I’ve been living the foster care and adoption life for over a decade. I’ve been a Christian my entire life and with the exception of what I fondly call “the dark years“, I’ve been a pretty active church goer in that time. At this point in my life, I can’t remember the last Sunday we didn’t go to church. Our weekends are filled with fellowship functions and the two minute drive from our home to the church is one made frequently throughout the week.
When we began fostering I found a world of wondrous support systems online-both through Facebook and Instagram. If you’re ever considering foster care or adoption, I truly recommend getting on Instagram and connecting. It’s such an amazing system of kind words, hard love, and people who truly understand.
What lacked wonderfulness, however, was this underlying theme I kept hearing in Facebook groups or Instagram chats.
The church is failing foster and adoptive parents.
I don’t say that lightly. I don’t say it as a hard truth-maybe you belong to a church that does amazing things for its foster and adoptive families; I know I do. But as a general comment, as a person who has lived immersed in the world of foster care for over a decade, as an observer of so many Christian friends feeling unwelcome or uninvited or unloved-the church needs to step its act up.
As I mentioned, I’ve been pretty lucky overall to be blessed with a church that has some active ministering going on in the life of adoptive and foster families–but we are far from perfect. In hopes of not missing any needs that should be addressed, I went out and asked in a few groups, on my Facebook page and Instagram what people thought their church did well or the church needed to know about foster care and adoption. I wanted to share some thoughts with you from them as well as from me, in hopes this may be shared with leaders and deacons in your churches. Foster and adoptive parents are parents, like any other set, but we face certain difficulties that are very different from being birth parents. (Which, I am both, so I see both sides!)
What do foster and adoptive parents want the church to know or what do we need the church to do better? I find it can be broken into three main categories: inclusion, education, and support.
We all have heard that inclusion matters. For foster children, most of whom are in foster care at no fault of their own, it’s so hard to deal with these moments when they don’t feel like they belong-even within their own church. For foster or adoptive parents, who may feel unsure of their standings with friends or family because of this choice-they need to feel the church welcomes them as well.
“But we don’t make our foster or adopted families feel unwelcome!” I know, you’re horrified I would accuse any church of that. You may feel like you’re being inclusive; you say hi to the foster family or adoptive parents in church. You invite them to bible studies. You and your church are so not part of the problem in this area. But…hear me out.
How do the volunteers in your church work? In my state and others, before leaving our children with an adult the adult must be checked of a criminal background. If your church doesn’t do a background check before allowing someone to volunteer with their children(something as a foster/adoptive mother AND previous teacher will never understand): it is not being inclusive.
Is there a special needs ministry in your church? While foster and adopted children by no means are the only children with neurodivergent minds, there’s a high percentage who are. Beyond the occurrences of neurodiversity that happens naturally, there’s also sometimes traumas, experience with behaviors that are destructive and dangerous, or exposure in the womb. A special needs ministry, along with the training that would take place with it, is necessary to include your blended families into the congregation and church family. Even if it seems small, if one child is able to experience Jesus better-is that not what being the church is all about? Go into your churches and talk about the policies surrounding special needs kids. How do you handle behaviors that are horrifying and completely out of the realm of “normal”? How do you handle trauma?
And speaking of policies-in this day and age, another policy protocol is brought to light: social media. In MA, we are not allowed to post photos of our children’s faces. (We are now, but while you’re fostering you are not). Have your church leaders talked about what to do in the event of a church function-how do they handle the kids who are not able to be photographed and published? What about with volunteers? A strict policy needs to be put into place, acknowledging what is necessary to keep these children safe. And this policy must be shared with any and all volunteers who work with youth.
While there are some areas of inclusivity I mention that are steps beyond the normal treatment of biological newborns being born into the church family, that’s a comment I heard often when asking about it as well. While I’ve never adopted an infant, I have heard a resounding sigh from the adoptive community, that for many people, adding an adopted child was treated so differently than having a biological child. Essentially, the repeated thought shared with me was this, “if your church does it for a new mom who just had a baby, do it for a new family who just adopted one(or an older child as well)!”
All children are children of God and when welcoming new ones into the church-treat them equally! I heard stories of some churches making sure adopted parents got a baby shower as well, setting up meal trains, offering a respite night to foster families. While a baby shower was far outside what I needed with our foster to adopt kids, I can see where it’s a positive experience that really helps adoptive moms feel like any other mom! One thing my church did , that I absolutely ADORED, was allowing us to dedicate our kids after we finalized their adoption. Despite dedication usually happening as an infant, they went out of their way to make sure we’ve done it for all our recent adoptions. That was such a blessing on us.
