Foster Parenting Myths DEBUNKED

Have you considered becoming a foster parent but are unsure if fostering is a good fit for the season of life you’re in? Do you feel called to foster but encumbered by obstacles (genuine or perceived) that are delaying your obedience in this area? We want to challenge you to investigate some of the most common misconceptions that hinder families from opening their homes to care for kids. Additionally, spend some time in prayer about your motivations for becoming a foster parent and keep an open mind & heart about how you can impact the lives of neglected, abused and abandoned children.

I live in an apartment.

Foster parents live in all kinds of homes. Apartments, houses, mobile homes, townhouses, little country cottages and mansions on the hill may all welcome foster children. All dwellings must be health, safety and fire inspected, as well as meet minimum requirements about the amount of square footage appropriate per person. Child placing agencies provide foster parents with a guide and checklist they can use to walk through their home and make sure it will meet the qualifications for licensing. Sometimes small modifications (such as adding a door to a room that doesn’t have one) can be made to bring a home up to standards. In general, children may share rooms with other children of the same gender and infants may sleep in a caregiver’s room in a crib.

I’m single.

Single individuals may be licensed as foster parents with most child placing agencies. Like any other household, you’ll need to be financially stable, independent, and have space in your home for children. If you have a roommate, parent living with you, or someone who stays over regularly, be upfront with your agency. Other adults living in the home are part of the agency’s considerations when it comes to foster parent licensing and need to be part of the training and homestudy process.

I’m divorced.

See above information about single individuals. Divorced individuals must provide proof of divorce. Your child placing agency may require you to wait 2 or more years after a divorce to become licensed (as is the case with almost any major life change or loss).

I’m too old. 

As long as your health is stable and you’re able to care for children, age does not preclude you from becoming a licensed foster parent. Seasoned parents often bring a lifetime of parenting experience to the table, but no parenting experience is required. It is important to recognize that, due to the trauma, loss and abuse foster children have endured, foster children require unique discipline and parenting approaches. Your child placing agency should supply you with ample training opportunities and resources on this topic. “Empty nesters” often find their adult children are excited and willing to help with the nurturing and care of their younger foster siblings.

I enjoy traveling.

So do foster kids! Typically, foster children are permitted to travel with their foster parents within the United States. Permission can (in some situations) also be granted for international travel. A child’s visitation schedule with their parents or siblings, school attendance, and health are factors taken into consideration by their caseworker before a trip can be approved. A caseworker or judge may need a detailed travel itinerary well in advance of your trip, so plan ahead. A family vacation or road trip can be a fun, bonding experience for any child and caregiver. As a foster parent, you have the incredible opportunity to give a child a new, exciting experience. For emergencies (or trips that are not appropriate for children in your care) you may be able to arrange respite care (another foster family who can babysit while you’re out of town) for children in your home.

My spouse is not on board.

Do NOT begin the foster care or adoption journey if your spouse is not on board. It’s okay if one of you is more enthusiastic than the other, but a united effort is imperative. Investigate, share what you find, and pray that God will give you both clarity about his plans for your family.

I’m want to foster, or even adopt, but I’m on a tight budget.

Foster parents come in all shapes and sizes… as do their homes and incomes. As long as you are financially stable and able to provide for everyone in your home, a modest income should not preclude you from becoming a foster parent. Individuals who are already accustomed to careful budgeting are often the most resourceful parents and advocates for their foster children. Foster parents receive a small, daily reimbursement for each foster child in their home. These funds help offset the cost of meeting the child’s needs. When a child arrives in care, they may not have sufficient clothing or hygiene items. Providing an entire wardrobe, car seat, baby equipment, diapers and more can make the first few months of a new “placement” pretty slim, but it’s a great opportunity to look into what help and resources are available in your community. From foster parent supply closets to free school supplies, there are many individuals and nonprofits eager to help children in need. Foster children automatically qualify for free school lunches, WIC and Medicaid. Sports and camp scholarships based on household income can be applied for based on the child’s “household income” (daily reimbursement). Additionally, should you have the opportunity to adopt a child from foster care, this process is very low cost. Adoptions from foster care are generally less than $2,000. Some children with special needs adopted from foster care are eligible for a small, monthly stipend to help offset the cost of their care longterm.

I’m too young.

The minimum age requirement for becoming a foster parent is just 21 years of age. For young, married couples both spouses must be over the age of 21. Child placing agencies may suggest that younger couples care for younger children, so there is an appropriate age-gap between caregiver and child. Some young adults living at home with their parents become licensed together as a household/team.

have children of my own.

Most foster parents in Texas are currently, or have already, parented children of their own. The interaction between your biological, foster and adopted children can be a healthy, beneficial experience for all. Foster parents may choose to foster children younger than their own children, older, or even the same age. You can select the age range of children you’re open to caring for. There cannot be more than 6 children [total] in the home at any time. Children over the age of 18, but still living at home, may become licensed caregivers and would not be counted as part of the 6. In some cases, agencies may license “group homes”. These can be typical, two-parent households that go through additional training and meet a different set of minimum standards to allow for more than 6 children in the home. If you already have 6 children in your home, you will want to check with your child placing agency in advance to make sure they offer group home licensing and that you meet the requirements for this certification.

But my kids are really little…

What a perfect time to begin teaching your children generosity, hospitality and love for their neighbors! 1 Peter 4 says that we should put aside our desires and focus on the will of God, and to “8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” If you’re waiting for the perfect time to start fostering, you may find that the day never arrives. A teenage foster child may flourish with the opportunity and honor of being a big sister. Likewise, having younger children in the home provides an appropriate setting for children who may have missed early childhood play and experiences to go back and help a little sister dress a baby doll or learn to braid hair. While some foster children may do better as the youngest or only child in the home, most foster children enter homes where other children already reside.

I haven’t parented before.

