Sunny Side of The Stream: Foster Care Awareness Month Highlights Opportunities for Christians

By Aliya Kuykendall Published on May 18, 2024

Looking for a way to make a meaningful impact in your church or community? May is Foster Care Awareness Month, highlighting the ways we can care for foster children and support foster families.

The need is real. Over the course of Fiscal Year 2022, over a half a million children were in America’s foster care system according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most likely because they suffered from abuse or neglect in their home.

Inevitably, some of those children slept in CPS office buildings because there weren’t enough homes to take them in. Some were placed in group homes without enough personal attention from adults, where they might be influenced by other traumatized kids, and for some, a good group home may have been the best option. Some were placed in loving homes. Some may have learned to trust in God through the ministry of their foster families.

Some of those half a million children were reunited with their family of origin. Fifty-three thousand were adopted, while another 109,000 kept waiting to be adopted. (Many states and regions have “heart galleries” such as this one where people can view photos and information about children who are seeking adoption.) Some stayed in the system — perhaps passed from caretaker to caretaker multiple times, and some aged out of the system with no family to call their own. Across America, the number of children in the foster care system on one day, Sept. 30, 2022, was 369,000.

Room for Christians to Meet a Need

Thankfully, there are also hundreds of thousands of churches in America. We can meet this need. Scripture repeatedly tells us to care for the most vulnerable among us, especially orphans. What can Christians do to help address their needs?

One thing is to learn and pray about becoming a foster or adoptive parent. Another is to support foster and adoptive parents in our churches and communities so they know they aren’t alone in the unique challenges of meeting a hurting child’s needs.

Sharen Ford, Ph.D., who spent 30 years working in child welfare services in Colorado, is the the director of foster care and adoption at Focus on the Family. There, she raises awareness of the need for adoptive families within the foster care system and helps connect adoptive families or those considering adoption with the resources to meet their needs. She also prays with parents who call in to ask for help.

“It is a calling to do foster care,” Ford told The Stream. “Not everyone is called to step into the messiness of what’s happened to a child. If God has called you to this, He will provide for you. So be prayerful.”

Ford said successful foster parents understand their own limitations and boundaries, have a good sense of humor, don’t try to force children to talk if they’re not ready, build bridges between the child and his or her family of origin, and build a supportive network around their own families, because the work is difficult.

Resources for Relevant Topics

For those considering foster care or adoption, Ford recommends visiting Focus’s website, waitnomore.org, for free, biblically based training and materials. One of the site’s most popular video series is by Sandra Flach on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which affects babies’ brains in utero. Flach hosts a weekly podcast called The Adoption and Foster Care Journey.

“There are a disproportionate number of children in foster, adoptive, and kinship placements who have been prenatally exposed to alcohol, but they are either misdiagnosed or undiagnosed,” Flach said in a video. “This is why it’s imperative for every foster, adoptive, and kinship caregiver to be FASD-informed and equipped with brain-based parenting principles.”

Flach goes on to explain that, for example, a child with FASD may only remember the last instruction given — “… and then you can go play” — so parents need to give them just one instruction at a time.

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Ford says Focus on the Family is developing a free booklet related to FASD that caregivers can share with teachers, Sunday school workers, and others to help them understand how best to care for a child with FASD. Ford aims to have it available for download at waitnomore.org by the end of June.

The “unknowns” of foster care and adoption, Ford said, are “like the bogeyman” that gets chopped down as people learn more about what to expect. She recommends the “start here” page of waitnomore.org and the orientations that foster care agencies offer for people to begin to learn whether they should become foster parents.

How to Help Foster and Adoptive Families

Ford also encourages families to get Focus on the Family’s L.O.V.E. booklet, which can help others learn how to support adopted kids and their families. Physical copies of the booklet can be ordered for free, and it’s also available as a digital resource. The “LOVE” acronym stands for “Lighten the load, Offer Prayer, Volunteer your time, and Encourage.”

Under the V heading, the booklet discusses how to provide a way for parents to get away for a short time, such as for dinner or a weekend. All caregivers need respite, but foster parents will need at least a few months with the child in order to bond first.  

The booklet offers specific examples of ways to offer help, such as, “I’m going back-to-school shopping. What can I pick up for you?” Suggested ways to lighten the load (under L), are bringing over meals, running errands, shopping, doing laundry or yard work, cleaning, providing financial assistance, or bringing gifts for the adopted child’s homecoming celebration.

One practical thing someone did was make a batch of soup, freeze individual servings of it, and take them to a foster mother so that whenever she needed a quick meal, she could just thaw some.

“If you’re not called to be a foster parent,” said Ford, “it’s okay. There are so many other ways that you can serve.”

 

Aliya Kuykendall is a staff writer and proofreader for The Stream. You can follow her on X @AliyaKuykendall and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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