Foster care is probably the most difficult thing my family and I have ever done. It’s more difficult than completing a Ph.D., moving several times across the country, making friends as 30-somethings, and remodeling a kitchen (don’t underestimate the magnitude of that task).
Foster care is hard. But you should still do it. The Old Testament is replete with commands about caring for society’s most vulnerable—the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the immigrant (see Mal. 3:5; Isa. 1:17; Deut. 10:18, 14:25; Exod. 22:22-24). These were the people most likely to be taken advantage of and to struggle in a society based on family relationships and family property. God, therefore, takes special care in commanding his people to care for those who would otherwise be destitute.
The New Testament continues in this same vein, with James even stating, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27). The principle is exactly the same: New Testament believers should care for society’s most vulnerable.
American culture differs from that of the New Testament and ancient Israel in that we have several governmental programs to care for society’s most destitute. However, that does not negate the Christian responsibility to care for orphans, widows, immigrants, and the poor beyond simply paying taxes. And, furthermore, state governments rely on individual people to provide a home for the children in government care. Thus, Christians can demonstrate God’s heart toward society’s most vulnerable while also being a blessing to our state by loving children in foster care. It’s not easy, but it’s a practical way to live out our faith.
I hear a lot of objections, whether out of fear or discomfort, to foster care; here are some of the most common ones and why I think they shouldn’t keep you from serving these children who need our help.
1. I couldn’t bear to let a foster child go back home.
Put my name on the list of people who thought this. When my wife and I first started talking about foster care, I had this grand view of myself—that I would be an amazing foster dad who fell in love with every foster child at first sight. Andrew has been in our family now for more than 18 months, and I can say now that I love him deeply, as if he were my biological son, and I would be devastated if he left our family. He’s a wonderful kid, full of life and energy, and he smiles this wonderful smile and laughs out loud when he eats strawberries and Cheetos. He’s amazing.
But I didn’t start out feeling this way about him or seeing all of the life that he brings to our family. When Andrew first came to be with us, all I could see were the extra diapers, the (many) sleepless nights, and the ruckus that adding another child to the mix brings. It was really hard, and there were a lot of times when I found myself angry at his biological parents because they should be comforting him in the middle of the night, and they should be teaching him how to trust other people. I’m embarrassed to admit that, at that point, I wanted my foster son to go back home because he made my life inconvenient.
I hope you’ll have a different experience than me—that from the start you’ll be able to show Christ-like, sacrificial love toward a foster child. Now that I’m on the other side of those difficult first months, I can’t imagine my family without Andrew. Despite the frustrations, I urge you to foster anyway, because I think the pain of being without our foster son—should that happen—will be eclipsed by the joy and hope and life he has given us.
2. I couldn’t love a foster child like I love “my” kids.
This one is a bit trickier and takes some guts to admit out loud. I think this is true for a lot of people, and it was certainly true for me—for a long time. The good news is that this isn’t required of you. Foster children are typically in your care for a limited amount of time.. They need love and support, of course, but they aren’t your children.
The goal of foster care is always reunification, and the role that foster parents play in that goal is to provide a safe, loving environment for the children while the parents work out whatever issues need to be addressed so the family can be reunited. However, approximately a quarter of the foster care population is eligible for adoption, meaning that reunification with the biological family won’t be possible. The reasons for failed reunification vary, but that population of children are eligible for adoption.
I’ve found that approaching foster care understanding this framework freed me to love our foster son well because I saw myself as one part of the larger goal of redeeming a broken family. If reunification ends up not being possible, then trust God to cause you to love that child as your own. After all, God is good at loving adopted children.
3. My own children are too young right now.
When Andrew joined our family, our oldest son was just barely two years old, and our youngest was two months, so I understand this concern. I still laugh out loud at the absurdity of welcoming a two-month-old child into our family at that time in life. It was absolutely bonkers. All I can say is that the Lord was in it, and we survived.
But much more than simply surviving, our family has thrived with Andrew in it. He has brought life and infectious laughter to our home. He’s not simply someone we care for; he contributes significantly to our family dynamic.
I’m certain this is not always the case—all foster children are dealing with some level of trauma, even at six months old. But, foster care is about providing love, safety, and stability to someone who needs it, not about our own comfort level and the difficulties we may face.
4. I don’t want my biological children to get hurt.
This objection often relates directly to the previous one. I’m no expert at foster care, but we should definitely consider the safety of all the people in our homes. My family decided to only foster children who were the same age or younger than our youngest son for this very reason. Of course, that means we now have two kids just a few months apart, but it also means that we could ensure the physical safety of our whole family while also fostering another child. Also worth noting is that social workers and the state want to ensure the foster child’s and your family’s well-being, so they take into account age, gender, and trauma when placing children in your home.
There’s also the question of the emotional safety of the kids already in your home. That’s a tough one, because no one wants their children to experience grief or loss. I know our two biological sons would be devastated if Andrew left our home. I also know that God is faithful and trustworthy, and he has called us to care for orphans (extended to foster children in today’s context). Sometimes that means the people closest to us will experience grief and loss of their own, but that also provides them (and us) with the opportunity to learn that obeying God is sometimes difficult. Very difficult. But it’s always worth it.
Having a foster son has shaped my family in ways that I didn’t imagine. We have struggled together, laughed together, cried together, rejoiced together, worried together, and gotten angry together. God has softened our hearts toward parents whose kids are in foster care, and he’s given us (slowly but surely) the ability to love a child not our own. It’s hard, but we’d do it all over again a million times.