Well, there’s a first time for everything! Many individuals without parenting experience become foster parents. Experience caring for children in the age-range of children you wish to foster is always beneficial, but not required to become a foster parent. Your agency should provide you some basic parenting, discipline and safety training for a variety of ages. If you are new to foster parenting AND parenting, it may be helpful to provide respite care (babysitting for a few hours or days) for other foster parents to get some experience. Make sure you have a network of experienced moms and dads who can help coach you through the challenges you will face and answer questions you may have.

I work full time.

Because foster parents are expected to be financially stable and independent, it’s common for one or both parents to work full time. Foster children who are school-age must attend public school, but can also attend before and after school care programs. Infants and preschool age children may attend daycare facilities or stay with in-home babysitters or nannies. In some cases, caregivers who work full time may qualify for financial aid for specific daycare programs. Finding care for a child who arrives in your home with little notice can be challenging, so it’s helpful to talk with your employer about taking leave or days off when children are placed in your home. A flexible work schedule is ideal, but not imperative.

I have a disability.

Many individuals with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses serve as foster parents. As with any foster parent, you should prayerfully consider the age of children you feel able and equipped to care for, and the types of special needs you feel you can accommodate. Discuss your concerns and strengths with your child placing agency. You know you

rself and your abilities best. The stability of the family as a whole is key for foster parenting success. Your agency may require you to take a break if your health,

or that of others in the household, becomes unstable or is negatively affected by the strenuous work of foster parenting.

 

I couldn’t love a child then let them go.

Foster care is a journey filled with challenges, adrenaline, trauma, joy, growth, heartbreak and loss. And it’s not easy for the foster parents either. To love a

child fully, even if only for a time, is an incredible investment in that child’s life and well-being. Knowing that your relationship with a child is likely to come to an end is a sad justification to avoid loving them in the first place. For some children, their time in foster care is the healthiest and most stable experience of their lives. Foster parenting can give your family front row seats to beautiful reunifications that take place when a child is returned to parents who have created a safe home for them. Beyond the children in your care, you can encourage and love a child’s parents, siblings and extended family. There are, of course, times when family restoration is not possible, or a child is returning to a situation that seems bleak or very tenuous. While these situations are hard to endure, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 reminds us that our God is the Father of compassion and comfort. He shows us comfort so we can comfort others. We reflect our Creator when we do hard things.

I don’t like children.

Okay. You’re probably off the hook. Not everyone can or should be a foster parent. But you can and should have a positive impact on the lives of neglected and abused children in our community. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities that don’t require interaction with children or families. Embrace volunteers host donation drives to provide household items for teens “aging-out” of foster care, then organize, inventory and deliver these “First Apartment Kits”. Volunteers set up the “Portraits of Hope” photographic gallery of children waiting for adoption, and move it to new locations each month. Volunteers plan and assemble crafts for respite night events, prepare and deliver meals, sew blankets for foster children and much more. Embrace can help you find a place to use your time and talents to help kids.

For more about becoming a foster parent in Texas, visit: https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Adoption_and_Foster_Care/Get_Started/steps.asp

Please note: The information provided above is not the word-for-word policy of any agency or the Department of Family and Protective Services. We hope to debunk many common misconceptions about foster parenting, but you will certainly find that minimum standards for becoming foster parents vary from agency to agency and state to state.

Locating Missing Children in CPS Conservatorship

Children are in foster care because they, or their sibling(s), have experienced abuse and/or neglect. Having experienced trauma in their lives, these young children are particularly vulnerable to being exploited by outside persons. When a child is in CPS conservatorship and runs away, it is extremely important that the agency put every effort to quickly locate the child before they are exploited.

National data underscores the need to find runaway children quickly:

  • Children are being approached for sex trafficking within 48 hours of running away
  • Many of the children approached are in the age range of 12 to 16
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had 18,500 runaways reported to them in2016. One in six were deemed likely victims of sex trafficking. Of those likely victims, 86% were in the care of social services or the foster care system when they ran.In 2014, President Obama signed into law the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, Public Law (P.L. 113-183). This law amends the title IV-E foster care program to require child welfare agencies such as DFPS to:
  • Develop and implement specific protocols for expeditiously locating any child missing from foster care;
  • Determine the primary factors that contributed to the child’s running away or otherwise being absent from care, and to the extent possible and appropriate, respond to those factors in current and subsequent placements;
  • Determine the child’s experiences while absent from care, including screening the child to determine if the child is a possible sex trafficking victim;
  • Report such related information as required by Health and Human Services; and
  • No later than 24 hours after receiving information on missing or abducted children or youth, providenecessary information to law enforcement authorities for entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and provide necessary information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Click Here for the full DFPS Resource Guide

Keys to foster parent recruitment & retention in Texas

The following is a transcript of an invited testimony given by Denise Kendrick, Executive Director of Embrace Texas, to the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services on March 22, 2018. Kendrick was given 7 minutes to address obstacles prevent prospective foster families from completing the licensing process and how to improve retention of existing foster parents.

“Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak.

I am Denise Kendrick, Executive Director for Embrace Texas, a non-profit organization supporting foster, adoptive and kinship families in North Texas. To be clear, we are not a child placing agency. My work includes facilitating foster parent support groups and administering programs that provide me the opportunity to interact with hundreds of foster and adoptive families each year. In addition to my professional experience, I served as a foster parent for over a decade and in Texas and cared for 25 children in that time… including adopting two teenagers and a sibling group of 3 from foster care.

Our nonprofit works closely with Child Protective Services in our region, as well as CASA. Embrace also facilitates the Child Placing Recruitment Collaborative In Region 3 and regularly review statistics related to the foster parent shortages in each county. On an almost daily basis, we get calls and emails from CASAs and caseworkers asking if we know of any families in our network who can foster a specific child or sibling group. We are keenly aware of the need for more quality foster parents and see the ramifications of these shortages in our community.

