Getting Started in Foster Care

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.

kiddos
kiddos

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!***

God the Provider

God is an incredible provider. Just incredible. I say this because he promises that he will provide. I also say this because he has done this in our lives time and time again. Do you mind if I give you just a few examples of what I'm talking about?

As we started walking into foster care (almost two years ago already) we knew that it would mean bringing in another child into our home. Added responsibility, added cost, another bed needed in our little home. But as we read our Bibles together each night we continually saw Jesus calling his followers to a life of justice for the oppressed, care for the orphans/widows and giving wholeheartedly to God. We never saw commands that were contingent on good financial savings, a debt free life, or spare rooms in a house. God led us to step out and follow his calling and not worry about all the little details that would need to fall into place.

And that is when we started to see it happen: God's crazy provision in ways we never expected. The spring we were looking into foster care, my husband unexpectedly lost all hearing in his left ear. So that season we found ourselves with a pile of medical bills for auditory tests and ear specialist visits. Fast forward to July. I was calling on a medical bill making sure it had been sent through our insurance before I paid it. When I asked about the balance to see if it matched up with my statement, she informed me that it was at zero, that it had been closed out on July 9th. I asked if there was a reason for that or if there were any notes on why that might be. She just told me again that it was at a zero balance as of the 9th and we didn't have to worry about it. I got off the phone and called Justin right away at work, as I was telling him the good news, it hit me: July 9th, the day we mailed in our foster care application!

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clothes

A month goes by and its August, and we are in the process of getting licensed for foster care. Over the course of 1 week, I was given 3 bins of hand me down girl clothes for our daughter. I once again called Justin while on his lunch and jokingly said that perhaps God was going to place a girl in our home (instead of the boy we always pictured). Justin went back to work and called me 15 minutes later saying that he'd received an email from a foster couple we knew, wondering if we'd be interested in possibly adopting the little girl they had been fostering for the past 8 months. A little girl, just 4 months younger than our daughter, who we lovingly call "Autumn". It's been over a year since we've had two little ladies in our home and I've never had to buy them any clothes.

Did I mention the day that I was talking to my hubby about everyone else being stylish and feeling douty and out of style? Well the next day someone came by to visit and brought a bag of adorable, trendy shirts that she didn't wear and asked I would be interested in them.

Oh, how I could go on and on all day!

All throughout the Bible God provides for his children from Abraham to David to Paul. We have that same God and he continues to provide daily for our needs. No, he doesn't always give us all our wants or desires, but all of our NEEDS. It has been such a faith builder for Justin and I to see his provision day after day. With our deepening trust in Him, rather than in ourselves, we've discovered something else incredible. The pressure is gone. The pressure to plan and plot out our next steps.

While we try our best to be wise with money and be good stewards of what we've been given, we've been able to throw off the worry and chains of fretting over how the year(s) will look.We have confidence that God will provide what we need, when we need it. 

And he promises the same for you!

In Matthew, after Jesus talks about money, storing treasures in heaven rather than on earth, and about worrying, he says: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." - Matthew 6:33

The key here isn't that God is promising to make you rich, but rather, above all things, we are to seek first his kingdom and his righteousnessWhen we set our hearts and lives on living for the things that matter to God, he gives us a promise that everything else will fall into place. And that is just what God has taught us when we've stepped out to faithfully do what he has called us to. That's when we've seen him providing for all of our physical and emotional needs to make that possible.

So what does this mean for you? Are your worries taking up so much of your time that you find yourself with no time to "seek Him first"? Have you said "no" to something God has put on your heart because it just seems too far of a stretch for you or your family? Go to God in prayer and put your trust in his promises. Just like any parent loves to be able to provide for the needs of their children, God LOVES providing for us, and what joy that gives us as his children to lean on him for our provision!

Trusting God When It is Hard

God has been teaching me a great deal this year; mostly things about myself. You see, nothing has revealed more about the state of my sinful heart as much as becoming a foster parent. To be honest, I used to look at my life and feel like, for the most part, I had a great handle on things. I was a good mom, a caring wife, a youth group leader with my husband, and an all around nice person to those around me. I loved God and lived for him.

I had it together.

