It probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading this post that foster care can be hard. No one ever said become foster parents, it's super convenient and easy. Rather, the call to foster care is one which embraces the inherent inconveniences and inevitable difficulties as worth it for the sake of redeeming that which is broken and offering light into that which can be very, very dark.
Foster care demands we advocate the cause of the helpless, seek justice for the defenseless and maintain the rights of the oppressed. No one ever said it would be easy, but as the Church we do believe it is worth it. This is nothing less than what Jesus has done for us. We, therefore, are compelled to do the same for them.
Here's a few "concerns" about getting involved in the hard and difficult work of foster care I often hear expressed and some opportunities we have to "rethink" the way we address, understand and move beyond them.
1) I'm not sure I can really love a child knowing that I might have to let them go.
This is a very real and valid concern. On one hand I believe this hesitation is rooted in a good place - a place which says we REALLY do want to love these kids the way they deserve to be loved. On the other hand we must be willing to work our hearts beyond that concern into a place which says we REALLY do want to love these kids and we WILL for their sake no matter what. An inability to do so reveals a self-centered disposition within ourselves - one which is more concerned about what it will cost us to give love to a child rather than what it will cost a child to never receive love from us.
As my wife and I began the foster care process we had to make the decision that we would rather experience the pain of a very great loss if it meant the little girl in our home experienced the gain of a very great love - no matter how long she stayed with us. We would embrace the heartache of having to let her go if it meant she knew, if even for a short time, what it meant to truly be held onto.
Our call in foster care is not necessarily to get a child for our family - it is first and foremost the call to give our family for a child. A slightly different statement with significantly different implications. Our first responsibility is to give, not receive; to open our families to a child whose world would otherwise be closed off to the safety and security of knowing a nurturing and loving home. As we open our hearts we become more vulnerable and as we give of ourselves we become more invested - and this is exactly what that child needs from us no matter how long they stay with us.
By no means do I diminish the very real and raw stories of families who have loved someone else's child as their own and after eight days or even 18 months been forced to let them go. I do, however, believe that in most if not all of those cases the stories could on some level all sound the same - It was devastating to lose them but worth it to have had the opportunity to love them. Hard? Yes. Worth it? No question.
2) I don't want my life to be controlled by state regulations and policies.
The temporary inconveniences and annoyances of a state-regulated system are the necessary means to providing a long-term and potentially eternal impact in the life of a child. In the end, we must maintain that giving our families, homes and hearts to a child is worth whatever complicated processes we have to endure in order to create space for that happen.
Let's approach the child welfare system from a different angle and rethink our attitude and perspective towards it. In my idealistic opinion, the child welfare system in your state should not have to exist, or at a minimum should only have to function in a very limited capacity. It is the Church's responsibility to protect vulnerable children and restore broken families, not the government's. As we filled out stacks of paperwork and jumped through several bureaucratic hoops in order to become licensed foster parents I often found myself frustrated - not with the process but with the fact the process even had to exist in the first place. It was a constant reminder to me that the Church, myself included, has seriously dropped the ball on this issue.
So let's stop shaking our fists at the inconveniences, regulations and bureaucracies involved in foster care - because remember, it is our failure to take responsibility that led to the need for those systems and processes to be established in the first place. Let's accept responsibility for them and embrace them as necessary and worth it for the sake of helping kids. In so doing, the Church then begins to posture itself alongside and underneath the state system - demonstrating its heart to serve and support it, its willingness to reform it and its capacity to be a solution to the problem rather than a contributor to it.
In the end, a child being loved and cared for in a safe and secure environment is worth the hassle of installing extra smoke detectors in your home, filling out mounds of paperwork and arranging schedules around parent visits and court hearings. You weigh in balance any cost, stress, inconvenience, annoyance, struggle or frustration against the value of the life of a child and I guarantee you the child always win - every time. The child is always worth the process and more valuable than the costs.
3) I fear what bringing a child into our home may do to our biological children.
There's mounds of research on birth order, social dynamics of interracial families and the potential effects of bringing children into your home who have come from hard places of trauma, abuse and neglect. All of these are very real issues that require great discernment, prayer and counsel in considering God's call for you and your family and what your appropriate, obedient response should be.
However, even in all of those variables and factors to be considered, a prevailing opportunity we have - not only to change the life of a child that isn't ours but also to change the lives the children who are - is significant and worthy of consideration. Our goal for our daughters in foster care was that they would feel the weight and magnitude of the situation but not grow to resent it. Our aim was that it would add to the fulness of their lives and not take away from it. On some level we wanted them to feel the difficulties, inconveniences and struggles involved in the process but also help them understand that for the sake of the little girl we had in our home, those things were all worth it.
In so doing we prayed that the young, limited worldviews of our own daughters would be enlightened and expanded through the presence of this new little girl in their home. We wanted her story to weigh on them - that they would realize while we all live in the same world, we all don't necessarily come from the same "world". Not everyone has beds like theirs or clothes like theirs or gets to eat food like they do. We wanted their little "worlds" to be shaken, not to destroy them but to drive them so that even at a young age they would begin to form an idea of what seeking justice, correcting oppression and giving of yourself for the sake of another looked like in real, tangible ways. God is beginning to form a heart in them towards these very things and we are eager to see how they manifest and express themselves as they get older.
Yes, bringing foster children into our homes will have an impact on our biological children - and perhaps that impact will express itself through a young mind enlightened, an impressionable heart changed and a life spent caring for the marginalized, neglected, abused and orphaned because that's the legacy which has been passed down to them through the years. I do not negate the fact that there are some very difficult stories out there, but I never want us to lose sight of the fact that the next generation of seekers of justice and correctors of oppression live in our homes right now. Being a family which fosters care into the lives of other children can and will have eternally beneficial and consequential effects on our own.
- The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Marriage in Foster Care
- Foster Care: Loving a Child That Might Leave
- Defining Success and Failure as a Foster Parent
- (Re)Humanizing Foster Care
- Foster Care: Why the Church Can Stop Outsourcing Child Welfare
- Raising the Next Generation of Foster and Adoptive Parents
- The Sovereignty of God in Foster Care
- Six Things Foster Care Has Taught Me
- The Other Side of Foster Care
- The Beauty and Brokenness of Foster Care
- Why Foster Care is Necessary
- Killing the Orphan Care Hero Complex
- Orphan Care, the Church and Evangelical Fads
- Adoption: Giving A Family, Not Just Getting A Child
- 3 Ways Orphan Care Displays the Gospel
- The Generational Effects of Adoption
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