Fostering through faith

Faith is an integral part of our culture at Encourage. Sometimes the faith component in fostering starts as a gentle nudge. A knock at your heart’s door that God desires to take you down a new path of knowing and serving Him. Other times faith shows up as reminder of God’s call to the church to care for those who are alone and in need. Always the faith component in fostering entails loving deeply through the hard times. Embracing a child with all of his or her trauma and beauty, joy and fear, is costly. There will be moments of on-your-knees prayer, sacrifice, surrender, and the daily need to lean fully on your Savior.

God may have different plans than your own. Faith gives you the ability to trust that He knows exactly what you need. Here is one woman’s story of becoming a foster and adoptive parent.

“It’s really tempting to just do minimal care and not let yourself become attached because it seems like it would be less painful when they leave,” said Becca, a single woman who fostered two boys in Austin, Texas. “I look at Scripture and see that’s not how Jesus has loved us. I am called to lay down my life for these guys, no matter how long they’re in my home.”

If you’re feeling a small (or perhaps giant-sized) knock at your heart’s door to learn more about fostering, we would love to connect with you. Reach out to Heather Huebner, Foster Care Recruitment & Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118 for an introductory conversation.

Comfort and joy this Christmas

Like many other children, when December comes around our children enjoy carefully writing out “Wish Lists” to send to Santa. They excitedly think about presents and consider what special items they might write down. This year our nine-year-old son Jameson patiently helped our five-year-old daughter Jubilee put together a lengthy list of her favorite things. At our dining room table sat a little guy we are fostering. At six years old he has already lived in a few different houses and spent the holidays with a few different families. On this particular Thursday night, he was writing a special letter to Santa and he wanted to put on his list a certain toy he once had at his mom’s house, but he couldn’t remember what it was called. And then I think he just got to feeling so sad about it. Big alligator tears were sliding down his little-freckled cheeks. I tried to help him find it by having him describe it and looking at pictures online, but we just couldn’t figure it out together.

Around the holidays, I see many others struggle with family dynamics, financial burdens and worry over holiday stress. I just keep thinking about the heartache of this six-year-old boy away from his mom, in his third foster home, longing for a home and a toy that’s probably long gone. The good news is, there are many ways that foster and adoptive parents can reduce stress and anxiety for children over the holidays. Here are my top three best bets for a smoother holiday season.

Number one: Honor every family member’s traditions.

We have a family habit of making a list on our chalkboard of all the things we would like to do over the holiday season. Sometimes they are simple items such as reading a Christmas book, drinking hot cocoa, or watching a favorite movie together. Making a family to-do list together builds trust and empowers children to have the opportunity to choose things that they would like to do. I ask them if there are certain foods that they would like to include in our holiday meals. We always plan time for the children to buy small gifts for their parents to take to visitation as well.

Number two: Prediction. Prediction. Prediction.

I can’t stress this enough. Let your children know what’s coming next. If your schedule is going to be different over the holidays, consider making a visual schedule somewhere accessible for them. We have done this in a few different ways. Our son Jayvon has a white-board in his room with different small pictures that let him know what’s coming next. Last year our son Jameson had a calendar in his room that marked the days we were visiting people as well as his school holiday concert. Christmas was marked with a big sticker. We also use our chalkboard for this on nights when our kids are especially worked up. Visual aids can be extremely soothing for children who have lived in chaotic environments.

Number three: Adjust your expectations for yourself and your child.

Especially if you have children who have been newly placed within your home or are sensitive to changes in environment. If on a typical Christmas day, you have a flurry of opening presents, followed by celebrations in three different relatives’ homes in different cities, adjust the expectations for new children. It may be very overwhelming to meet that many new people at one time. Consider if they may do best with having some planned downtime, or time to do a sensory-friendly activity that can help center them over the busy days. Try to be in tune with what your children need if they are feeling sad or anxious. Plan ahead for potential meltdowns! This year it might be best not to stretch yourself too thin. It’s okay to say no to some activities and invitations.

We remind each other at our house that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Children can love spending the holidays with your family, and be deeply missing their own family as well. It can take a lot of grace, patience and mercy to get through the holiday season. Give yourself some space to enjoy the holidays without so much pressure.

Fostering siblings

People often have a negative perception of children in foster care. Just because these children come from hard places and have experienced hard things, doesn’t mean they aren’t also great kids. When you hear about children in foster care, you often hear the worst stories about the abuse and neglect that they have endured. Encourage’s kids are resilient with many brilliant qualities.

You might learn in the news what they’ve experienced, but these articles don’t share that they also love the color orange, love to be read to, and play pretend. I like to remind new foster and adoptive parents that a child may be in foster care, but that is a situation they are experiencing, it doesn’t define who they are or who they will become.

Successful foster care stories are powerful because they help change the way we think about foster care children and the adults who said yes to loving them. This recent foster-to-adopt story about a sibling group gives us a glimpse into the vivid personalities and tender hearts of these amazing kids. It also gives us the opportunity to share about the specific needs of sibling groups.

