May 31, 2015

What I wish you knew about foster care

What I wish you knew about foster care
On the first day of this month, which also happens to be National Foster Care Month, we picked up a sweet little baby boy – our second foster placement – from the hospital nursery. Once again, we’ve had weeks full of diapers, burp rags, middle of the night feedings, and precious baby snuggles. Our hearts have enlarged again to make room for Baby M.
This time has been a little different. When we picked up baby D, we knew that saying goodbye was possible. This time, we picked up M knowing firsthand just how painful that can be, and had to make a decisive choice to love with abandon – to remind ourselves that all we can do is fix our eyes on Jesus, trust His sovereign plan, love this child well, and treat his family with dignity no matter what. It’s all we need to do.
Fostering is wonderful, and difficult. It’s also often very misunderstood. I continually have conversations with people clarifying common misconceptions. Today, the last day of National Foster Care Month, I wanted to share what I really wish others, especially others who have been transformed by Jesus, knew about foster care.
1. A foster placement is not the same as an adoptive placement.
We are a foster-to-adopt home, which means that we are open to pursuing adoption if the child in our care ends up in permanent custody with the state and is officially “adoptable.”
This child is not legally ours unless adoption papers are signed. We don’t have rights to travel, pick a babysitter, or even get him a haircut without outside approval. So no, we didn’t name him.
2. With a foster-to-adopt placement, we don’t know how the case will unfold.
Will the biological family work their case plan and be able to move toward reunification? Will an extended family member step forward and pursue a kinship placement? There can be a number of different ways a case can go. Usually when people ask me about details of how our case will proceed I just tell them it is an adventure in trusting the sovereignty of God. I mean every word of that statement.
3. Every foster, foster-to-adopt, or adoptive case is different.
The families are different. Their circumstances are different. Their backgrounds are different. Knowing the story of one family who has fostered or adopted does not translate to knowing how another family’s story will play out.
4. Life matters. Every life matters.
I am “pro life” because people are created in the image of God, woven together in their mothers’ wombs by the Creator Himself. Life matters.
This means that not only does Baby M’s life matter, his biological family matters, too. I cannot claim to love this child because of what Jesus has done for me while treating his parents with contempt.
5. The Gospel has huge implications for my understanding of foster care.
Jesus has redeemed and restored my life – and He has sent me on mission. My life is not my own.
The most common reaction NP and I get when talking about fostercare is “oh, I could never do that.” We can’t either on our own- but He gives us strength and grace for each day to do whatever He has called us to do. We certainly aren’t doing this because it’s easy or because it sounded fun – but He has commanded us to care for the orphan, to be a voice for the voiceless, to defend the cause of the weak and vulnerable. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it hurts. But it’s not about us – our lives are not our own.
Ultimately, if the Gospel forms our understanding of foster care, it boils down to stepping into brokenness and praying for and seeking the redemption and restoration of broken lives. Whether that means a broken family being strengthened or reunified or a baby’s life being restored by being grafted into a loving and stable family, it’s about restoration.
6. Parenting of any kind is hard. That doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderful!
Parenting – from pregnancy to childbirth to dealing with rebellion in older kids – hurts. It’s fraught with pain and difficulties and grief. But no one told me when I was pregnant with our biological kids, “I could never do that. It would hurt too much.” They congratulated and rejoiced with us! We recognize that while parenting is painful it is also full of joy! And while foster parenting can be really difficult, it is wonderful – I wouldn’t trade our time with these little guys even though our hearts ached and may ache again! Children are a blessing from the Lord!
There is much more I could say – but others have said it more eloquently than I. Here are some great articles for further reading:
  • Three Things I’ve Learned about Foster Care from Love146 – I so appreciated this article’s focus on the link between child trafficking and kids in the foster system. It also has some wonderful suggestions about how to support and walk alongside foster families even if you aren’t called to foster yourself.
  • The American Dream is Ruining Foster Parents from The Forgotten Initiative – It’s not about “winning” foster care. Love the child, treat the family with dignity.
  • Foster Care Prayer Guide from Focus on the Family, Hope for Orphans, and Show Hope – Want to know how to pray? Love this specific prayer list for the workers, families, children, and churches involved in the foster system.
  • Guide to Understanding Foster Care from Show Hope – Want to learn more? This is a free 9 page downloadable booklet that details:
    • The importance of foster care
    • The requirements of foster parenting
    • How to support foster care providers
    • Adopting from foster care