There are far too many times I’ve heard of families feeling as though they are unable to attend churches long term because these matters haven’t been dealt with by the leaders in the church. Many of the issues I mention above have to do with acceptance and inclusion, but those won’t happen without….
I cannot stress this enough-the world needs to become more educated on foster care and adoption in general-but the church has an extra burden to educate themselves on these types of families. Period. There’s no room for excuses, justification, or brushing it off. The church needs to place a larger push on educating its leaders, pastors and volunteers on matters that come up within foster care and adoption.
Okay-great for me to say that right? But what does that mean?? What exactly should we educate our leaders and volunteers on?
Well, first you could start off with the basics and just go over some of the vocabulary. There’s many words or letters in child services that it helps immensely to know what they mean when talking to families involved-even the children! My kids knew who their GAL was, but do you know what that even stands for? Does your pastor or youth group leader? In our home, we’re also passionate about birth family positive language and family positive language. It’s important leaders in your church are aware of what those things are.
Education can also go deeper on issues faced specifically by foster care/adopted children. Suicide rates within the adoptive community are high-as well as the risk of sexual abuse. A plan should be in place if a child or teen-or adult-comes to a leader in the church with risky behaviors. Or they disclose facts that need to be reported. Are all your leaders aware of how to report situations or disclosures of abuse or neglect? These things are so important to have into place.
Education on challenges overwhelming our kids are also internal. Children in foster care are more likely to struggle with PTSD, traumatic memories, and mental illnesses. Volunteers must be educated in handling behaviors of all kinds-behaviors that go beyond pushing each other in lines. And the answer to acting out with these behaviors should not equate being unwelcome in the church. This brings it back to the inclusion point.
And at the end of the day, what do we need most?
Both inclusion and education go a long way in filling in holes where support is lacking. Fighting towards a diverse, understanding, inclusive and well educated group of leaders in the church creates a safe place for adoptive and foster families to go. When those things are covered, we no longer are left worrying about our child in Sunday school or policies to make sure they’re safe. When these needs are met, we are able to relax, share in fellowship, attend church, and gain what church should be about-worshipping Jesus.
There are a few other ways you can support a family during the foster care or adoption process and one I heard a few times is simply financial support. As the church-we are CALLED to help these children. If a church is unable to give money, at least it could step up and help fundraise.
As I mentioned in the inclusivity part, throw a baby shower. See what size clothes are needed for foster parents, especially if they have a high turnover rate. Start a meal train. I’ll be completely authentic here and say, making food after giving birth is nothing. Making food with two completely new to me children who tried to run away?? So much harder. Offer support in that manner.
Offer support through love, compassion, and just being there for a foster or adoptive parent.
I’ve said this before, I will say it again, this can be a really lonely path to walk. I have no doubt in my mind God put me here and is the guiding backbone to having chosen foster care and adoption. I know He called us to this lifestyle. And I am blessed by it immensely-it is only through the foster care system I have loved six children, four forever, and I count everyday with them as a blessing from Him.
As I mention in “10 Things Moms of Kids with Mental Illnesses Want You To Know,” not all of those days are easy and some of them feel so isolating. We need your support. We need you to be willing to hear us cry over things you cannot comprehend, pray for things you do not understand us requesting prayers for, accepting our families just as they are that day-because some of us change day to day.
Offer to take a foster or adoptive mom out to coffee. Ask if you can be CORI’d so you can be a person who is able to sit with them while a rare date night occurs.
Go to court with them and hold their hand on court days. Do you want to know the hardest day of my entire life as far as foster care goes? It’s not the day that we were told we were not approved to adopt a little girl we had fallen in love with. It’s not the day we watched a little boy be reunified, despite knowing it was for the best, watching our kids hearts being broken. It’s the day I had to testify; completely alone in a courtroom and feeling like no one was there for me, on my side, or even understood how hard it was to say what had to be said despite loving everyone involved in the case so darn much.
But is any of this the church’s responsibility?
I believe it absolutely is. In our walk to be Christlike, let’s not allow our comfort to come before helping those amongst us. Let us not quietly stand by the sidelines but dive headfirst into relentless love and unwavering support.
“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27 NLT)
How can you help a foster or adoptive family in your church today? What can you do to encourage your church into taking some of these action steps? Has your heart been moved to push for changes?