After 15 months with one set of sisters, and then 7 months as a typical family, the Tims Team is on the brink of welcoming two brothers, age 3 years and 5 months, into the family. We’ve found the following things to be helpful in preparing for these boys.
Know why you’re doing foster care. Motives matter. They effectively determine the kind of foster family you will be. If you are in it for the monthly stipend, it won’t be long until bitterness sets in, as no amount of money can compensate for the struggles you will have. If you’re in it for some other form of selfish gain (i.e., the personal satisfaction of having done something good for society that people admire you for), this, too, will leave you feeling empty very soon. A deeper motive is required. In a previous post, I called it a “ministry of reconciliation.” In her book, “The Whole Life Adoption Book,” Jayne Schooler calls such a motive “voluntary redemptive suffering” (p. 72).
Wrapping one’s heartstrings around someone else’s child is a voluntary choice. Each year, hundreds upon hundreds of adoptive parents around this nation voluntarily stand before a judge to make a promise to a stranger’s child: “We will be your family forever, by our choice to do so.” Adoption is not only voluntary; it is also redemptive. “Redeem” means to release, to make up for, to restore. An adoptive family’s guiding light is the vision to restore to an abused or neglected child the dignity of life that was ripped from him. It is a dignity that child was born to enjoy. In addition to being voluntary and redemptive, adoption involves suffering. To extend your energies around the clock with no guarantee of a night’s rest to care for a seriously ill child – that is suffering. To be told, “You are not my real mom/dad” … And to continue to give live in spite of that rejection – that is suffering. To see a child recoil from affection because of years of abuse, and to know that you would gladly carry the pain for them but can’t – that is suffering.
Related to suffering, we should also remember to begin a foster care situation with the end in mind. And by “the end,” I don’t mean adoption or reconciliation between child and parents. I mean that we should look at the suffering associated with foster care in the proper light, as Paul does in 2 Corinthians 4. Affliction in a Gospel ministry is “light and momentary” and prepares us for glory that is “weighty and eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17). You will not lose heart as a foster parent if you “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).”
Involve your church family. When your motive is voluntary redemptive suffering, what better group of people to share the experience with than your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do not deny those who wish for it the opportunity to participate in this rewarding and challenging ministry! They can and must help you with everything from clothing to free babysitting. Were it not for some amazing people in our church family, the challenges of foster care would be overbearing, and the rewards of foster care would not be as far-reaching.
Finally, take advantage of government programs. These may vary by state, but in South Carolina, the Department of Social Services works very hard, even in the midst of difficult financial times, to resource and support its foster families. ABC vouchers are available to families with parents who are both employed. These vouchers serve as payment to daycare facilities that accept them, including those run by religious institutions. WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) payments are also available (these used to be known as “food stamps”). Health insurance is provided for the children via Medicaid. Our agency has a storage facility with baby toys, car seats, etc. These programs (and more) exist to support you in your role as a foster parent, and should be used accordingly.
Foster care is a formidable and fruitful ministry. Being prepared adds to the blessing.