I want to share with you today what we feel are some of the leading obstacles that prevent interested candidates from completing the licensing process and issues that cause burn-out of newly licensed foster parents.

It’s no secret the foster care has a PR problem. When foster care is in the news, it’s almost always bad news. A child death. An abusive foster parent. Children spending the night in CPS offices. For those who look past this negative stigma related to foster parenting and decide to investigate or pursue licensing, the confusing recruitment process can curb the enthusiasm of even the most eager perspective family. While this is an area that can and should be addressed, I believe the real solution to the state’s foster parent recruitment issue lies in the retention of active foster parents.

Current and former foster parents are the single most effective recruitment tool the state has. I come in contact with dozens of foster parents every week, and a huge majority of these report that their initial interest in becoming a foster parent was not a compelling brochure or PSA commercial, but a friend, family member, or acquaintance who is a foster parent. Having court-side seats to the beauty, healing and hardship that comes with opening your heart and home to care for abused and neglected children… it sells itself.

If this journey is intrinsically motivating, where is the disconnect? 

Why aren’t more of these prospective parents becoming licensed?

The disconnect is in our care for those who are already fostering. Care of our current foster parents is doubly beneficial. Increased retention equals increased recruitment. With improved morale and satisfaction, foster parents become the recruitment effort. They tell the stories of the hard and beautiful job of caring for other peoples’ children. And they stick with it for the long-haul, and gain the skills necessary to care for children with more challenging needs. This means more placement stability for children and an increased return on the investment it takes to train and license foster parent.

How do we better care for the families caring for our most vulnerable children?

Back to that PR problem, the State, along with child placing agencies, must take steps to weed out bad foster parents who give fostering a bad name. Agencies should be charged with closing homes that “give notice” on children when the going gets tough or when things aren’t going as they had hoped. We can make the title of “foster parent” something parents can take pride in.

We also need to clarify messaging surrounding the “job” of foster parents. Foster parents are service providers. As a foster parent, you need to meet the need for care that exists in your community. The openings in licensed homes should reflect the age, ethnicity and level of care of children entering the system in their community. It’s supply and demand, but it’s not presented that way. When many homes are licensed for the same, small population of children, on paper, it appears the need has been met. But in reality, we know that a majority of children are placed outside their home county, and a good number out of region. Then  licensed foster homes sit open and empty, and families assume there’s not really a need. This mismatch further dissuades new parents from jumping through the hoops necessary to become licensed.

Another point of confusion and frustration is use of the phrase “foster to adopt”. When I “Drive to the store”, there is no mistake. Driving is the means to the end… the store. When we talk about fostering to adopt, we’re communicating that fostering is means to the end: adoption. We understand that many families foster with the hopes of adopting, but the way we’re framing this communicates that adoption, not reunification, is the ultimate goal.

Words matter.

From the moment prospective families start their licensing and training journey they are labeled “foster to adopt” or “straight foster”. This puts the focus on the goals of the foster family, not the needs of the children.

The true implementation of HR 4980, the prudent parenting standards for foster parents, is another way we can improve retention of foster parents. We need to allow parents to care for foster children in a fashion more similar to their biological children, or typical peers. This increases the normalcy of a child’s time in foster care and reduce strain on caregivers.

Several years ago, when my husband and I were foster parents caring for a sibling group, we had an out of state trip planned for work. We were to depart on New Years Day, and had arranged respite care for our foster children with a fellow foster family who knew and interacted with our children regularly. At 5 pm on New Years Eve we received a call that the respite family had an emergency, and was no longer available to keep our children for the week. Although my parents were willing and capable of caring for the children while we were out of town, they were only certified as “occasional caregivers” with our agency, and not permitted to watch our foster children for more than a day or two. We had not orpiment but to call random foster parents from a roster provided by our agency, in hopes of finding somewhere for the boys to go. I am ashamed to say that, the next morning, I dropped my foster children off at the home of a complete stranger. While she was a licensed foster parent and a safe care provider, I can honestly say it’s something I would never do to my “own” children, but I was left with no other option. Foster parents find themselves in similar situations on a regular basis. These instances are a burden to the parents and promote abnormal parenting decisions. The parents cannot choose what is best, they must choose what follows policy. Foster parents bear the burden of the day-to-day responsibility and risk for caring for the children in their home, but little of the freedom to balance it out. That’s a recipe for burnout.

This unbalance is also reflected in the lack of representation foster parents experience. While I do not believe foster parents should be a party to a child’s legal case, I do believe more consistent communication about the goals and progress in a case would make foster parents feel more valued and go a long way toward improving their overall morale. These parents on the front lines deserve a platform to share their thoughts and observations, and to feel like part of a team working towards a common goal. Foster parents should be consistently invited to attend court and to interact directly with the parents of foster children in their care, when possible. Training can and should be developed specifically to guide foster parents in these interactions.

In summary, improved care and support of foster parents is:

– better for current foster parents

– better for future foster parents

– better for the bottom line

– and, most importantly, will improve outcomes for children at the heart of what we do.

Thank you for your time and consideration.”

      

The Plot Twist

I’m a bit of a movie snob, but nothing captures my praise and attention like a well-played twist in the plot. Many of my favorite movies; Sixth Sense, The Village, The Prestige, Planet of the Apes, and The Sting hooked me with one “WHAT IN THE WORLD?!?! I did NOT see that coming!” moment. Even a few recent-ish family films like Frozen and Maleficent featured surprising twists that left me and my kids gasping in delight. The best plot twists make so much sense once they are revealed. You’re left wondering “WHY couldn’t I see it all along?!?” Today I had an adoptive parenting “why didn’t I see it all along” moment.  

*SPOILER ALERT* Reading further may reveal plot details about adoption that you cannot un-know.

