My wife and I are foster parents to a fantastic 18-month-old girl we will soon adopt. This season has been filled with incredible blessings, but it has also been the most trying season of our lives. Having talked with other foster parents, I’m convinced our experience is not an anomaly; it is the norm. Struggle is interwoven with fostering because as much as God loves and supports orphan care, the enemy hates and opposes it. This is why the people of God must step in and serve as the hands and feet of Jesus to support those who have answered the call to foster.
With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to help support those who are fostering.
It’s important to understand up front that fostering a child is similar to raising a biological child, but it has specific challenges that you can’t fully understand unless you’re in the midst of it. Even within foster care, every situation is unique. Foster children come from hard places, and they don’t leave that baggage at the door. Not only that, but foster families already have their own issues to contend with before a foster child ever arrives. When these two broken worlds collide, challenges will emerge.
If a friend complains about the difficulty of fostering, it doesn’t mean they hate their foster child. It doesn’t mean that they made a mistake or that they want the child gone. It simply means they are struggling and need a friend to listen. Rather than giving unsolicited advice or trying to solve their problems, practice empathy. Sit with them when they cry. Affirm them when they are broken. Support them when they feel alone. You don’t have to have all the answers—no one expects you to—just listen and try to feel what they feel.
Fostering is often a lonely road. This is compounded by the thought that people will judge you if you show the smallest signs of fatigue. When someone asks, “How’s everything going?” Most people’s reaction isn’t to tell the truth; it’s to smile broadly and proclaim, “Life is great! Everything is going well! We’re doing fine!”
Humans are prideful beings and foster parents are no different. If you wait for a foster parent to come to you and say, “We’re drowning, and we need help!” You’ve waited too long. Go ahead and assume that their life is stressful and proactively work to relieve some of that stress. Actively pray for them. Write a text message of encouragement. Take them to dinner, or better yet, watch their children and let them go to dinner. Don’t wait for a foster family to come to you begging for help, go to them. And not just once. That’s the tricky part. Many people will help a foster family when the initial placement happens, but over time that support wains. Each day as a foster parent brings new joys and new challenges, so commit to being there for support on a regular basis.
Most people don’t know this but each state has specific rules regarding babysitting and respite care. For example, if you are fostering in the state of Texas any babysitter you use (including family members) must have passed a background check, FBI fingerprinting and completed a CPR/First Aid training course. That means you can’t just casually call someone up to watch your kid. Think about that for a second. How many times have you had a family member or friend watch your child because something came up at the last minute and you needed help? Or because your spouse was working and you needed to go somewhere without your child? Now take away that support, and you’re in the position that many foster parents find themselves.
By getting licensed to babysit and/or provide respite care, you are giving foster parents the gift of normalcy. The ability to go on a date night, to take one child to the doctor without having to drag the other one there, to simply have time to be alone and think. This is an incredible service to a foster family, and it might be the difference between that family surviving a foster placement and thriving during a placement.
I know that many families do not feel called to foster themselves, and trust me, I understand. I don’t think it’s God’s plan for everyone. However, I do believe all Christians have a role to play. The call to orphan care is a call to all those who have been adopted by God and called His children, not just to a few “Super Christians.” If Christians will accept orphan care as their personal calling, even in a support role, we will see the lives of children changed and the kingdom expanded for the glory of God.