When I say the words foster care, I imagine a number of thoughts race through your head.
You’ve heard stories.
You know someone who knew someone.
You’ve even seen it in movies and television.
Foster care is an easy topic to form opinions about, but it wasn’t until I actually began the process of fostering kids that I realized how little I knew about it.
Foster care is a messy (and necessary) business. But it’s the kind of messy reality that we can’t afford to ignore or be ignorant about—especially in the Church. Unfortunately, it’s also the kind of messy reality that’s really easy to be misinformed about.
Whether or not you have foster families in your church now, it’s important to be informed about what foster care is and isn’t so that we can know how to best love and serve these families.
Myth 1: Kids in care are bad or beyond repair
The kids in foster care are there through no fault of their own. Unfortunately, most of the reasons that children enter care—like neglect, abuse, or addiction—inevitably can impact their understanding of discipline, structure, routine, school, and even hygiene. But these gaps can all be bridged—to differing degrees—with intentionality, redirection, intervention, and love.
Myth 2: Biological parents are bad or beyond repair
The top reasons that children enter foster care is neglect, addiction, and abuse. So this is an easy myth to believe because, at first glance, it has plenty of credence. But there are also a lot of parents out there who fight hard to earn back custody of their children.
The goal of foster care is reunification. And while there are an unfortunately high amount of instances of biological parents whose actions (or inactions) lead to the termination of their parental rights, there are a lot of instances as well where bio parents put in the work to fix their families.
Myth 3: Foster parents are “special”
Foster parents aren’t more special than other kinds of parents. They aren’t braver, stronger, or tougher either. They’re brave, strong, and tough—just like other parents. When we designate foster parents as special kinds of people, it’s easy to believe the rest of us can’t be foster parents too, because we don’t feel like we are the brave, strong, tough, special kind of people.
There are a lot of good humans out there who would make excellent foster parents, but who are disinclined towards it because they don’t think they’re special. The truth is that you don’t have to be. More than anything, you just have to be willing.
Myth 4: Foster parenting is the only way to get involved
The foster system in this country is stretched beyond capacity. And while it’s true that there’s always a pressing need for more foster parents, fostering isn’t the only way to get involved in this crisis.
- You can become a court-appointed special advocate (or CASA) for children in care.
- You can become a respite caregiver, making yourself available to babysit for foster parents, as there are limitations on who they can choose for childcare.
- You can deliver meals to foster families.
- You can connect with your local DFCS or CPS office and provide things like backpacks, toothbrushes, stuffed animals, and even pajamas for kids who enter care.
There are so many ways that individuals as well as churches can get involved in the foster care crisis, and becoming a foster parent yourself is only one of those ways. Above all, you can pray!
- Pray for kids in care.
- Pray for foster families.
- Pray for social workers.
- Pray for biological families.
- Pray for the judges.
Praying isn’t a last resort. It’s the best thing we can do.
The Church’s role in foster care
The Church has a responsibility to engage this crisis head-on. Why?
Because James 1:27 says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress” (NLT). God’s heart is for foster care. So ours should be too!
All of these myths are easy to believe, and it’s understandable why.
- Behavior issues are common with foster kids.
- There are biological parents out there whose continued connection with their children does do more harm than good.
- Foster families do make incredible sacrifices and are willing to open themselves to all kinds of pain so that the children in their care don’t have to.
- And there is definitely a critical need for more foster parents.
But to reduce the idea of foster care to these narrow (and frankly, incorrect) beliefs does an incredible disservice to the kids, parents, and foster parents who are in desperate need of help. There’s so much more going on.
The first step in engaging in this crisis is to rethink our incorrect notions about foster care so we can better love and serve the kids and families in our community. This is how we fix a broken system. This is how we heal broken hearts.