As adoptive parents we do a lot of dreaming about our child before they come home.  We wonder what our child will look like, if we will share common interests and if our personalities will “click”. Most compassionate parents-to-be also put themselves in the shoes of their adoptive child and think about their dreams as well. You may worry that you’re not the hip, playful, or good-looking parents your child has been dreaming of.  What if they walk into your house and think it smells funny? What if they hate your cooking? If you’re like me you may, for one fleeting moment, consider buying a jet ski or a miniature horse to help seal the deal that you’re the coolest family on the block.  I usually end up reassuring myself that although we may not be “dream family material”, we’re here, we’re loving, we’re safe, and we’re all in this together. Whew! What a relief! Surely this kid will love us. But wait… Here comes the twist…

What if the family your child dreams about being with is the family they lost?

Why. Didn’t. I. See. It.

Like any great twist, you may find yourself reeling. Even though it makes so much sense, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Can I urge you to not let this thought put you on the defensive? Our knee-jerk reaction may be to start comparisons between the life we can offer a child and what might-have-been in other scenarios, but these thoughts are divisive, unproductive and insensitive. Many adoptees are deeply loyal to the parents who brought them into this world. It’s loyalty so strong that, in many cases, even abuse, disappointment, distance, and time cannot diminish it. It may be loyalty to someone they’ve never met or can’t remember… but this doesn’t negate your child’s longing. It doesn’t discount their loss.  

Several years ago on Christmas morning one of our foster sons was acting moody and ungrateful. He made it clear that Christmas at his “old house” was way better than anything we had to offer. I let it get under my skin and my husband found me grumbling and growling to myself in the kitchen while putting cookies in the oven. He stood there and allowed me to vent while the kids tore into new puzzles and toys in the other room. My lengthy, hissing monologue ended with me triumphantly declaring “And why WOULDN’T he love it here?!?! Why WOULDN’T he be having a great time today?!?” My sweet husband took my face in his hands and said “Because he didn’t ask for it.”

So, after we’re done quietly weeping, WHERE do we go from here?  

Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.”  

Now I know better.

I can look back over my parenting and see many times that I said and did ignorant things that hurt my child. My child’s loss and grief exist, whether I acknowledge them or not.  But now I have the opportunity to walk alongside my child in a place that my ignorance once sent them alone. I have a truth that can silence those old feelings of rejection or resentment I felt regarding my child’s connection to his birth family. Maybe my painful self-realization can save some of you prospective, waiting, or new adoptive parents from making the same mistakes I’ve made. I hope this post is shared with and read by many of the people who surround and support foster and adoptive parents as well. The more people who understand where our children are coming from the better. I hope it makes us all pause when faced with children’s tears, fond memories, harsh words, or difficult behaviors and remember the losses they’re grieving.

I’m doing better now and, although I may not be “dream family material”, I’m here, I’m listening, and we’re all in this together.

Be a Friend

You’re a friend.  Someone who is trusted enough for a family to identify you as a support when they travel the journey of foster care or adoption.  You want to help.  You may have even considered fostering or adopting yourself, but any number of barriers has kept you from doing so.  Nonetheless, you’re excited about your friends starting down this path, and you really want to encourage them in any way you can!  You just aren’t exactly sure what you should or shouldn’t say and what you should or shouldn’t do.

Here’s a quick reference guide for what to do and say with some warning signs intertwined so you can help your friends, and your friends can lean on you when they’re in need.

Be proactive.  Once a week, check-in to ask how you can help, and if a month goes by without any help being requested, cook a dinner you know their kids will eat and drop it on their front porch in disposable containers with a note of encouragement.  When in doubt, impose a little help.  Sometimes just not being alone is all that is needed.

Be mindful.  Don’t feel the need to go so far out of your way it seems burdensome to help, but if you’re already at the grocery store, ask if there’s anything you can pick up.  If you’re already mowing your lawn, what’s one more lawn?  If you’re already planning to be home on a Friday or Saturday, offer to babysit so your friends can have a date or make it a double date!  Little things make a huge impact.

Be content.  You don’t need to know why a child was removed, what their birth parents were doing or not doing, or any of the details of a child’s case.  If you’re babysitting, you should ask, “Is there anything I need to know to make sure [the child] is safe and has fun?”  If your friend offers more information about the child, keep it in confidence and respect the child’s story.

Be aware.  Children removed into foster care are wrestling with any number of traumatic experiences.  They may be sensitive to being touched or hugged due to abuse or sensory processing issues, or they may be overly affectionate due to a lack of boundaries.  Children may know expletives due to their environment or have language that is limited to just a few words due to neglect.  Know that behavior is just what’s on the surface.  There’s always a deeper cause.  Avoid labels that describe them by their experience (i.e. foster kid).  Give them personal space and expect the same in return.  Remember every child is a developing child always learning and growing, and your words and actions can have an impact..

Be normal.  Because these are your friends, you may be less likely to get tripped up in this area, but a lot of people who don’t know a family like your friend’s want to help.  They tend to offer help in ways that are well-intentioned but may do more harm than good like throwing a birthday party or selecting things for a child that a child would normally pick out for himself.  Birthday parties are great, but not when they’re put on by strangers.  Gifts are great, but not when they encourage entitlement or undermine dignity.  Providing experiences is always better than giving stuff (i.e. museums/zoos vs. toys/clothes).  You can help others find normal ways to encourage your friends, too.  Think about how you received and experienced things as a child or how your children experience life, and attempt to make this child’s experience as much like that as you are able.

Be alert.  If your friend’s church attendance becomes rare, or if venting about a child or an inability to get on the same parenting page with a spouse become regular behaviors, realize these are warning signs that a season of additional support might be needed.  Occasionally missing church is natural.  Bunkering down at home most Sundays is not.  Venting for 5-10 minutes is to be expected.  Being unable to say anything positive about a child is not.  Having disagreements with a spouse about parenting is normal.  Complaining about how a spouse parents a child is not.  Additional support may include bringing on some other friends to help for a time, increasing the amount of childcare help you offer, affirming your friend’s decision to foster or adopt, or speaking truth compassionately amid an emotionally charged moment.