The overwhelming majority of the referrals we receive here at Encourage are for brothers and sisters who need to be placed together. Many times being separated from your brother or sister is more traumatic than being separated from your mom or dad. Especially if you were the one responsible for taking care of your brother or sister.

Can you imagine your little brother or sister being pulled away from you to stay in another place with strangers you don’t know? There are many positives when taking care of siblings. Having your brother or sister in your foster home with you can reduce fear, worry and anxiety. It creates stability and security for children to remain with their brothers or sisters.

My husband and I have fostered six different sibling groups. The rewards of keeping them together have vastly outweighed the challenges. Siblings may require more laundry, more time to get ready for school, and more plates around the dinner table, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Keeping brothers and sisters together in foster care has been the most meaningful part of our lives.

Spouse unity in fostering

At Encourage, we are here to walk alongside individuals, couples and families as they prepare to open their home to a foster child or sibling group. Everyone has foster care questions. This is a big decision and there are many questions to ponder and concerns to uncover.

Sometimes one spouse is ready to sign up to be a foster parent before the other. Here are some great tips from a foster parent/foster home licensing specialist to consider as you pray and discuss this issue with your husband or wife. As you learn about his or her uncertainties, you’ll have the opportunity to show love by listening and validating their feelings. These conversations will make your foster home stronger if and/or when you make that choice together.

Unless you’re a united front, the bottom line is your home will not be the best place for a child who has already experienced too much instability. Dragging someone else along into this decision might seem good for you, but it will not be best for a child.

(Read the full article here.)

What hesitations are holding you back from saying yes to fostering? We would love to help you process your foster care concerns and remove any barriers to taking the next step. For more information, please contact Heather Huebner, Foster Care Recruitment & Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

If you are ready to say yes to fostering, our next pre-service training begins in February. Learn more about the session today.

Protect the vulnerable

As the second Sunday in November approaches, we are reminded of a word used less frequently in our country today. Orphan Sunday is a special day set aside to raise awareness for children who face life without a biological parent to love and guide them. Our loving God cares deeply for these precious ones experiencing vulnerable circumstances. He has included and instructed us, His Church, to respond to their needs. Isaiah 1:17 (NIV) says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

A lesser known definition of the word orphan is one without protective affiliation. Encourage Foster Care children have lost one or both parents as a result of death, drugs/addiction, abusive behavior, and other difficult and painful situations. We know they are not orphans as this definition reads because God is in His great wisdom created a plan so the defenseless would not be without protection. They are not alone because they have us.

There are 47 foster parents at Encourage who have said yes to opening their hearts and homes to one or more foster children. They have completed required training and prepared welcoming spaces to best care for these young lives. We are wholeheartedly grateful for their service and are committed to providing a strong support system to help them be successful.

Not everyone is called to become a foster parent, but we are all called to defend those without protection. James 1:27 (NLT) says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.” Here are five opportunities for you to prayerfully consider:

Become wrap-around supports

Practical assistance from the local church community can be extremely helpful (and encouraging!) to foster and adoptive families. Consider household chores and yard work, shopping or babysitting so mom and dad can go out on a date. Transport a child to weekly appointments or drop off a home-cooked meal.

Start mentoring

Encourage’s A Friend in Fostering mentorship program is looking for enthusiastic, dedicated, caring adults to provide our youth with support through life transitions and to help instill independence, confidence and everyday life skills.

Use those skills

God has gifted each one of us with unique talents and abilities. From haircuts to orthodontics to car repair, you can use your skills to give a gift of love to a foster child, home or adoptive family.

Donate your birthday

Rather than gifts, ask your family and friends to support vulnerable kids through an established and accredited foster care organization. Gifts to Encourage Foster Care (through our parent organization Christian Children’s Home of Ohio) provide critical services that meet the unique needs of children in foster care.

Share this post

Orphan Sunday acknowledges children in need around the world. There are 20,000 children in foster care in Ohio alone. Use your social media platform to advocate on their behalf. Share this post and why it matters to you personally.

Let’s utilize November 11, 2018 as an opportunity to stand up for children in foster care. Use your voice in person or through digital outreach. Consider giving your time or financial resources to ensure that these children are protected.

Adapted from a resource on the CAFO website.

The heart of prevention

At Encourage Foster Care & Adoption we are here to support the children who have been removed from their families due to substance abuse, domestic violence and other unsafe circumstances. Intervention is often necessary for their wellbeing, and it makes our hearts full to see these vulnerable children acclimate well and begin healing with foster families.

It’s also heartwarming to hear of prevention programs for adult parents who are struggling but desire to make lasting changes to keep their families together. Here’s a news story of a pilot program in Ohio that is coming alongside biological families with strong support systems.

Instant Family

Foster families and their unique joys and struggles are often tucked away from mainstream media so we are excited to see this important subject come to the big screen. “Instant Family,” starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, will be in theaters Friday, November 16. Here’s the trailer:

Note: We have not pre-screened the film but prayerfully anticipate how God will use it to encourage discussion about the needs of foster children and prompt individuals to explore the possibility of becoming foster parents.

Will you please pray with us?