Sometime shortly after the birth of our first child in 2010, Sam and I both became convicted that we had been called to foster children. For Sam, it was while listening to a Focus on the Family broadcast. For me, it was from listening to and reading a combination of things about fostering/adoption. I was getting ready one morning and pondering the idea and knew in my heart that this was something God wanted us to do. That same day while talking to Sam, he actually brought it up first that he felt God calling us to foster! For our family, we had a clear certainty that God wanted us to serve in this capacity.
John 14:18 (NIV)
18 ”I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
Psalm 82:3 (NIV)
3 “Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.”
We went on to have 3 biological children within a few years and, shortly after that, knew that we wanted to go forward with fostering. So in 2015 when our youngest was 1, we made the first phone call to our county’s social services agency. It took us about 2 years to get licensed. And every 2 years we have to renew our license, which we just completed. We have been fostering for 3 years; we primarily provided respite in the beginning, and have had 2 long term placements. We do hope to adopt one day. We are praying over this and waiting on God’s perfect timing!
Some common questions we get are:
- How did you decide on which agency?
We honestly felt overwhelmed at the number of agencies available. But we really felt called to work with our county’s social services agency- and what a blessing it has been! The majority of the social workers and many of the other foster parents are fellow believers! Even our training classes all took place at a local non-denominational church! We cherish the opportunity to shine the light of Jesus into these traumatized kids’ lives, as well as their biological and foster families. We have been so impressed with our county social workers and their deep, sacrificial love for the children. If you live in the Durham/Triangle area and are interested, here is the link to the agency we use: dconc.gov/dss. They can be reached at: (919)560-8092 or email@example.com.
- What was the process?
After we made the initial call to the county social services agency in October 2015, we were put in the first available class- which was in February 2016! (This gives you an idea of why it takes a while to get licensed.) Those 30 hours of foster parent training are called MAPP. They were over the course of 5 or 6 Saturdays and were really beneficial. During this time they are also testing you to see if you are really committed/interested in this service. Several people drop out once they know all that is entailed.
During this time you will also begin to receive all the paperwork to complete. Basically everything in your home will need to be licensed. You, your spouse, children, any other adults living with you, your pets, and the house itself. The agency we use also has rules like: no firearms in the home, no bodies of water close by without a fence, etc. Some of the paperwork includes: background checks, medical check-ups for all people in the home to show you are medically fit to foster, shot records for the pets, fire and environmental inspection of the home, and a CPR license.
The smaller your household, the quicker the process. A family member was living with us when we started the process and then we realized they would also have to get licensed. They spent 6 months working on the licensing and then moved out. We took a long time because of our family size, extra adults living with us who also had to go through the process, pets, and due to the fact that we had been living in NC only 2 years. (Plus, did I mention we had 3 kids ages 5, 3, and 1?) Anyone living in NC less than 5 years has to go through additional nationwide background checks plus background checks in the previous state/county you resided in.
Some of this information will also be needed at relicensing, as well as 20 hours of training. We got the 20 hours of training by attending different instructional sessions offered by various local agencies and organizations, online courses, by speaking at MAPP training sessions for new foster parents, and by reading literature on foster parenting. Our CPR training also counts toward the 20 hours.
- But I am not married, etc.? Can I foster?
Yes! Single adults can foster! Single adults are often highly valued because some abused children are afraid of people of a certain gender. Any other adults living in the house with the single person will also need to have background checks, etc.
- How many children can I foster at a time?
In North Carolina, you can have 5 children in the house at one time- and that includes your biological children. We have 3 biological children, so we can have up to 2 placements at a time. Sometimes they will make exceptions for sibling groups. If you live elsewhere, be sure to ask that question of your local agency!
- How do your children manage?
Just like all of us, they have good and bad days. There is often the initial “honeymoon” stage at the beginning of a placement. Then, just like with any sibling, there will be fighting over toys, the TV, etc. We have three biological girls, so more girls in the same age range is often the toughest- lots of rivalry for the same stuff. Boys are often an easier placement for us only because they are not competing for all the same things and often not as emotional. Sam plus 6 females in the house can be tough! But as the children get older, they realize more and more the importance of serving our community in this way. And, of course, this service also shapes them and their character. They are learning sacrifice, sharing, hospitality, love, and compassion. It also helps them put their life in perspective; the “stuff” just doesn’t matter as much when you have been displaced from your home and family.
- What are the hardest parts?
Just like with any other type of service, there are challenges as well as joy. Sometimes we get children who use foul language, have sexual behaviors (that we were not notified about), have intense medical needs, etc. The MAPP training does alert you to the types of behaviors that are typical with traumatized children. Many foster children struggle with sleep. And they often have their own busy schedules- therapy sessions, meetings with their family, medical/dental visits, school, etc. Thankfully, the social workers and their transportation services can often help you with logistics.
