Ministry Leader Question: How to help foster families?
The thing about foster (and adoptive) parents (gotta love them!) is that they aren’t really great at asking for help. They are the helpers, the doers, the go to people. Most likely, the foster/adoptive parents in your church are already involved in ministry in some way. Because of that, these are the people that you need to keep. You need them to be refreshed and restored. Besides, they are acting as the hands and feet of Jesus to children God has repeatedly called us to care for. Helping these families is a great way to provide care to those children as well.
Since they won’t tell you what will help, we will! We have simplified it down to four “R”s.
Renewal: One thing that churches do very well is food. Most churches are known for their amazing potlucks, funeral dinners, and meal trains for families who have had a big life change. You are likely thinking of those faithful ladies in the kitchen at your church right now and nodding your head. The nature of foster care and adoption makes it very private. There aren’t a lot of details that can be shared. Foster families with new placements are reluctant to share about their new additions publicly because these children have endured some hard things. As the foster/adoptive family and child adjusts to the new normal, things do not usually get easier. Children with adverse life experiences have more appointments and significant grief to work through. Providing a meal to a family (any time of the process) is giving more than food. It is bringing the family together in a whole new way, creating a less stressful evening, and truly telling this family, “You are loved.” Creating a rotation so that families have a meal as much as once a week does not seem like very much, but it will make a big difference.
Pro tip: take disposable food storage so that they do not have to worry about returning it.
Relationships: Adoptive and foster families find themselves isolated doing what God has called them to do. People who do not understand their difficulties and the challenging behaviors the family experiences pull themselves away, not knowing what to do. The one place where the family should feel supported is at church. Learn about foster care and adoption, educate the volunteers and leaders in your church about it as well, so that you all can have intentional conversations with them. Make your church a place where biological parents are welcome to attend (no matter what their background is) and foster parents feel comfortable inviting them to come, if appropriate. You can also help foster and adoptive parents connect with one another. If possible, create a small group or support group surrounding this group of people. Provide support and intentional relationships to the biological children in these families as well. They are often overlooked.
Pro tip: Ignore their excuses. They know they need community.
Respite: Respite is a fancy word for extended childcare. Encourage church members to provide nights or weekends of respite to adoptive and foster families. Caring for children from hard places 24/7 is difficult, sacrificial work. In order to sustain their marriages and their families, they will need regular, dependable breaks. If you are a church with a larger space, consider hosting a Parent Night Out event once a month. Provide a fun atmosphere of food and activities for kids so that parents can have a night out to go out to eat, shop, or whatever they want to do without kids.
Pro tip: Providing overnight care for kids in foster care will require a background check, and in some states additional training. Contact your local foster care agency for more information.
Recognition: Foster families do not want to be put up on a pedestal or to receive awards. What they do want, though, is to know that what they are doing is important. Foster care and adoption is a ministry that you do not clock out of. It is a specific calling from God which is very Biblical. Celebrate the foster families and encourage them in ways that are unique to your church and the family. May is Foster Care Month; November is National Adoption Month and the first Sunday in November is Stand Sunday. You may also consider “commissioning” these community missionaries when they get licensed. When you recognize the work that they are doing you are making it valid. Recognizing foster and adoptive families is also starting conversations for others to get involved in foster care, giving them an opportunity to obey God’s calling on their lives.
Pro tip: Be sure to contact the family before you share any information about them publicly. Much of the information may be confidential to protect the privacy of the children in their home.
Have questions? We would love to help! We are excited and passionate about connecting people in the church with the great work of caring for God’s precious children.
Email: Savannah@compassnebraska.org or call 308-440-6759.