This blog post was originally published in January 2016. The truth of it remains the same so we are sharing it again to bring you encouragement for the journey.
My husband and I have had the privilege of providing foster care to fifteen children since 2010. We have three little boys right now who are six, five, and three. Last week one of our little boys told me he really wished he had some orange pants. Now, when he first came to our home, you could barely understand a word he said. So to hear him have such a specific want brings me a lot of joy. This kid absolutely loves to wear bow ties and dress up clothes to school. Almost every week he has a “dress up” day where he wears a shirt with a collar and a bow tie. His older brother says kids tease him sometimes for wearing ties to school, but he says he doesn’t care–he just likes his bow ties.
Last Thursday I had a free hour between appointments and I stopped at the outlet mall on a quest for orange pants. I knew it was a long shot, but I thought I’d check it out. Four stores later and I found a single pair of orange dress pants. They were squished in a clearance rack with last years’ leftovers. Between assorted tank tops and t-shirts from other seasons, there was one pair of orange pants. Exactly what I needed. The store manager told me that those pants have been waiting on the clearance rack for two years. Literally longer than this sweet little guy has lived in my home- these pants have been waiting. The perfect orange dress pants in a size six.
I have the honor of working with our new foster parents and I field a lot of phone calls from new inquiries. People who are maybe on the edge of deciding whether or not they should get involved with the foster care system. Everyone has heard horror stories and there are a million excuses as to why they shouldn’t get involved in a system that is viewed by so many as so broken.
Maybe we should wait until we are older.
Maybe we should wait until we have more money.
Maybe we should wait until we aren’t so busy.
Maybe I shouldn’t do this because I’m single.
Maybe we shouldn’t do this because it will be too hard to love them and let them go.
I often see a lot of fear and unrealistic expectations of what foster care is and will be like. People are afraid of the unknowns and the worst case scenarios so they limit their options to what they see are the “safest” choices. They are counseled by friends not to take the “hard” kids. Often the choice is little babies with no problems. Kids who haven’t been exposed to drugs, domestic violence, kids who aren’t in counseling, or attached to siblings, or need more time to recover… But ‘little babies with no problems’ don’t need foster care. It is the children who have seen the worst in life who need us. Children whose needs haven’t been met. Children who haven’t had safety and security in a warm and loving home. Children who can describe what needles look like and how to shoot up heroin. Children who have experienced violence and come to our homes with wounds on their bodies and their souls. That scares people.
As a result, there are so many children who sit waiting. Waiting for someone to be brave enough to care for them. To take a risk. To take the chance… outside their comfort zone. Maybe like wearing a pair of orange dress pants.
We had an adoption matching meeting recently for our three boys. An adoption matching meeting occurs when children who have been in foster care become available for adoption and the state is working towards locating an adoptive placement for the children. Unfortunately, for our children, there are no family members able to care for them at this time. During that meeting we talked about the supports my husband and I have as parents. I explained we have some wonderful friends who really get it- my social work friends who understand why we chose foster care and why we chose this life. They love us and will support us and our children.
My husband and I haven’t chosen an easy road, but as for our children? They had absolutely no choice in the matter. None of these children do. They wind up in the system through no fault of their own and rely on social workers, foster parents, and counselors to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. They didn’t choose this life.
I’m so glad that I didn’t let our fears or excuses get in the way of God’s direction for our lives.
There’s a wonderful quote from Joseph Campbell that I have hanging in my office. It reads: “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I find this to be very true in the world of foster care. I often tell new foster parents that they will experience frustration and heartache, and the feeling of ‘not knowing’ what will happen with the children in your home will really wear you down! But when you see the recovery that a child can make when they feel safe and secure, when you see the light begin to shine in their eyes, and the fear begin to dissipate, it is all worth it. They didn’t choose this, but we can choose to be with them through it. The world tells us our lives should be easy. But I absolutely believe that our faith requires more of us.
I’m so glad we chose this life.
I’m so glad that when the social worker called that we said yes.
I’m so glad that we gave a home to a little boy, who can now give a home to these crazy orange pants.
I’m so glad that I am able to empower other prospective foster parents to do this too. You can do this, you are capable and you are stronger than you think!
Life is short. You should definitely buy the orange pants.
Dear prospective foster parents,
As the Recruiter and Engagement Specialist for Encourage Foster Care I have the opportunity to connect with individuals and couples who have a heart to foster. I have such a great passion for our organization, and I absolutely love speaking with prospective foster parents and sharing the needs with them.
My role as a recruiter is to guide you, as prospective foster parents, answer your questions and inform you on what sets Encourage apart from other agencies. I’m the entry point for foster parents but I’m also committed to supporting you throughout this entire journey. The decision to become foster parents to children that have endured trauma and unfortunate difficult transitions can be an overwhelming yet joyful experience. I take the time to talk with all of our families and see how I can help make this process less overwhelming for you.
There are numerous questions that foster parents have and so many you may be afraid to ask . . . Do we have what it takes? Is our house big enough? Do we make enough money? Is it okay if we are renters rather than home owners? These are just a few. Please don’t let questions prevent you from taking the first step of inquiring. If you are being led to foster and want to talk with someone, please call me.
This is where I love being the first point of contact. I will answer your questions and pray with you. I will walk this journey with you. I’ll help you understand the training process. I’ll help relieve the fear of one of the most emotional questions about fostering—How can we become close to a child and then lose him or her? The time that you have with these children—whether it be a few days, a few months or a forever family—will need to be entrusted to God. Your role in fostering through faith is invaluable. You are providing safety, security, love, compassion and support for these children when they need it the most—regardless of the amount of time you provide. As we tangibly care for children in foster care, we also pray for their biological parents, pray for positive outcomes, pray for intervention and for reunification if possible. While this journey can be emotional, you will not be alone.
Encourage has an amazing team that supports you professionally and personally. We invest fully in our foster families and children. We strive to provide as much encouragement as possible. One of the ways we do this is by our Foster It Forward program—a new mentorship support system that allows connection and reassurance for our new families.
You will be partnered with a seasoned foster family that will serve as a mentor for you to reach out to for prayer and guidance. Mentors will share their experiences and coping strategies. They will help you feel better equipped to handle the unique challenges that come with fostering children. This is a remarkable way for foster parents to lean on each other through the good times, and yes, the trying times too. It’s our hope that this program will lead to increased stability for foster parents and children.
The need for foster parents is increasing. With 2019 quickly approaching, we ask that if you have considered foster care, please consider contacting me. I will be happy to talk with you, meet with you and pray with you. Our next foster parent pre-service training takes place in February at Crossroads Community Church in Mansfield, Ohio. It’s a great time to make that first step.