“It’s not help unless it is helpful” has become a phrase that I say a lot around my house these days. With two children who are seven and eight, they are right in that sweet spot that they can and do perform household chores. Most of the time it creates more work than just doing them myself. And sometimes they take it upon themselves to engage in activities that produce disastrous results and when I ask, “Why did you do that!?” the response I get is, “I was just trying to help.” All of the crying and feelings to shortly follow.
You and I all know that my children have good intentions but they just don’t understand enough about the world, the chore, the equipment, the problem, and… well… sometimes the laws of physics to actually do something productive. Lately, I’ve had this same sensation when I watch social media and the interwebs.
Foster care has been at the back of the line for a long time but it seems that the long wait paid off; because foster and adoptive families have finally made it to the front of the line and into the 10 Minute Christian Fad Spotlight. It was a tough road to beat out homosexuals serving in ministry,legalized marijuana, and the latest junk your pastor’s wife is exploiting you with through social marketing… but here we are, in the spotlight.
I’m not really sure why it has taken so long to gain momentum with something that James calls “pure and faultless religion” and I don’t really know what has caused this nationwide “awakening” to the issue. All of a sudden you can’t read Christian magazines, be on social media, or dive too far into Christian culture without reading something about new para-church organizations springing up or a church starting a new ministry aimed at foster care or adoptive families. And I say “aimed at” because the focus of these programs include a wide range of… inconveniences families face. But many seem like they were started without consulting any foster parents… or foster kids… or licensing agencies. I know somewhere out there there is someone out there leading one of these programs that just read that and asked, “What is a licensing agency?”
There are a lot of churches and Christians trying to help with Foster Care and Adoption without actually fostering or adopting children.
Again, I know these people and organizations have the best of intentions. But I have to tell you that if you want to “get in the game” the game is taking care of these children. People love to support a team, but it is pretty hard to make a playbook, coach, or even provide equipment when you don’t know anything about the sport or the players. We can sit in the locker room and draw up plays, fold towels, fill water bottles, and shine our helmets… but that doesn’t win games. To win you need players.
I can distinctly remember sitting in our foster care training and hearing the number. Around 5,000 children in our area are in foster care. I was blown away. How would we ever take care of that many children?!? And before I went to bed that night, just as I was about to fall asleep… a staggering realization hit me. The local church could eliminate that completely! We currently have 2 foster children out of a 5 sibling group. So from the 5000, let’s say 800 are special needs. Sibling pairs range from 1-8 but lets just deal with 2’s. So for the 4200 kids placable in standard homes we need 2100 families. Surely, if we wanted to impact a generation we could do it by teaching these kids Jesus in our own homes 24/7. And 2100 families in our city is about 1 – 3 families per church. 1-3 families per church would have to house two foster children. Done. Except it is not.
Christians don’t foster. The LGBT community does. The LGBT community is accounting for about 1/4 of the foster and adoptive parents in America. And as Christ followers we look at that statistic and cringe when we think about the impact that will have on those kids, but what are you going to do about it? Because the solution is not to take away the rights of LGBT people only to leave those kids in shelters.
Christians don’t foster. Maybe the less harsh thing to say is that they don’t make up a significant demographic in the fostering community. The number one reaction I get from case workers, licensing workers, nurse case managers and CASA Workers (all terms you should know before “helping” with foster care) is surprise and disbelief. They come to our home and are surprised the girls have cute clothes that fit. They are surprised that they know and obey household rules. They are surprised that my wife and I are in our first marriage and a loving marriage. They are genuinely surprised that we are not awful people that barely meet the standards of gaining a license just so we can have the extra money each month from the government (which isn’t much). They are surprised that we have jobs and file our paperwork and buy our girls birthday presents.
Who is fostering the rest of these children that are setting the standard so low?!?
If the standard is low then the majority performance is low. This whole time I’m watching social media blow up with all these churches who want to help with the problem… but honestly… what I want to say to you is that it is not help unless it is helpful.
And I know in your heart you are saying, “I was just trying to help.” And believe me when I say that foster and adoptive parents know that these Christians and churches have good intentions, but they just don’t understand enough about the world, the job, the children, the problem, and… well… sometimes state and federal laws to actually do something productive. So I want to encourage you to stay on this track while challenging you to dig deeper and get educated. Here are some things that if you were to ask me what you could do for me as a foster/adoptive parent that I would want you to know.
It is not helpful to pretend you understand – Begin with the knowledge that you can’t understand unless you jump in to the hot mess with me. In fact, if you are trying to head up one of these ministries and haven’t ever fostered or adopted I need you to know you don’t have a lot of credibility. The closest thing to this is a messy custody battle… but it is a custody battle with kids that aren’t really yours. But in the process they become yours. It sounds confusing because it is. So get educated by talking with people doing it or do it yourself.
