My Story (foster care awareness month)

May is Foster Care Awareness Month. Let me take a moment to share my story…

When I was still single, I would think: What will family be like when I’m married? I wanted children, that was a given. The older I grew, I began to have the thought that adoption should be a part of that.

My wife and I married at an older age than average (our mid-30s). When we were engaged, we talked about what we imagined our family would be like. We both agreed that we wanted biological children, but then she brought up that she wanted to adopt. When she asked me my thoughts on that my response was a simple, “Okay.”

She said later that she thought she was going to have to have a longer conversation with me about that, wondering how open I was going to be to the idea, and instead I answered with that simple okay without hesitation.

It was settled, then. We would try to have biological children and we would also pursue adoption.

When thinking about the options, we decided to go the route of adopting from the foster system. Part of this came from her experience as members of her family were involved in fostering and fostering to adopt. We signed up for training and began the process as an “adoption only” family.

But then something changed.

In the course of training, we became more aware of the need. Every day the state has to intervene in the lives of children because, for various reasons, their home is not at present a safe place to be. These children need families to welcome them in for a season, providing a safe and loving home, while the state works with their parents and creates a plan to return the children home. If not enough foster homes are available, then either children get left in unsafe environments or they get placed in residential facilities where their needs will be cared for but that intimate sense of family is lacking. (I used to work in such a facility. As much as we tried to give it a family-like feel, it is not the same.)

Having our eyes opened to the need, we both decided that even though we still had the desire to adopt, we also wanted to be involved in a way where we would take care of children for a season until they could go back home.

To date, we’ve been fostering for over two years. Along the way, we have welcomed a biological son and have not yet been involved in a situation where adoption was the goal. We have had seven children across four placements, with a fifth placement soon to come. Of our four placements, two have reunified with parents, one moved out of state with family, and one moved to a different foster home.

Why do we open our home to children who will only be with us for a season? Why do we risk the pain of saying goodbye again and again to children who have spent significant time living with us?

It’s simple: A need exists and God calls us to love others by meeting the needs that we can. And of children, God tells us: “Pure and undefiled religion is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” (James 1:27 CSB).

No, most children in foster care are not orphans in the classical sense of the word. But they are children in need of a temporary home until they can return to their permanent home.

When my wife was pregnant with our son, we were asked the question on more than one occasion: “Are you still going to foster?” Our answer, without hesitation, was yes. This is our present mission. This is how we serve. We don’t know how long God will lead us to keep doing foster care, but we have no plans to stop in the foreseeable future.

If you’d like more information on foster care, becoming a foster parent, or helping those who are, please contact your local Children’s Division office or reach out to me. I’d love to see more people doing what we do.

Image credit: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Why Not You?

An organization in my state that does licensing and placements for foster care posted the following statistics recently on social media:

In our state
14 out of every 100 children are in foster care
The average stay of these children in foster homes is 700 days
There are ~15,000 children in foster care and only 4700 licensed foster homes

Like other foster parents, we have had a season with multiple placements in our home at the same time. We had two case workers, two different schedules, the kids went to school in two different towns, and we had two different plans to sort through. Even when we’ve had a single placement and decided not to take another, we received calls asking if we would open our home to more children.

The reality is often there are not enough homes to support the need in foster care.

In the time we have been involved in foster care, I have stood by two truths: 1) Not everyone is meant to be a foster parent/family. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that prevent it. Sometimes the season of life is not right. You also have to count the cost regarding things you’ll have to give up and situations you’ll have to face. If you are not in a position to be a foster parent, that’s okay. There are plenty of ways you can love and support those who are.

2) But the truth also is: More people can and should be foster parents.

So, why not you?

In our state, the requirements aren’t difficult, and that is true practically everywhere. While there are some specifics (like, you have to be at least 21), basically it comes down to: Do you have a safe home you are willing to open up and are you able to physically, financially, and emotionally care for children in need?

Yes, there is training. Yes, there are commitments. Yes, you have to deal with situations you don’t always understand. Yes, you’ll have to deal with behaviors and trauma backgrounds you probably won’t be fully prepared for. Yes, you’ll become attached and it will hurt when the children leave your home. Yes, you’ll have people pry into private parts of your life. Yes, you have to count the cost.

But there are also children in need. Children who have been hurt. Children who need love. Children who need safety. Children who need caring adults to open their homes and love them like their own until, if things work out right, they can return to their own parent(s).

So, why not you?

If you want to talk more or would like more information on ways to get involved in foster care, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at fosterdadadventures [at] gmail dot com.

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27 (Christian Standard Bible)

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A Letter to My Son about Being a Foster Brother

Dear H,

I joke sometimes: I don’t know if he’s our first child or our sixth. You see, before you existed your mom and I decided that we wanted to be foster parents. We want to provide a safe and loving home for children in need for a season until it’s safe for them to return to their own home. Before you were born, we were foster parents to five other children; and we plan to be again.

This means that as you grow up, there will be other kids who come and go. Some may be with us for a short time, some for a long time, and some, if the need arises, might become permanent members of our family–adopted brothers or sisters.

The thing about being a foster parent is that you get attached, even though the children aren’t technically yours. But they live with you and you provide for them. You read them stories at night, give them hugs when they need it, and help them with homework. As a foster parent, you walk that fine line of loving a child unconditionally who needs your love while knowing that, if things work as they should, they will one day leave your home to return to theirs.

So, in a way, though they are not biologically related to you and there’s no guarantee you’ll meet them in person, you have had five brothers and sisters in your life before you, even though at the moment you are an only child.