Again, you’re a friend.  Someone who was chosen to help.  That means you’ve earned enough trust that they would want you to care for their children which is really the highest form of honor you can be granted, isn’t it?  This doesn’t negate the fact that you can get busy with life too.  You probably have work, kids, and obligations you have to tend to as well.  Your friends get that.  They just don’t want to walk this path alone.  So, whether you can remember all the details above or not… be a friend.

The Quandary of Foster Care

You’re a foster parent, and you’re standing on the other side of that little half wall in the courtroom with your mouth agape in disbelief.  How did this happen?  How did so many adults with college degrees and positions of authority, people who should do what’s in the best interest of a child, do exactly the opposite?  It’s as if that wall separates sanity and logic from a circus where clowns juggle papers and misinformation.  The gavel slams, and the child you sacrificed, cried, and prayed for is returning home to a parent who has been an addict, in and out of jail, homeless, jobless, and/or abusive.  So, how did this happen?

How does this happen?  The previous scenario is one of many the masses play through their minds or read about online that perpetuate the struggling foster care systems across America.  Maybe you’re considering becoming a foster or adoptive parent and weighing whether you’re ready to commit or not.  Maybe you know someone who is struggling in their experience with the system, and you want to help but don’t know where to begin.  Or maybe you’re a judge or caseworker who just read the scenario above, and you’re already assuming I have no idea what I’m talking about because you’re not a clown.  You work hard under an insurmountable caseload doing the best you can with what you have.  Regardless of who you are or why you’re reading this, I want to walk you through how the foster care system works, the myths, and the realities associated with situations like the one above and ultimately encourage you to act.  While the foster care system may be broken, it will only remain broken if you and I allow it to stay that way.

The most foundational concept to understand about the foster care system is somewhat of a paradigm shift for us because the public is generally ignorant about what the system is dependent upon.  If the general public thinks about foster care at all, we tend to conceptually believe that somewhere neglected and abused children are being taken care of.  Visions of orphanages, children’s homes, and Annie come to mind.  But as early as the 1940’s, the foster care system has been replacing institutional settings.  Today, very few children’s homes still exist within America.  So, where are America’s more than 700,000 neglected and abused children?  In foster care.  And, where is foster care?  It’s in your home and my home.  The foster care system is dependent upon families opening their bedrooms to traumatized children in need of healing.  If there aren’t enough homes for the children from a given county or region, children must be placed in a home from another county or region.  There are emergency shelters and sleeping bags in child welfare offices along with other stop-gaps to help care for children when there aren’t enough homes immediately available, but research has shown children heal in a family setting where they can attach to a caregiver and learn how to cope while continuing to grow.  So, regardless of how many tax dollars are allocated for foster care programs if there are not a sufficient number of licensed foster families, foster care cannot function and children cannot heal in the best environment possible.

Now, just because foster home availability is foundational does not mean sufficient tax dollars from your federal, state, county, and city governments are not also a critical component of the foster care system.  Money, your and my tax dollars, is not only the fuel of the foster care system, it is also a factor in the quality of a given system.  It is not the only factor, but it is a major one.  The United States spends over $25 billion on foster care services each year.  These funds pay for a litany of salaries, services, and administrative costs that cannot be overstated.  For any given child,10 to 15 adults are paid for some service related to their case along with a myriad of other adults providing the infrastructure for the foster care system.  Costs begin with an intake hotline and an investigator who visits a child or family to determine if there is a valid case of neglect or abuse.   Along with this is all the necessary infrastructure to ensure intake, investigations, and removals are possible. Only about 40% of all allegations are confirmed.  Sometimes this is due to a lack of evidence.  Sometimes an investigator is unable to track down a family.  Without a sufficient number of investigators, foster care is halted.  No investigation, no removal.  Costs continue when a determination is made to provide services to a family or remove a child in the case of imminent danger.  The need for a caseworker and their supervisor, along with the aforementioned infrastructure to support the frontline workers, then increase costs, and it doesn’t take a vivid imagination to start adding it all up when we begin to include the courts, lawyers to represent the child and their parents, mental health services, and the plethora of other tangential contributors to the system.

Are you beginning to see a fuzzy image for how our introductory scenario becomes a reality?

Too little funding leads to a poor quality workforce and those who lack the necessary bandwidth to do the job sufficiently.  Investigations aren’t done in a timely manner, children aren’t seen frequently enough while in care, sufficient preventative and rehabilitative programs aren’t available to stem the influx of at-risk families and recidivism.  With too much funding, a welfare state begins to form where the public almost entirely insists on the government addressing all of the needs.  Both situations lead to egregious problems namely the problem of you and I doing nothing.  Too much taxation leads us to believe someone else is dealing with the needs of these children and families.  Too little taxation and there isn’t a sufficient framework or bandwidth of educated professionals organizing a system accountable to the best interests of children.

Another consideration is foster care is intended to be temporary with a priority given toward reunification with birth parents.  Many children in foster care come from single or unmarried parent, low income households, and many foster families come from two parent, moderate to high income households.  This is a generality, but the socio-economic dichotomy is real.  Expectations, lifestyles, language, and various other social norms are juxtaposed.  Therefore, when foster parents enter a courtroom for a hearing about a family’s case, they enter with a set of standards for what is appropriate and acceptable which doesn’t always align with the legal system, the political climate, or the funding issues which can lead to high rates of caseworker turnover and low quality work.  A foster parent typically expects the best while the legal system is limited to what is lawful.

The last point I’ll make is the foster care system and every system involves human beings.  Errant, sinful, selfish, well-intended, occasionally misinformed human beings.  I don’t say this or any of this in a search for the sufficient excuse to remedy the issues that plague the potential success of foster care, but I say this to improve your perspective and charge you to act.  It is easy to to look at how insurmountable the problems in foster care are, believe you have no control, throw up your hands, and refuse to do anything more than complain and rage against the machine on your social media platforms.  But, the foster care system also involves Spirit-filled, well-informed, educated, thoughtful, and yet still sinful human beings who are standing in the gap refusing to quit.