Then God moved my husband and I towards adoption; so clearly, so persistently. We kept taking steps, and he kept confirming that we needed to keep going. After first agreeing we could never pursue adoption through foster care because of the fear and uncertainty that would bring, God pushed us right into that place we said we never wanted to go.

You see, for years we’d been praying the dangerous prayer. You know, that one that sounds a lot like:

“God, I love you more than anything else in this world. Draw me closer to you, whatever that takes. Show me how I can serve you more. Use me for building your kingdom and bringing you glory.”

I call this a dangerous prayer because God is a God of no boundaries, no limits, no fears. When you start asking him to do his will in your life, no matter what that is, I believe that is when we find ourselves in situations beyond what we ever thought we could do/handle.

kidsatzoo
kidsatzoo

Enter “Autumn”, our 12-month-old foster daughter. My world turned upside down. I was suddenly a mom to nearly twin one-year-old girls and a 3-year-old son. We were suddenly dealing with things like attachment problems, sleeping issues, and food anxiety from our new little housemate. I couldn’t leave the house without getting strange looks and lots of questions. Life went from comfortable to uncomfortable very quickly.

It’s been a year of many growing pains. God revealing the weaknesses in my own heart. I never knew I was so impatient. I never knew I had so little grace. I never knew I was so selfish. Throughout all the struggles, God showed me my ever-present need for him. And in each struggle, he has been there, not always as visibly or comfortably as I’d like, but he has been there day after day.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. – Psalm 46:1-3

And now I’m here. I have a 2-year-old, an almost-2-year-old and a 4-year-old and I feel like I’ve matured about 10 years. Yet, rather than being close to the end of this grueling process and on our way to adoption, our daughter’s case has taken a sudden turn in the opposite direction; a path that would take her out of our home.

SD katyana
SD katyana

Once again I find myself at a crossroads. The truth is that everything in me wants to give up, to stop fighting and to sit back and feel sorry for Autumn and our family. But I keep coming back to the Word of God and it keeps saying the same things: Trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6). Do not worry (Luke 12:22-24). Love others (John 13:34). Do not be over come by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Never will I leave you (Hebrews 13:5). Care for widow and orphans, and not just when it is easy or comfortable (James 1:27).

I’m at a moment in my life where I either trust God completely or I don’t. He is either totally in control of what happens in my life or he isn’t. There is no middle ground of self pity mixed with faith. He is either God of all, or he isn’t. It’s so easy to trust him when we see where he is leading us, when the joyful moments overwhelm us and we feel his love. It’s hard to trust him when the road is blurry and you don’t even know what the end of the journey will look like.

But, just because our circumstances change, doesn’t mean that God, his love and his holiness do.He hasneverbroken a promise and he never will.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever - Hebrews 13:8.

It’s been a challenging year, but I praise God that it has! God has shown me time after time that he is worth leaning on with all my weight. Despite where the next few months may lead us, I know that he will not disappoint us. His ending to this story is truly the only one that I desire.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. - Psalm 20:7-8

1. What situations do you find yourself in that are difficult to trust God to handle?

2. Have you ever prayed the "dangerous prayer"? Are you willing to start?

Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking // Part Five

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 ::: ENGAGING :::

Featuring Gina Pantzlaff, Milwaukee Child Welfare

“We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” - G.K. Chesterton

A few weeks ago, HHH began a series on sexual exploitation/sex trafficking (Part One, Part Two, Part Three - Interview with Emily Matson, Vintage Pearls, and Part Four - Interview with Katie Linn, Exploit No More). I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. Throughout this course, I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. My sincerest thanks.

Our interviews wrap up for this series with my dear and beautiful friend Gina Pantzlaff. After meeting Gina in 2004 at college, I have been beyond blessed by her company, even getting to be one of her roommates my senior year of college. It’s been startling watching where God has taken her, how He’s used her, and how He’s glorified through her.

