints or heroes or spiritual rock stars. They are humans. Real moms and dads that struggle, stumble and mess up. They get annoyed, frustrated and exhausted. They don't have all the answers and don't even know the right questions to ask most of the time.
Give yourself some grace. Cut yourself some slack. Your job is not to be the savior of these kids, it's simply to love these kids as your Savior has loved you. God didn't call you to this because he thought you could handle it. He called you to it because He knew He could. He is using you, a mere human, to help solve a seemingly insurmountable human problem. Confusion, frustration and exhaustion are inevitable and unavoidable - but He is faithful and good and right there with you, even when you're curled up in the fetal position bawling your eyes out because you're not sure you can handle any more of this.
The good news is that Jesus does not call you to control everything in the foster care process, nor does He expect you to. He actually wants you to be okay with the fact that you can't. Your "success" as a foster parent is not measured by your capacity to keep everything in order; it's determined by your ability to trust that even in the chaos Jesus is beautiful - and even in the mess, so is what you are doing for these kids.
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