That might confuse you, but that’s okay. Being a foster family brings whole new layers to this thing called family.

But as you grow and as other children come and go there are some things that I hope you learn and discover by being a foster brother.

I hope you learn to value people as people. The children who are in foster care are there through no fault of their own. Their parents, or others who have raised them, often love their children deeply but have, at times, let other things get in the way of expressing that love in safe and appropriate ways. Each person involved is an individual living in a world that is not the way it should be. Our place is to play our part in helping to correct that brokenness.

It doesn’t matter the situation or who the people are, they need someone to show them love, to value them as a fellow human being, and to seek their best. Yes, that means on our end feeling the sting of loss when reunification happens, but we do it because people matter and families matter.

I hope you grow to have deep love and compassion for others. I won’t pretend there aren’t personal benefits and happy emotions that come from getting to be a “dad-for-a-season” to others. I gain from our work in foster care. However, at the core, fostering is not about what we gain but what we give.

To do things right, you have to grow in love and compassion. When children come into your home, there’s hurt and confusion. Depending on their life situation, they may need years of professional help to untangle the web of hurts and emotions. They sometimes don’t know how to love or be loved in healthy ways. Yet, such love is the very thing their young hearts need.

It’s easy to be cynical in this world but the world needs more love. Opening our hearts and homes to children in need expands that love in us and I hope it does in you as well.

I hope you learn to live in faith and not fear. Not every situation is good. Hurt people hurt others, the saying goes; and sometimes people who have been severely hurt and traumatized can hurt themselves and others in ways beyond words and emotions. In this, there is a sense of danger to foster care. We’ve heard stories and we have some ourselves.

It would be easy to let fear win and say, “We have a child of our own, now, we don’t want to take the risk.” But there would still be children in need of a safe and loving home.

We didn’t become foster parents off a whim or because we thought it sounded fun. We did it, because we saw a need, and we felt God lead us to meet that need. Sometimes people say that being in the center of God’s will is the safest place you can be. I guess there’s times that’s true, but sometimes being in the center of God’s will is the most dangerous place you can be.

There are peaceful pastures and there are valleys of the shadow of death. That’s life. But believing that God has led us to be foster parents, we trust that he will be with us through the ups and downs, the joys and the hurts. Faith over fear, that is how we want to live, and that’s how I hope you learn to live as well.

So, H, whether your our first child or our sixth, you won’t be our last even if you end up being our only. Like I said, it’s confusing at times, but it has been worth it being foster parents and I hope you will say the same being a foster brother.

Love,

Dad

backlit blur boys brother
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Why we choose to work in an imperfect system

People talk about the foster care system being “broken.” Some use this as a reason to not get involved or to walk away after having been involved.

There are times that it can be frustrating. We foster through the state, and, in general, we have had a good experience, especially within our circuit where we work with people we have built relationships with. Once, though, we took a placement from a different county/circuit and we beat our heads against the wall trying to get one of the kids the help they needed.

Frustrating as it was, I don’t like to use the word “broken” when it comes to the foster system. Instead, let’s call it imperfect. There are things that need improved, but there are also many good things. That’s life when you have people, who genuinely care about children, their families, and our families, having to work under the guidance of politicians in state capitols.

Even though the system is imperfect and frustrating at times, we choose to work within it for one main reason: There will always be children in need of a safe and loving home.

The system is imperfect and the world is imperfect. If the latter were not the case, there would be no need for the “system” to exist. Yet, people make bad choices. Life throws curve balls and we don’t always know how to react. People get caught in cycles of neglect and abuse and struggle to break free. And many times children are involved, hurting and confused.

If we stepped away because the system is imperfect, certain things are frustrating, or some decisions leave us scratching our heads, then that would mean one less home for children to find safety and love until they can return to parents (etc.) who have learned to provide safety and love afresh and in healthier ways.

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It Takes a Village

We couldn’t do it by ourselves.

Foster care is hard enough on it’s own. You welcome strangers into your home that you open your heart to before you even meet them. You have meetings with case workers and licensing workers and Family Support Teams (or whatever they’re called where you’re from). In addition to the appointments every child has, you have to take kids to family visits, get them ready for weekend stays, and deal with the emotional rollercoaster when they return. Often, because of the trauma the children have faced, you have to take them to therapy appointments as well.

All parenting takes work. Let’s not minimize that of any family, whether they have one child or a dozen. Foster parenting, however, has its unique challenges.

And I am thankful for the support that we have through our family, friends, and church.

When children come into our home, they’re not simply gaining us as foster parents. Our families love them the best they can for the season they are with us. They gain foster grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Family and friends often ask us what we need. Our church family, too, who welcomes them with open arms.

If you’re counted among family, friends, and church, know that we could not do it without you.

But, we have heard stories from others. We know that not every foster parent receives the same level of support from those close to them. So, I want to issue this challenge:

Maybe you feel like you’re not meant to foster. There’s nothing wrong with that, God gifts and calls us each to different good works and acts of service in life. But if you know someone who does foster–a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a coworker, a fellow church member, etc., then be a support for them.

Pray for them. Encourage them. Offer to help–there’s always laundry, cleaning, and homework that need done and meals that need prepared. Maybe even consider becoming a respite provider. A respite provider is someone who is approved by a foster agency or state to watch foster kids for a few days. It can give foster parents a needed break since, often, they can’t leave their foster children with friends or family to take a trip, like we often do with biological children.

If you know a foster family, know that they need your love and support in the unique challenges they face. They can’t do it on their own.

We all need a village.

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