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Gina graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with BAs In Psychology and Theatre. Upon graduating she toured around the upper midwest with two children’s theatre companies, “The one thing I noticed while touring, “ writes Gina, “was that all children need the same thing - a sense of love and belonging.” She goes on to say,

“For me, being raised in a safe and stable household, I have always had this feeling. Not only did I have my family and friends giving me this love, I also had my Savior to help guide me. I decided I wanted to help others feel a sense of belonging and safety, so I looked into becoming a social worker. I felt I would be able to help strengthen families and a child’s sense of belonging, so for the past three years, I have been working for a nonprofit agency in Milwaukee. I started there as an Ongoing Case Manager, an area where we worked with parents to create a safe environment for their children so they could be returned to them after being in and out of home care. After working in Ongoing Services, my focus area moved to family connectedness, playing an active role in developing and creating father engagement programs and family connectedness programs. I currently serve as an Engagement Coach training and educating my agency on family searching, engagement, and relationship building.”

 Gina explained that her eyes were opened to trafficking and sexual exploitation by her job:

“Since I work with children who have been abused and neglected, working with this population has honestly caused me to have to lean on God more and more. Hearing about and seeing the aftermath of sexual abuse is probably the most challenging because it will affect a child’s relationships for the rest of their lives. I will never forget being at a conference where the main topic was the sexual abuse and torture of children. As I listened to case after case of children being mutilated by all the sexual abuse they suffered and/or being sold among adults for sex, I felt myself feeling sick. I started thinking, ‘Why am I in a profession that this is a topic of discussion?’

That moment was when a realized how important it is to have children connected to positive people so they have someone to go to when they need help. When children are reported missing, it is a team effort, and I’m thankful to have been involved in helping locate some of our missing teens that we believed were being trafficked.

But then I thought, what if we would have had relatives or people who cared about these children looking for them? Maybe we would have been able to find them more quickly versus a few social workers looking them?

Every experience in child welfare was one I have never experienced before. I grew up in a small town, have a wonderful family and church community. No one ever really worried about the safety of their kids in my town. Most of us just had the rule to come home when the street lights came on. If you think about the most vulnerable children in our society, our foster children would be at the top of the list. They have been through traumatic experiences and are not always connected to healthy adults to help them through. They look for someone to show them the slightest bit of acceptance and belonging and they will latch on to whoever gives it to them. To give reference, children in foster care are twice as more likely to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than a US soldier coming home from war! It is not uncommon for me to meet 12-18 year olds who are being prostituted here in Milwaukee or who have been trafficked to other states. Part of my job is utilizing family to help us locate these children.

One thing that amazes me is the children in the system who run away from their safe placements to their pimps. Think about it, they are in a safe location, but run away to the person who exploits them the most. I believe that the reason this happens is because they feel this person understands them and that they now belong to something. It is comfortable for them - that is what they know.

In my first year I wanted to leave. My heart could not handle it. I was consistently having nightmares and not able to sleep. It is still hard to make sense out of how someone could choose to damage a child so much. I have no reason for why God gave these children so many challenges and has blessed me so much. Without looking to God for guidance, I do not think I could emotionally do what I do.

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The turning point for me was talking with a Christian social worker friend who reminded me to look for Christ’s love in every situation. I thought, ‘How did I not think of this? I am the daughter of two Lutheran grade school teachers?!’ As soon as I did that I was able to see Christ in what I did and started looking more to Him for guidance. Although I cannot share what I believe, I can live and lead by His example, treating others with continual love and compassion. To be honest, it has become easier once I started looking to Christ. I have been able to put more of the stress, fear, frustration, and anger on Him. Having someone help me carry the load has been such a blessing.

However, there is always a child, always a case that you worry about, and I have to continually check in with myself on how I am coping with my job. I work with some challenging individuals, but I aim to remember that Christ died for us equally This helps me keep some perspective, as well as the will to continue to do this extremely difficult work. Because I put my trust in Him, being able to go to work with a clearer head, puts me at a good place to talk to the children and families I meet. The way I see it, I will continually look to learn about God’s Grace through both the good and bad in my job.

I do the work I do because there is a need.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-21.

Jean-Jean-Coffee-Bean (endearingly so), we are ever so grateful to you for taking the time to share your thoughts and your voyage. Personally, I know your words are not just said, but lived. You hit home a resounding theme: whether it’s through friendship or mentoring (aka discipleship!), fostering, adoption, whatever, the need for relational involvement, in all of its confusion and disarray and baggage, is necessary for engaging the crises of sex trafficking and exploitation, especially when you feel the most inadequate.

If you’d like to read Holy Hen House’s four previous posts on the difficult, but crucial matter of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, they can be found here via these links: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four. Thank you for taking the time to read and to pray.