I am never more encouraged than when the above scenario plays out in any of its varieties, and a foster parent or advocate, even one who takes to the blogosphere to inappropriately vent their frustration, lowers their head, pledges to persevere, and affirms these fundamental truths.  First, no parent woke up one morning and chose to abuse or neglect their child.  Parents are still accountable, but pitting them against their child as the enemy is not a productive solution.  Second, caseworkers, lawyers, and judges, even bad ones, don’t work to hurt children or families.  They come to wrong conclusions sometimes that you or I may disagree with, but they also come to right conclusions that you or I may disagree with.  Third, you and I are capable of making an impact.  Our impact is entirely dependent upon our willingness to stand firm and resilient while surrounding ourselves with those who will speak truth to us and encourage us to care for ourselves so we can maintain the capacity to care for others.

One parent’s response to an incredibly trying situation from years ago summarizes my thoughts and admonition to you.  The father said, “I do not know how else to help him. I have tried everything I can think of and exhausted my heart and mind on his behalf.  I cannot fathom why the system has failed him and us in the way that it has.  I do not know what else to do.  But, I do know God has placed him in my family, and if I have nothing else to give him, I will hold firm in this.  He has a family who will not give up on him.”

Foster, adopt, advocate, mentor, and support.  You are not alone.  Join us in reclaiming the care of these children and families.

So Your Pastor Doesn’t Get It

Here’s how the conversation tends to go.  After a series of questions and answers about foster parenting or adoption or starting an orphan care ministry…

Me:  It sounds like you have a great passion for this… how else can we help?

Them:  My pastor doesn’t get it.  To him (or her), it’s just a trend or an extra kind of optional ministry he believes will cost money we don’t have or take away our congregation’s focus on evangelism or discipleship or the capital campaign…  I’ve been persistent, but I’m getting nowhere.  What did you do?…

Well, sadly, I was that pastor just like I was that husband that didn’t get it.  My wife approached me to become foster parents, and I just thought, “Sure, I guess we have an extra room, and I’ve read something in the Bible about caring for orphans.”  And likewise, even though I had been foster parenting for more than 6 years at the time, a mom of a couple of our students in the student ministry who had no background in child welfare or social work approached us asking, “Would you help me start an orphan care ministry here at the church?”  My response, “Yes!… but what’s an orphan care ministry?”

Since then, I’ve come across a number of pastors varying on the continuum of resistance to orphan care ministry.  Worries of cost, theology, parenting philosophy, bandwidth, etc. seem to form in a cloud behind their eyes as the plea floats across their desk, and a determined but politically correct, “No.” forms in their lips.

It’s discouraging to say the least.  We read it over and over again throughout Scripture… Deuteronomy 10:18-19Psalm 68:5-6Isaiah 1:17Romans 8:15Galatians 4:4-7Ephesians 1:5, and James 1:27, but no passage has been more poignant in my understanding of our mandate to care for orphans, widows, and foreigners than Jeremiah 22:15-16,

“Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?  Did not your father have food and drink?  He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.  He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well with him.  Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.

To defend the cause of the poor and needy is what it means to know God?  In part, it’s not that your pastor doesn’t know these passages, it’s that your pastor is human with limited vision to all the Holy Spirit is working in.  Just as pastors and seminary professors prior to decades as late as the 90’s (and still many today sadly) failed to see that their is no segregation or discrimination in the kingdom of God, they’re missing this as well.  But, the cloud of concerns that formed behind their eyes as you pled with them is legitimate.  Who is going to give to this?  Is that giving going to impact other areas of giving the church has prioritized?  Is it going to be championed by someone or a group who understands orphan care in respect to the entire kingdom and message of the Gospel?  Will it become it’s own little clique?  Am I going to be expected to spearhead the effort or hand over the pulpit to the cause?  And even if all those questions are answered, he may feel you are the wrong person to lead this only he can’t say that out loud.  So, these are just a few in a litany of questions that must be addressed and solved over time.  Pastors get hit up with “pet projects” of church members who may have previously not followed through all the time.  Or, it may be some outside parachurch organization that really just wants money, and like many of us in response to telemarketers, the answer is a premeditated, “We’ll see.”, “Let’s talk later.” or my personal favorite, “I’ll pray about it.”

Of course, there are still those pastors whose response is less thoughtful, and anything to do with social justice is met immediately with a closed door.  Why?  George Marsden coined the term “The Great Reversal” in his book, Fundamentalism and American Culture.  In the early twentieth century, evangelicals battled theological liberals over the fundamental tenets of Christianity.  Liberals led the social gospel movement equating any humanitarian work with reinstating the reign of Christ.  As the movement spread, evangelicals distanced themselves and bunkered down in theology to the detriment of the poor.  This is at least one factor in your pastor’s response.

Another is the ignorance of the masses.  In speaking with a pastor friend recently and sharing about what our family and ministry does, he said, “The first thing that comes to mind when I think of foster care or adoption is a child coming into my house and ruining my life.  I’m glad to share insight about the strategic approach of your ministry, but if you’re trying to get me to become a foster parent or adopt, the conversation is over.”  This wasn’t the only thing he said, his insight was helpful, and he genuinely resonated with the needs of children as we talked so I don’t want to vilify him… but this is how the masses, including some pastors, perceive foster care and adoption.  I would suggest the same is true for the homeless, the poor, widows and immigrants.

