7 Ways the Church can Support Adoptive and Foster Families
Supporting Adoptive and Foster Families
However, adopting and fostering is a big decision, and not everyone is able or equipped to adopt or foster for various reasons. You may have health issues, your home doesn’t meet the requirements, or it may just not be your season yet.
Or, perhaps God is calling you to help care for the orphan in another way.
Perhaps He is calling you to support other families who are fostering or have adopted children. Though it is a different way of “caring for the orphan” than directly adopting/fostering yourself, it is every bit as needed. Not everyone is called to adopt or foster, but we are all called to care.
I’ve talked with lots of people who would agree with this but don’t end up doing anything because they don’t have any idea how to support adoptive or foster families.
With the hope of changing this, I’ve connected with many adoptive/foster families and compiled a list of their top suggestions on how to support them well.
1. Meet Practical Needs
When a family adopts or gets a new foster care placement, even meeting basic needs may be difficult. The transition period can be incredibly chaotic. Finding time to take care of basic needs like grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and yard work can be overwhelming while adjusting to the new normal.
Practical needs can be met by:
- bringing staple grocery items or meals to freeze
- gift cards for groceries and gas– there can be a lot of extra driving for court appointments, meetings, training, therapy sessions, etc.
- organizing a church meal train as some do for mother’s who have just given birth.
- Providing diapers, formula, age-appropriate clothes, toys, and hygiene items (This is especially helpful for new foster care placements– often the children arrive before a family has had time to adequately prepare.)
- Helping out with yard work or cleaning
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy to be a blessing and make an impact!
2. Give the family space but don’t disappear
Especially in the case of adoption, when a new child enters a family, they will require a lot of time just getting to know each other and adjusting to the new family structure. In addition to adjusting, forming secure attachments is critical and is a lengthy process. A process which can be set back by too much involvement from others outside the immediate family.
(If this doesn’t make sense to you, learning about the attachment process can help you understand and be mindful of your interactions with these families.)
It’s understandably tempting for extended family and friends to want to be intimately involved right away, but it can easily overwhelm families who are just trying to become familiar with each other and the new normal.
If a family has just adopted, please don’t be offended by their need for some space. But also don’t forget about them! Make it clear that you know they need space but will be available when they are ready. Checking-in is a good thing, but don’t take up too much time. Your friends and families still need you, they just have a lot of adjusting to do! They’ll want to know you’ll still be there when the ‘dust has settled’ a bit.
3. Babysitting- but not just any babysitting!
There will be times when the families will need you to be available in person– if you are already prepared they will feel more comfortable asking for help with their children.
- Give the family a break for a day or weekend by becoming licensed to provide respite care (short-term care as needed) Check with your local county for requirements.
- Be available for any children who were already in the home– they may benefit from a little time away or may need a place to hang out during foster sibling appointments, etc.
“We find that we often need warm bodies. People to help to watch some kids while we go to court or have appointments. Someone who can come in case of emergency to watch the other kids or bring them to a safe space.” — Foster mom
“People willing to watch my biological child while I take our precious placement to appointments and such. Also those willing to do the training to babysit for foster kiddos (usually for us it’s just been a couple videos online). People willing to become a respite family would be a huge help!” — Foster mom
Babysitting foster children (or newly adopted children) isn’t the same as babysitting children who have always been with their biological family. Children do not enter “the system” without having gone through some form of trauma (neglect, physical, emotional, sexual abuse, parental death or addiction, etc.)
Because of the traumatic things they’ve endured, it is likely the foster/adoptive child will struggle with attachment and behavioral issues. Traditional methods don’t usually work with children who have experienced trauma. Foster/adoptive families work hard to implement safe, effective bonding and disciplinary methods, and if a babysitter doesn’t understand this, they can easily undo many long hours of re-training in a short time, albeit unintentionally.
If you are educated about childhood trauma and its impact on children (even the basics!) the families will be far more comfortable asking you to watch their kids!
4. Become “Trauma-Informed” (in Sunday-school and the nursery, etc.)
Because of the tendency for attachment and behavioral issues in their children, the nursery and Sunday-school can be difficult places for adoptive/foster parents to send their children. Parents aren’t always sure how their children will be handled if issues arise.
I realize Sunday-school teachers and nursery workers already have a full plate and I have high respect for them!! (If that’s you, thanks so much for pouring into the lives of children in this way! Hopefully, becoming trauma-informed makes your job easier rather than merely adding to an already full “to-do” list.)
Parents shouldn’t (and usually don’t) expect those in these roles to focus solely on their child or know everything about working with a child who’s experienced trauma. However, if they know that those caring for their children have at least a basic understanding of childhood trauma and the unique needs it may cause, they can breathe a little easier!
Becoming trauma-informed is a huge blessing and support to adoptive and foster families!
(Start learning: “Why be ‘trauma-informed’?– A training for Churches” and “Understanding Childhood Trauma” )
5. Learn to be sensitive and respectful of what you don’t understand
The following suggestions expressed by one foster mom is a sentiment shared by many adoptive and foster families!
“Gracefully accept and respect instructions or information from the foster/adoptive family. For example, when told they cannot provide information about their story or birth family do not continue to pry or be offended. And especially, please don’t ask questions right in front of the children! If a family has asked you not to hug or hold the child, please do not and don’t insist it is ok because “all children need love” or “it’s just a hug!” There are legitimate reasons they ask you not to do these things.”
— Foster mom
Again, if this doesn’t make sense to you, do a little research to try and understand. Being informed goes a long way toward supporting adoptive/foster families!
6. Be willing to be a go-to person in case of emergency/crisis
Not only does this mean being qualified to physically watch the kids (as mentioned in #3), but also to just be available for a quick text or phone call when the parents need some emotional support or a moment to vent some frustrations. Be someone who will listen, pray, and support– without judgment.
7. Prayer Support
The power and value of prayer should not be underestimated. It is vital in the support of adoptive and foster families. But it is only powerful if it is actually being done. If you tell a family you will pray for them, intentionally set aside time to follow through and bring them before the Lord. If you are praying for a family, let them know, and ask if there are specific ways you should be praying, but don’t use it as a means of gathering information. Periodically check-in as prayer needs will change.
I hope this list helps you support the adoptive and foster families in your life!
Do you have more ideas to support these families? I’d love to read them in the comments!