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Surrendering to a Jealous God

Our foster daughter “Autumn” (not her real name) has been a complete ball of energy and joy since the day she moved in. At just one year old she is a cuddly little ham bone who loves making faces, playing “chase” and babbling up a storm. But I would be lying if I told you that bringing a child into our home who has been raised for the past year by a different set of foster parents is all smiles and rainbows.  It’s interesting how much adjusting everyone in our family has had to go through. For Henrik and Lucia, well, they gained another sibling. For Justin and I well, we “had” another baby. But for Autumn, she has switched parents and gone from an only child to suddenly being the youngest with 2 older siblings. Not to mention that she seems to have some attachment struggles (who wouldn’t when you’ve been hauled around to different visits with parents and relatives your entire short life). Attachment disorders seem to display in two different ways: a child may become more reserved and introverted to protect themselves from loss and hurt, or they can easily interact and bond with anyone who will give them attention to get their needs met by whoever is willing to do so. I feel our little lady is a perfect example of the latter. She is very outgoing, an extreme people-pleaser, and willing to let any and everyone hold her.

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DSCN2714

I never knew her being like this would be so hard for me.

Having babysat her quite a bit before she was placed in our home, I was aware she seemed to have some of these tendencies. Knowing this, my husband and I have been very proactive in helping her bond and learn to trust us as her “parents” and primary care givers. No one, beside myself, has given her a bottle since she came into our family. We don’t let other people feed her and we do all the cuddling, bonding and care taking. To be honest we’ve already seen huge improvement in just a few short weeks.

… But the other day… was a bad day.

I was visiting with a dear friend (and fellow HHH writer) at her home. After being there a little while, Autumn started to latch on to my friend. She cried when she left the room, tried crawling all over her while she sat on the floor and tried to leave (me) and follow my friend each time she left the room. I was so caught of guard! Still? After all these weeks of making progress at home?

I was jealous.

Autumn let’s us cuddle with her now. She lets us give her kisses and lets us help her do things. Why after all this did she want my friend over me? Seriously? Isn’t she starting to realize now that I’m her “mom”? I’m there for her at 2am when she is fussy and gassy. I’m the one feeding her, bathing her, taking care of her. I am the one teaching her that the stairs are dangerous and that it’s best to crawl off the couch backwards! As nice as my friend is, doesn’t she realize whatever quick “fix” she is looking for from her will be short lived? Will my friend be there when she bumps her head tomorrow? Will she be there when a kid at school picks on her? Will she be the one saying her prayers with her every night? No. She won’t, But… I will (Lord willing). I love her; all I want is for her to see that; to understand that; to trust in that. I want her to let me love her.

Then God taught me a lesson:

Wow. Reality check.

I’ve always read about God being a jealous God, and on the surface, I got it.

Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. -Exodus 34:14

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” –Matthew 23:37

He wants to be my one and only. For me to love him above all others and not turn away to other gods. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it. But as I thought about the morning with our sweet little Autumn, my understanding of this principle exploded. For the first time I could see it! I could see why God is jealous. He is my FATHER. He knows me better than anyone, has been investing in my life since it’s very beginning. He has been teaching me right and wrong, guiding me, loving me, drawing me close everyday, and what do I do? Run after a quick fix. It’s unbelievable how quickly we will run away from our all loving God and his will for our life and try to satisfy ourselves in the way we think is best. Look at the world: Adultery, divorce, sex, workaholics, food, our relationships with friends or even our career or our spouse. We are constantly trying to satisfy our deep desire for love and purpose in all the wrong places.

Now when I read these passages, I’m so thankful! Praise God that he is a jealous God! He desires ME, my undivided love, my unwavering trust and in him there is never disappointment or rejection. He is the ultimate fulfillment. All he asks is that I trust him. That I let him LOVE me. That I allow him to draw near. That I don’t push him away for the quick fixes I run to so often.

These days when I look at Autumn, I mostly see myself. I see my relationship with God outlined in a whole new way. I see the amazing love that God took me, broken and scarred as I was, and adopted me into is family anyway. He took my shortcomings and all and loved me despite them and has promised me new life in him. How can I not do the same thing for the precious lives God has placed in my own home?