Another challenge is turning down placement requests. I struggle to tell social workers “No,” but you have to consider the whole family. Protecting your biological children as well as keeping in mind your spouse’s work schedule and their stress load is critical, too.
Watching additional children increases the weight on your shoulders. I struggle to relax when we have extra children with us. Since these are not your children, there is much more scrutiny over every scratch or bruise. After one placement got some minor scratches on her back (of which we still don’t know what happened), we were interviewed by 3 different people.
7. What are some tips to help with the challenges?
Lean on the Lord during your struggles! Also, be sure to ask lots of questions- social workers do not always remember or know everything about a child; previous foster parents may withhold information. One of our first placements had a sexual history and we were not notified. The social workers did not know, but the the foster parents knew and chose not to tell us (and they knew we had 3 young girls in the house!) It wasn’t until about day 3 that our daughter (over the dinner table) told us of some disturbing events. She was not harmed but had been asked to engage in several sexual activities. When we heard the news, we were so disturbed and really questioned if we should quit fostering (we had only been licensed about 1 month!). But we knew without a doubt that God called us to this ministry and knew that Satan was up to his old tricks and trying to get us to quit. Never forget this about Satan:
1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
8 ”Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
When you know that God has called you to a certain work, stay steadfast!
1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)
58 “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
We had only been watching the foster child during the day on his Christmas break while the long term foster parents were at work. We made the uncomfortable call and told the foster parents that he could not return to our home. And we were sure to notify the social workers the next day as well.
A few last things that we found helpful is to always get permission from your spouse before accepting any placements! I learned that the hard way one time by accepting a placement without first speaking to Sam. When I told Sam, he proceeded to tell me he was too stressed with work and could not take any placements at that time. So I had to make the embarrasing call to the social workers and tell them that we could not take the child after all (and they were already in the car on the way over!) I felt so bad and asked all involved to forgive me. Lesson learned!
Something else I try to avoid is accepting respite placements while Sam is out of town for work. He travels about once a month and I have found that I am not at my best while on my own. Everyone is different and maybe you thrive while you are on your own! I struggle and want to give these kids my best self when possible. These kids have already gone through so much and I don’t want to add to their bad memories!
About a year into our fostering, God convicted me to do a better job. I found that I was physically present for the kids and fulfilling all their physical needs, but I struggled to be emotionally present. The Holy Spirit made it clear that I needed to do a better job of showing physical affection, talking to them, and playing with them. It’s often during those times that opportunities to share love and Jesus become available. My love language is NOT physical affection, so this is something I struggle with in general. But as we know with all children, they need ALL 5 love languages- encouragement, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical affection. If you want to learn more about the love languages, click here. Something else to remember is that, as with any relationship, it takes time to build. It took time to build a relationship with your newborn child, and it will take time to build a relationship with any children that come into your home.
8. What are the benefits?
Peace! When you know you are in God’s will, there is great peace! If we were to disobey God in this calling, I know we would not be at rest! And there is great satisfaction at the end of a day of hard work.
Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)
23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
There is also great satisfaction in helping the children through one of the toughest times in their lives, as well as the opportunities to share the good news of the gospel with them, their families, and others in the fostering community.
And, of course, the kids bless US with their snuggles, smiles, physical affection, and gratitude! Our extended family, neighbors, friends, and church have done well in embracing the kids.
9. What about the financial side of fostering?
If money is an issue, don’t let it deter you from fostering! If God has called you to this ministry, He will take care of you and your household!
Matthew 6:26 (NIV)
26 ”Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
Typically, you will receive a small monthly payment for fostering children long term and small payments for respite placements. The amount depends on the age of the child, how many children are placed with you, and the duration of their stay. There is also a possibility of reimbursement depending upon the purchase and reason. Foster children also have access to Medicaid. And don’t forget to check out food banks, diaper banks, garage sales, consignment sales, or even notifying your community of needs you may have. Agencies also sometimes get donations of clothes, toys, school supplies, suitcases, etc., that you can have.
When we started fostering and did not have any boy toys, clothes, bikes, etc., our friends, neighbors, and church did a great job of filling in that gap. I was able to get some multiracial toys at the local Dollar Tree as well as multiracial books for free when the local elementary school was cleaning out its library at the end of the school year.
Keep a strong prayer life and go to the Lord with all these needs, as well as seeking His help with all your weaknesses, fears, lack of strength, need for wisdom, whatever! When I struggle, (which is often!) I go to the Lord for help! And He does not fail.
I never thought I would be fostering one day, but I look at our family and see why God called us to this ministry. From my own childhood experiences, I can relate to many of these kids. And Sam is always a favorite- he is so good with playing with the kids and extending love and physical affection to them. A young child who has stayed with us 4 times remembers Sam as the man who makes pancakes! And our oldest is a natural evangelist- she is constantly sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all the kids who enter our house!
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and into God’s plan for your life- whether it is fostering or something else!
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ’plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.‘”
Edited by Amy Young