In the UK around 4,000 children are waiting for adoption and 8,600 foster families are desperately needed. In recent years, many local churches have seen their members rise to this challenge by becoming adoptive parents or foster carers. Local Authorities are increasingly recognising the potential of churches – both as a place to find potential foster carers and adoptive parents, and as a community to support families that foster and adopt.
Not every church will have people in it who are called to foster or adopt children. Not every couple or family in your church will be able to provide such life-changing care. But when your church has the opportunity, how should you support those who are fostering and adopting?
We all have preconceptions of what adoption and fostering might look like and what the processes might be. But things change over time, and the processes vary depending on location. It is worth getting to know more about the need for carers and families in your community, through building good relationships with your local social services. Become familiar with the different reasons why children need care and the different types of care that are needed. A helpful starting point is the Home for Good website (www.homeforgood.org.uk). Home for Good is a national charity which aims to make adoption and fostering a significant part of the life and ministry of the church.
Pray for the children who are in care and in need of families. Pray that God would raise up more and more people to adopt and foster. Pray for social workers, that they would be supportive of Christians who can foster and adopt. Pray for those from your church who are beginning the process. And keep praying for them at every stage on their journey – from applications to introductions and beyond.
3. Own your role as a support network
The church family can play a positive role in providing practical support and love at all stages. As well as practical help, you can care for those who are adopting or fostering by helping them to build an effective support network, including people who will pray for them regularly. Encourage them to connect with other Christians who have fostered and adopted. Everyone’s experience will be different, but it is an encouragement to talk with those who have gone before you in the process.
4. Be patient
The process from showing an interest in adoption and fostering, to being approved, to being matched and placed with children is often a long one. Those going through it appreciate the support of their church family but often find it hard to be constantly asked how things are going. This is especially true in the period of waiting to be matched with a child for placement.
5. Be prepared
Having encouraged patience, once things do start to happen, a lot can happen quickly. There are often only a few weeks between an official match with a child and the process of introductions. With fostering, some placements happen with hardly any notice. As a church you can help by being prepared to support parents and carers as soon as they need it. This could include freeing them up from responsibility and service in church life so they can focus on their role as parents and carers.
6. Provide practical support
Many churches already provide great practical support to couples who have new babies. More and more churches are seeing how important it is to provide similar support to families who adopt and foster. Aim to provide the same support you would to any family who has a new baby in your church (meals, shopping, etc.) but be alert to other help that may be needed. The period of introductions is draining for a family who are adopting. This can last for one to two weeks and involves several journeys to and from foster families in order to build up contact and work towards bringing a child home. If you are not sure how to help during introductions, just ask.
7. Provide lasting care
Once children are placed and are settled in a family, it can look and feel ‘happily-ever-after’ to those on the outside looking in. It looks a lot different from the inside. Following an adoption placement, the new parents are still supported by social workers as they prepare to apply for an adoption order from the courts, which completes the legal process. Foster families are always thinking of what might be next for their children and how best to prepare them. Families who are fostering to adopt have to live with much uncertainty until that adoption process is confirmed. Add to this the ongoing need to develop attachment with a new child and the concerns of the future, and it is easy to see the need to provide lasting care.
8. Respect children’s backgrounds
Their parents or carers will have read pages and pages of reports on a child’s background, health and history. They are not going to share all of that with you, nor should they. Show support and interest in the children, but recognise when that becomes unhelpful. Don’t be surprised by parents who lovingly refuse to share information with you. Trust them to share with you what you need to know. Consider the different journeys and stories that are involved. There is the story of the parents or carers – how they have come to foster or adopt. There is also the child’s story – their background, their journey and arrival in a new family. That second story belongs to the child to tell and is guarded by their parents and carers in a way that will best help a child to deal with their life history.
9. Accept and welcome new children
Children who are coming through or from care will sometimes present a challenge to church life and activities. Church will be a new experience for most of them. They won’t have been taught how to sit nicely or how to interact appropriately. Aim to provide a warm, welcoming and loving environment for them, and work with their parents and foster carers to help them engage with church life in appropriate ways. Allow space for parents to build attachment before they bring a child to church. Be accepting and welcoming.
10. Rejoice in the Father’s love for us
One of the joys of supporting families who adopt and foster is that we know and love the God who is the Father of the fatherless (Ps. 68:5). He is the One who predestined us for adoption into his family (Eph. 1:5). In reflecting such glorious truths, families who foster and adopt are helping church communities to appreciate the family welcome we receive from God. Their love helps us live with renewed joy at our Heavenly Father’s love for us. Where possible, look for ways to make those connections lovingly, sensitively and carefully. Maybe start by celebrating Adoption Sunday as a church (1 November 2015), praying for those who are fostering and adopting and hearing their stories. The vulnerable are receiving care. Children who had no family have been welcomed into a family whose faith is in Jesus. Does that remind you of anything?