Becoming a foster parent is not for everyone. God has different plans and callings for each of us. I never thought I would be a foster parent…until God clearly called Sam and I to this ministry. It has been a long, bumpy, challenging road, but I don’t regret it or wish God had called me to something else. It is tough but beautiful; sacrificial but so worth it! We have the amazing opportunity to help mend very broken families, as well as provide safety, shelter, love, nourishment, and Jesus to hurting people in dark places. I am so honored God lets me do this job and to be honest, I spend a lot of time asking God to help my flawed self do a better job! Because even on our best days, we are far from perfect and need God every moment of every day. Join me as we share our long road to becoming foster parents and answers to common questions you or others may have about becoming foster parents yourselves. If you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you in this direction, don’t let fear stop you! With God at your side, YOU CAN DO THIS!
Our Journey (The Short Version)
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.
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. We were licensed by 2017 and primarily provided respite in the beginning. In 2019 we started accepting long term placements, and have had 2 so far. We hope to adopt one day and are waiting on God’s perfect timing!
Some common questions 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! Many of the social workers and 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. 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 get the 20 hours 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. But as the children get older, they realize more and more the importance of serving our community in this way. On the days they are struggling with fostering, we encourage them to go to the Lord in prayer! Just like us, they need to lean on the Lord!
Overall, they have embraced the children, and when they need a break, they retreat to their bedrooms, go to a friend’s house, or visit a grandparent.
- 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.
Since we started receiving long term placements, we have gone through new challenges. When we notified our licensing worker in the fall of 2019 that we were ready to do more than respite, we got a call 24 hours later about a 1 year old. She was at our house 2 hours later. I barely had enough time to get to the store and pick up diapers, wipes, baby cleaning products and baby food. Our house was not toddler proofed and overnight went from our comfortable home with 3 older kids to now adding a very active, curious toddler to the mix. I was so tempted to stay in my comfort zone but I needed to obey God!
We also struggled with her aggression and anger, particularly towards our biological children. The first month she was in our home, my arms were covered in bruises. But God made it clear that He wanted her with us. So with His help, we persevered over and over again, even when COVID-19 and isolation joined the mix in March 2020.
And lastly, since we are a white family with multiracial placements in the American South, we can get a lot of reactions when we step outside of our house into the world. People stare a lot; some are angry; many are curious.
I got a lot of comments about our black foster daughters hair, especially in the beginning, when I was still learning how to care for her hair and learn easy styles suitable for a wiggly toddler. I am learning to have peace with my best and remember that I can do all things with Christ! We are 1 year into this placement and have gotten more used to sticking out in public! It does get easier!
I got a lot of help from my black friends on hair products and Youtube videos on how to care for her hair as well as easy styles. Many people reached out and offered to do her hair for free! Don’t be afraid to accept help. We so appreciate all the help we have received from family, friends, and church members with babysitting, listening ears, and encouragement. Thank You!! Fostering seriously takes a village!
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. 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:
When you know that God has called you to a certain work, stay steadfast!
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.
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!
Also remember 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.
One night I was putting a child to bed and it had not been a good day. We were really struggling and I remember crying out to God, “Why? Maybe they would be happier elsewhere?” But then the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “Because you will tell them about Jesus.” It was a profound moment and every time I want to give up, I remember what is at stake here. Satan wants us to quit! But we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Phil 4:13).
Self care is vital for everyone in the home! Take advantage of respite! If you are married, get regular date nights! Spend time with your biological children and by yourself. Get in your daily Bible reading/prayer time and some exercise. Getting outside for a walk can be so relaxing! Schedules, nap times and bedtimes are helpful. And don’t feel guilty if you need to use daycare! Lastly, check out your local foster parent groups for additional support.
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.
We are so grateful that we are allowed to help children through one of the toughest times in their lives, as well as have the opportunity 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!
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!
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.
For additional resources on fostering, check out:
- Wait No More ministry by Focus on the Family
- The Forgotten Initiative Podcast
- Tons of websites and blogs on adoption and fostering
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. 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 had 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! With God’s help, you CAN do it!