So if your pastor doesn’t get it (and we should note that some pastors do get it, and do a great job of encouraging their lay leaders to engage in the care of orphans), he is most likely indirectly or directly influenced from the Great Reversal and/or the common misconceptions and negative media attention given to foster parents and neglected and abused children.  Also, your pastor’s seminary almost certainly did not address caring for the poor, the orphan, the widow or the foreigner in his missiology studies.  They focused on church planting, unreached people groups, the Gospel in different cultural contexts, an evangelism practicum, and so on.  Little or no time was spent discussing poverty alleviation, economic development among the poor, child development or the fact that the Church’s historic foundation was built through ministry done by and to “the least of these”.  Your pastor didn’t obtain a social work degree in seminary.

I suppose that’s all the bad news.  We may have missed some details or circumstances in there somewhere, but in general, that is why a pastor doesn’t get it.

Here’s the good news… your pastor doesn’t hold the keys to the kingdom of God.  I don’t say this to be controversial or encourage dissent, I say it because churches have far too long seen themselves as consumers of religion and their staff as producers of it.  In reality, your pastor, as one of the elders, should be equipping, encouraging and multiplying disciples as ministers of the Gospel.  But even if they’re not, you don’t need your pastor’s permission to obey the Holy Spirit.  In fact, your pastor may appreciate the fact that you are not seeking his continual involvement or blessing over every aspect of the ministry God has called you to.

In the event your pastor has actively discouraged you from this, as an ordained pastor myself, I would encourage you to find another local church where you are fed, equipped and sent out.  This should not be done in a spirit of disrespect or division.  Make your peace, and move on.  This is at least one reason why denominations and more than one local church can and should exist in a community.  We are not all [insert name of denomination here] and that’s okay.  I grant this is not an issue of non-essential doctrine, but alienating yourself in an embattled stance on the need for orphan care ministry to the detriment of all involved parties can’t be a preferred course of action.

It should be noted here that if we had to select one mission of the Church outside of worship (if we can in fact separate worship out from anything we do) it would not be orphan care… it would be evangelism, and the two are not synonymous.  They certainly overlap in ways.  In paraphrasing Dr. Russell Moore, “For us to say we care for the orphan, and to not share Christ’s message of salvation is to say we don’t really care for the orphan.  Every human being is comprised of a body, soul and spirit, and to merely care for the temporal needs is not in fact loving as Christ loved us.”  Salvation is tantamount, but the Scriptures don’t seem to neglect having a family or basic needs as if to say, “You can be saved or eat… choose one.”  Their is a tension held between the two throughout Scripture (see Isaiah 1James 21John 3:18).

If you are already embattled or there is nowhere else to go, I would encourage you in the same way I have encouraged wives and husbands who are at odds over foster parenting or adoption or an unbelieving spouse.  Pray unceasingly for the movement of the Spirit in your marriage, church and community.  Pray for your pastor.  (Shouldn’t this be something we are doing anyhow!?)  Advocate for vulnerable children with other members of your church.  Again, this is not an encouragement to stir up conflict, but at the very least the volunteers or nursery workers who are caring for your foster or adopted child need to be educated.  (For a resource to get you started read Dear Sunday School Volunteer.)

As you are praying, begin working as the Spirit guides you.  Encourage and support other foster and adoptive families.  Gather other advocates in other churches who are experiencing or not experiencing similar resistance and work together.  God is not interested in which person’s or church’s name is attached to this ministry… this heart-wrenching, self-sacrificing, continually plodding forward ministry that reflects and is the heart and redemption of God.

In our frustration, perseverance and faithfulness, to Him be the praise, glory, honor and power forever and ever.  Amen.

The Spiritual Act of Unclogging a Toilet

We were staying at an RV Park five minutes from our house as we transitioned from life in suburbia to life on the road. We had setup in the rain while the children were relegated to wait in the van, and all of them were in dire need of the one shared bathroom available. We finally released them from captivity only to realize we would need to make one more run back to the house to grab some vital things for the next day.

So I hopped back in the van with two of our daughters, and while we were scurrying across the house to collect everything, my phone rang.  On the other end of the line was my wife saying the toilet wasn’t flushing in the camper.  As my mind quickly ran through troubleshooting options to give my wife over the phone, I knew nothing could really be done until I got there.  After all, one of the top five responsibilities of every husband and father, which cannot be delegated to a child or wife, is the fixing of emergency toilet problems.

We loaded up and drove back to the RV Park to be greeted by a line of children still in need of that sacred sanctuary of relief.  I walked into the phone-booth-sized bathroom to open the lid, and at the bottom of the toilet was nothing more than some toilet paper.  I flushed the toilet and everything seemed to work normally.  The special camper toilet ran water and opened the slide which dropped the toilet paper down into the tank of the camper.  I thought maybe they had forgotten how to use the foot lever to flush.

I stepped out and the next customer in line stepped in.  She flushed and exited, then the next child stepped forward.  Then came the pause, “Dad! It’s not flushing again.” Feeling an air of confidence, I walked back in, and sure enough, it wasn’t working.  I could floor the foot lever to flush the toilet, and all I could see was the toilet paper sitting on top of darkness.  The water began to build up.  So I did what any frustrated, overly ambitious, amateur plumber would do… I thrust my arm into the hole and to my unsuspecting surprise pulled out a pile of $&!#.

As this surreal experience was playing itself out, I immediately began looking for the perpetrator who should be conscripted as my plumbing assistant.  I turned into Sherlock Holmes as I deduced who was waiting in line to go to the bathroom, who had traveled back to the house with me and could not be a suspect, and who was left in the crosshairs of my investigation while toilet refuse moistened my arm from elbow to finger tips.

The subdued rage must have been just as palpable as the smell because no confession was forthcoming.  And thinking back on it… I don’t blame them.  Would you confess to stopping up the only toilet nine of your family members were restricted to on the first night of a yearlong adventure with your father’s arm dripping excrement while veins visibly pulsated in his neck?  Not if you even had a chance of avoiding it, you wouldn’t.

