by Rachel Pilcher/ May 19, 2016
Foster care is the newest phenomenon to hit the local church. Many churches preach sermons on loving the orphan, and they have support groups and special meetings to talk about the need in their local area. Yet when a new foster family shows up on a Sunday morning, the kids’ team seems to have no idea how to handle this little one.
As members of our churches continue to help in the foster-care system, we will continue to encounter more foster-care children in our ministries on Sundays. So how do we welcome them, their parents, and their special set of needs in our kids’ ministries? How do we protect them from potential harm on social media, or from their biological parents and further trauma while they are in our care? For answers, I spoke to some foster parents who are near and dear to my heart. Some of their answers and ideas are below:
Have a clear check-in and check-out procedure. Explain this to parents as they drop off their children. Show parents the security checkpoints you have in place. I personally have security threats with my foster child. So we have communicated to the teachers in her room that only my husband and I are allowed to pick her up. If anyone else tries, they are to immediately contact our security team.
Provide training for your volunteers for children who have traumatic backgrounds. Many counties provide these trainings for little to no fee. Help volunteers understand that “normal” behavior for many children is not going to happen with kids that have trauma in their background. Have sensitivity for children in the foster-care system. Know that many kids have “triggers.” Ask the foster parents to share with you if their child has any.
Tell foster parents the truth about their child’s behavior. They are watching this child’s every move. Each behavior helps them understand more about the child they have in their home. When these children are with you on Sunday, it may be the only time they are playing with a group of children their age. It is great to know which behaviors come out in that setting. These behaviors may even point to more services the child may need.
Understand that we cannot tell you the child’s whole story. Foster parents are not allowed to share everything that has happened to the child in their care. Please know they will tell you all they can, but don’t make them uncomfortable.
Provide support for the whole family. Talk to your church about how you can support these families. Here are some ideas: pray, send notes, arrange meals, provide respite and transportation, send gift cards, etc.
Be careful what you call the foster parents when talking to children. I always ask the foster parent what the child calls them before they leave their child in my care. I heard of a story once of a preschool teacher telling an upset foster child, “Mommy will be here soon.” When the foster mom walked into room, the child went into a huge meltdown because she thought her biological mommy was coming, not her foster mommy.
No social media policy. State laws differ from state to state, but a good rule of thumb is to not include foster children’s faces in any of your promotional material, including a private Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page. Some states do allow foster parents to post pictures of their little ones, but due to security risks with biological parents, I would still strongly encourage churches and ministries to steer clear of this practice. You really would not want a biological parent showing up on Sunday morning to see their child.
One of the foster parents I spoke with shared this with me: Out of 12 couples that attend their support group, only two of them attend church. The reason they gave was the lack of security and training of the church volunteers. This makes my heart break. These are Christian folks who want to worship the Lord every weekend but do not feel welcomed in the local church due to the ministry that God has called them to. Welcoming and protecting foster-care families into our church is an issue that will not go away. If anything, it will be amplified in the coming months and years. As my husband and I took our classes last fall, almost 50% of our class were Christians and had no prior connection to the foster-care system. We are going to have more and more opportunities to minister to these children.
I’ll end with a great story that was shared with me by another foster mom. Her son, Burrito, had a very rough Sunday morning. He had one of his meltdowns during kids’ church that morning, and he punched a hole in the wall. She was immediately worried about how the leadership would approach her son and the rest of her family in the coming weeks. But to her surprise, one of the leaders said this to Burrito: “We all have bad days, but when we have a bad day we have to turn it around. We are here to help you.” Burrito apologized and showed deep remorse, but the church even went a step further. They allowed Burrito to come and help fix the hole, and they gave him the job of washing windows for three Sundays as restitution. There was no judging, no shaming, just love and grace. This is truly how the body of Christ should operate.