Many of us are familiar with news stories of starving children orphaned in Africa, special needs children in China or the poverty and danger for children in places like India. But in addition to these needs there is an entire group of children on our own doorsteps. They are the thousands of children trapped in foster care in our very own country. They are the kids that are easy to write off. Their needs are not always as obvious, but their desire for love and security are just as real. In Wisconsin alone, there are an average of 8,000 children in foster care each day. I know that when God first put a call in our hearts to adoption we were two of these people; we wrote off foster care. We only knew of the bad stigma it has been given. We had young kids. It's a messy process. We were convinced that wasn't the way God was calling us to adopt. We were so wrong. Foster care is exactly where God brought us. And what a humbling experience it has been. In some ways our preconceived judgments were true: Yes, it can be a messy process. Yes, there is the risk of getting your heart broken. Yes, many of the children are hurting and emotionally broken. But God really convicted us that his church isn't meant to run away from messy, broken things. Broken and hurting people are exactly who Jesus searched out and they are exactly who we, his followers should be focused on as well.
Since we began our journey over two years ago, we've had many people ask us questions about how foster care works. I thought I would answer some of the most common ones for you today.
How can I find out more about foster care?
You can do a great deal of research on the internet, but we found the best way to find out more was to go to an informational meeting. You can find these through your local Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) in your county. These meetings give a good overview of what foster care is, what the different types of foster care are and what the next step in the process would be. The nice thing about these meetings is they are filled with other people just like you, with no idea what to expect and lots of questions. The meetings in no way commit you to foster care but they allow you to talk with people about the questions you may have.
What is the process to become a foster or adoptive home?
Once you go to an informational meeting, the next step is to fill out the initial application. This will include everything from your basic information to where you work to why you want to be a foster parent. After the agency processes your initial application, you will be assigned a licensing worker whose job is to get you ready to become a foster home. Over the next months they will come by your home numerous times. There will be oodles of paperwork for things like: your income, your mental health, your marriage, your family life, your hobbies, etc. (It's true, but don't let it scare you away). There will also be interviews with your licensing worker, getting fingerprinted, background checks, 3 classes and making sure your home is up to foster care "code". This sounds so overwhelming but it happens slowly over months and your worker will walk you through the whole process. Once everything is completed, you will be given your license and able to accept a child or children into your home.
How long does the licensing process take?
For us is took about 5 months to get our license. We went to an informational meeting in June, sent in our initial application in July and were a licensed foster home the beginning of November.
Can the agency place anyone in your home or do you get to have a say in it?
You as the foster family get a great deal of say in what children can be placed in your home. During the licensing process you and your spouse will fill out a VERY LONG form asking what types of special needs you are comfortable handling in your home. For example: How comfortable would you be with a child who has a physical disability like epilepsy, food allergies or blindness? Do you feel comfortable with a child who has a learning disability, mental health concerns or is a young woman who is pregnant? While one does not go into foster care to find the one "perfect" child in the system, the agency does want you to be honest with what things you can and cannot handle. The best thing for a child is to be placed in a home where they can be loved and their needs and even special needs can be met. They want the child to thrive and the family they are placed with to thrive as well.
You will also have a say in what age(s) and gender(s) you are willing to have in your home.
Finally, before any child is placed with you, you will receive a call from your agency and they will give you as much information on the child as possible before you and your spouse make the decision whether or not to welcome that child into your home.
Can I just adopt or do I have to foster first?
This is another thing you will discuss during the licensing process. You will have the option to become one of three things:
- A foster home: You home becomes a temporary one until the child is either returned to their parents or moved to an adoptive home.
- A duel license home: One can foster and also adopt without having to go through more paperwork (this is what we have).
- An adoptive home: You will still have a duel license but only children that are VERY likely to be eligible for adoption will be placed in your home (often children beyond one year of age). If you are an adoptive only home, it can take much longer to have a child placed with you. If you looking for a guaranteed infant adoption, this is not the route to take.
While God may not call everyone down the path of foster care and adoption, he calls all of us to care about these broken kids (Matthew 25:34-36). If we as pro-life Christians believe a child is worthy of life, then those same children are just as precious with drugs in their system at birth, with behavioral issues at 8 or pregnant and alone at 13 (Mark 9:37).
Do you feel that you have the ability to welcome another child into your home? Are you an empty-nester wondering what purpose God has for you now that your children are grown? Has God been burdening your heart with how blessed you are and how people so close can be in such need? While opening up your home to a child from a broken place is a challenging road, there is great joy and blessing in living out Christ's calling and seeing his redeeming work in the life of your foster child and your entire family as well.
When God started calling us to foster care we were overwhelmed and intimidated, but we felt that God couldn't give us red or green lights if we were sitting in the parking lot. So, after much prayer, we chose to take one step and continued to pray for guidance. It was incredible how clear God was with us and how at each new step he continued to confirm that this was where he wanted us. Feeling his presence and his guidance continued to give us the confidence to keep moving forward not only as we went through the licensing process but through the ups and downs of our foster care journey as well. I have great confidence he will do that same for you!
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. - Proverbs 16:9
*** If you have more specific questions please feel free to ask in the comments!***