It is helpful to tell me I’m not crazy – My wife and I had always talked about doing foster care after we had our own kids. We were having trouble getting our family started and decided to not wait on fostering so we went from no kids to two kids, then had a baby of our own. 0-3 kids in one year: ages 0, 6, and 7. One of the most helpful relationships I have is with a friend who is able to say to me, “Oh, that isn’t trauma… my kid does that. Here is what we have tried.”
It is not helpful to try and put yourself in my shoes – It kind of goes along with the first point. When I tell people I’m a foster parent they usually say something on the spectrum of “Wow! What you do is so amazing!” through “I could never do that. I just love kids too much. I’d get attached.” Either way I kind of want to smack you. Because both of those statements excuse you from helping. What I do is amazing but not unique. It is parenting. People do it every day. You can do it. I didn’t know how to do it before I started doing it. You learn as you go. Almost anyone can do it. I get attached. It is painful. But it is not about me. So when you find out someone is fostering don’t venture a response based on a hypothetical situation that revolves around you. Just say “cool” or better yet say “I get it” because you are also a foster parent.
Clothing is not as helpful as you think – Secondhand clothing is the easiest thing for churches to provide but it is not even on my top ten list of things I need help with. Our licensing agency has a food pantry and clothing closet. We get clothing vouchers every 6 months. Foster parents belong to groups on Facebook where we exchange cribs, furniture, clothes and hair tips. You could support these established groups and it would make a greater impact for all foster families (not just the ones who go to your church). If a family took a lot of emergency placements a variety of clothing might be helpful, but also know that I’m not going to take those clothes back from the child if they leave my home. They need them. I’m sending them with them to their next home.
It is helpful to give me a break – THE NUMBER 1 THING ON MY TOP TEN LIST… I need a break. Free babysitting, a night out, a vacation with just my biological family, a date night, an afternoon to do some shopping… if you are taking your kids to the park, take mine with you. If you want to love on your foster and adoptive parents but not care for children yourself full-time. Help me out part-time. You will need to go to a one day training and get “respite certified.” This means that you have some basic training so you are not blindsided by behaviors unique to trauma and abuse. It also clears you by the State to keep foster kids overnight. It takes a village to raise a child. Turn your church into a family, a tribe, and a nation of people equipped to help parents keep their sanity. I don’t need pity, I need babysitting. Unless your pity will get me babysitting… then bring on the pity.
It is not helpful to ask questions that don’t help you be helpful – My kids were diagnosed with PTSD at the ages of 5 and 6. That is tragic and exotic. But just because you are in a showhole and are curious doesn’t mean that my life is your new reality show to catch up on. There are details of the case I’m not allowed to discuss with people who are not apart of their professional team or not a certified foster parent. Also, I don’t know how long the kids will be with us or how long it will take to adopt them. The only time an adoption is certain is 30 days AFTER the papers are signed. If you go through the training and get foster certified I promise to give you all the juicy details (because then legally I can) and you can tell me about your kids.
It is helpful to provide supplies – Your church could help new foster parents all over the city (not just the ones in your church) by providing one size fits all items that the state does not provide but are needed by families: diapers, formula, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc. But here are some items you may not have considered.
Bed sheets, mattress covers and laundry detergent: many foster kids wet the bed no matter their age because it is a defense mechanism. For us it is EVERY NIGHT.
Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers: they are required for fostering and expensive.
Lice kits, first aid kits, and basic children’s medicines: some of us have never been parents and don’t believe in essential oils. Also, many of these kids come from poverty and have conditions like lice, ringworm, and eczema when they come to our homes.
And last but not least… most foster kids are minorities and mixed race. We need LOTION, AFRICAN AMERICAN HAIR CARE PRODUCTS, and PEOPLE WHO BRAID HAIR!!!!! Go ahead, buy me a bag of hair. If you don’t have African American people in your church to help… that is another problem.
It is not helpful to make excuses – The environments these children come from are so bad there is nothing you can do that will be worse. If you don’t beat them, sexually abuse them, let them sit all day in their own excrement, watch porn with them, and let the toddlers finish your beer… you are a step up. I’m not saying EVERYONE can or should do it. I’m saying there are plenty of good parents, people who could afford it, people who could and should do it… that don’t do it because it will disrupt their routine.
It is helpful to foster and adopt… not just for us but for you – You will never truly understand what it means to be an “adopted child of God” until you bring a dirty, damaged, fit throwing, spitting, biting, stealing, sexually inappropriate child into your home. Forgive them daily. Provide for them. Repair the holes they punch in your walls. Give up your social life. Take them to all their appointments. Choose to love them even though you could have them removed with one phone call. And then listen to them talk about their biological parents like they walk on water. Sing them to sleep knowing that they would rather live in poverty, be abused, be frightened, unhealthy, and unimportant simply because that is all they have ever known and in that environment no one makes them obey rules.
Then know that child is you.
God our father didn’t owe us a thing, has every right to give up on us, sacrificed His own child’s well-being, and continues to love us in our depravity knowing that if left to our own devises we would choose freedom to sin over obedience to love. He is in the business of redeeming dirty little Misfits.
Then tell me you want to learn to love like God. Tell me you want to help.