It is in moments such as this that I am reminded of two parenting truths.  First, if you want your children to be honest with you, don’t turn into the Gestapo whenever they have done something wrong.  Secondly, and more importantly, a fundamental component of being a parent is getting exfoliated by your children’s $&!#.  It’s almost spiritual to the degree of being intimate and humbling in the most grotesque of ways.

Needless to say, I never caught the culprit.  After a fierce hand-to-hand battle, the clogged toilet gave up the ghost, and we have permanently installed a “No #2” policy for the camper.  This has not prevented additional skirmishes of the same sort from arising because the human digestive tract knows no authority during times of crisis.  However, I am now seasoned in the art of decongesting toilets and judiciously training apprentices.

All We Taught Him

We had 8 kids. Three were added to the family the old-fashioned way where a man loves a woman, a bee loves a bird or something to that effect. And, five were added the other old-fashioned way where a child wants a family, a family wants a child, a judge slings a gavel and an adoption or in our case five adoptions are finalized.

But we like kids. So, we asked, “You think we need one more? You think we need one more. Let’s have one more.” And once again, we went the old fashioned route. And, we added what we currently consider our final biological child to the family… Chapel Henry Kendrick.

It’s been great. He’s real chunky. He still has his baby blue eyes. He eats some solids, drools a lot, and army crawls all over the place. He says, “Dada” and “Mama”, and we taught him some sign language so he could tell us when he wants more rather than screaming at us. The “more” sign has just become him clapping, and he uses it for everything which probably means we failed in actually teaching him sign language. Nonetheless, it’s super cute and works for us.

He’s about ten months old now. Whereas our other children all started sleeping through the night no later than four months after joining the family, Chapel, well… he still doesn’t sleep through the night. It’s been a fairly consistent schmorgesborg of co-sleeping, night nursing, frantic pacing while patting him back to sleep, and the ever-popular crib-to-bed-to-crib rotation. We have never devolved into circling the neighborhood with him in the backseat of one of our cars, but if it would give my wife a full night’s sleep… I’d circle all night long.

We decided last night to stand our ground. We’ve nurtured dozens of children and never had this problem for this long of a time before. I don’t recall having to “stand my ground” in the past. Usually, they just started sleeping through the night to our pleasant surprise. Regardless, we chose to let him cry it out no matter how long he wales from less than 10 ft. from the end of our bed in his crib.

And so it began. Some time in the early hours of the night he fussed for a second and then launched into a blitzkrieg assault on our eardrums. At first, we tried to ignore him. Then I gave a stern, “Chapel, lay down and go to sleep.” Then my wife got up, walked to his crib, told him, “No.”, and laid him back down. After what felt like an hour of auditory abuse, I walked over to the crib, gently but firmly laid him back down, proceeded to pat and massage him back to sleep, and reminded him he was not getting out of bed. My wife and I laid back down, and in her steadfast support, she said, “Any other ideas?” My reply, “Got any earplugs?” She did. We put them in, and the cacophony subsided to a dull roar, but we were still aware of his presence.

After a few minutes using our earplug tactic, all of our defenses were torn down by Chapel’s most lethal maneuver yet. In the midst of his desperation for someone to come sooth his anxiety, he resorted to the only form of communication we had taught him. He started clapping. We could not muffle the sound of his marshmallowy, little hands coming together, and it broke us. I pulled my earplugs out, walked over to his crib, and lifted him into my arms. I held him for a minute as his cries turned into a rhythmic whimper, and he caught his breath. We sat down in the rocking chair used so many nights in the past, and I massaged his back, patted his bottom and told him he was okay. He slowly turned his whimper into a sniffle, his sniffle into heavy breathing and his heavy breathing into a sleepy rest.

Children communicate the way we teach them. In our care of abused and neglected children in foster care this has been just as true as in our care of biological children. Abused and neglected children often come with a litany of communication skills both verbal and non-verbal. Some cuss. Some hit. Some don’t cuss or hit, but they scream. We had another little girl who was 4 but functioned on an 18 month old level. She knew two words, “teevees” and “mommy”. Anytime she took a bath and we had to get her hair wet, she lost it, and IT. WAS. PIERCING. She was with us for 14 months, and by the time she was reunified with her mom, she was a healthy, little girl who could take a bath, talk to her peers and express herself to adults.

We had a nine month old placed with us for a time who had grown up in a Spanish-speaking only home. So he cried anytime he wasn’t asleep for about two weeks, and then one night my wife said, “Que paso, papi?” He perked up immediately. From then on, we knew we had to change the way we communicated with him so he could communicate with us. Still some don’t make any sounds at all. When a child has sat in a crib or been locked in a room and learned no one is coming, they lose their voice. They just freeze and wait until they’re not being addressed or until whatever is going to happen happens.

If a child has only been taught to hit, cuss, scream, be silent, clap or speak a completely different language, they will use those means to talk to us. If we, as parents, want them to use their voice to express their fears, anger or needs, we must be patient and observant enough to learn about where they lost their voice so we can help them find it and give it back to them. Sometimes the patience and observation required for a child to calm down so you can help or the gentleness needed to comfort them through things is the equivalent of ten months of sleep deprivation.

After Chapel snuggled his chubby cheeks into my neck, I spent five more minutes rubbing his back and listening to him breath. I placed him back in his crib and covered him with his blanket. I walked back to bed and laid down. Less than 30 seconds later… he was rooting around in his crib again just before the onslaught resumed. I could hear my wife subduing her laughter next to me.

I don’t doubt there will be more embattled, sleepless nights in my future. In the same way my children from foster care didn’t stop cussing, hitting, screaming or freezing just because I was patient with them one time, Chapel will continually need comfort and reassurance that he is not alone and not forgotten. Like every child, he needs help finding his voice and will require direction throughout life.

Hear your kids and know they often only communicate in the ways they have been taught. If we don’t teach them any other way, we can only expect what has been modeled. Be patient. Observe.