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Being a church that gets it

Fostering Hope believes the local church is ideally placed to wrap around foster, kinship, and other informal carer families in support.

Carers open their homes to children removed from their families of birth and enter a world of childhood trauma, broken attachments, liaising with the Department, working with birth families, and trying to do the most important thing, offering security, belonging, and love to the children in their home!

In my own journey, I naively thought taking a newborn from hospital and offering him the same love and care as my biological children would be enough. I didn’t necessarily think his birth parents would like me, but I hoped we could be on a team for the little boy. I wasn’t prepared for the impact of broken attachment, the impact of in-utero trauma and stress in his behaviours as a now seven-year-old, or for his questioning of belonging. I wasn’t prepared for the roller coaster of his birth parents lives, from liking me to threatening me and everything in between. Or the roller coaster of working with the Department and the legal process, which impacts every day decision making as well as the long-term placement for our little boy.

Being a foster carer takes a lot of love as well as humility and willingness to work with birth families, the Department, and others. It’s accepting that our children need way more than love to thrive, I need to understand trauma, attachment, and be their biggest advocate.

What I needed is both other people on the journey who ‘get it’ and my church family!

The other people who get it are other foster and kinship carers and this is the role of Fostering Hope’s morning teas, school holiday get togethers, small groups, buddy program, and other connections. It’s a place to pray, grieve, encourage, celebrate, and sometimes just vent!

What I also needed was my church community to support not just me and the new child placed in my care, but also my biological sons, and choose to understand being a carer is nothing like raising your own children.

Churches can make a HUGE difference for carers. Here are some quotes from our carers:

Sometimes, it can be what enables a family to step into fostering in the first place:

“There are many ways that our church has shown that they are with us and for us as we have started fostering. We received so much encouragement and prayer as we started the process, and one church member looked after our birth children every week so we could attend the training. We asked our small group to be our ‘official’ support network, and they have provided meals, babysitting, sourcing a cot – as well as emotional support for us. We’ve had meals provided and the loan of clothes and toys as children have come into our home. We have been so touched by the way so many in our church have been sensitive to our change in lifestyle, and we feel very strengthened by the shared heart and vision of others. It really does make a big difference to know people are standing with us who understand what we are doing and why!”

Having people want to get it, can make things possible:

“Our two little girls entered our home at 18 months and 3 years old. Although we’ll never know the full extent of all they experienced in early life, one thing we knew for sure was that food caused them extreme anxiety. It’s likely they hadn’t always been given food regularly, so when mealtimes approached or at shared meal events, like church morning teas, they saw food and ate. We had older biological children in our home, so managing the four children after church during morning tea was extremely challenging. What our church was step in and each of our foster daughters had someone with them during morning tea, not to discipline them, but help them get a plate of food and sit down. This reduced anxiety for me after church, meant I could enjoy a cuppa and fellowship, and my biological children could hang out with their friends. This was simple and practical, but showed acceptance of our children, not judgement, and a willingness to see what we needed. I don’t know if I’d be going to church if this hadn’t happened.

Recognising, respecting and embracing the unique needs of every child, even when families have cared for many children over many years, a church that seeks to understand and adapt to the current circumstances can make a placement possible:

“We have cared for more than twenty children over the past decade and our church has welcomed each one, and often helps us practically in different ways. Recently, a little boy was placed with us who had experienced extensive trauma and struggled with extremely challenging behaviour – it was our toughest placement to date. We questioned whether we could even take him to church but every week we were reassured that we were welcome there, and more importantly, that he was welcome there. Wherever possible, our leaders tried to engage him, and if it came to a situation when my wife or I had to step in, then nobody made a big deal of it. The best thing was that nobody stared. It made it possible for us to be able to help him calm down and then he could re-engage with the activity without it being an issue.”

Choosing to understand the unique needs of carers and the children in their care, so they are safe.

A church that is willing to learn about trauma, about why children come into care, and then goes the extra step to ensure that structures and processes work for carers children too, is amazing. Fostering Hope has trauma awareness training to meet this need for churches.

“Sadly, we had to leave our last church. It broke our heart to do it but we had to put our foster children first, and they just didn’t understand our concerns when they started using Facebook to broadcast services live. We explained the risks of him being on social media but their solution was that we should just keep him to the side – meaning he would never be able to engage in services with the other children. Our church now is completely different. They learnt about trauma, understand the complexities of being a carer, and through this learning actually offer a more child safe program not just for our son, but all children.

As you read those quotes, I hope you see it isn’t that hard, appreciating the journey carers are going on and intentionally offering support goes so far. Fostering Hope is a resource for all churches, kids church and youth group leaders, it’s also a resource for carers.

It is an incredible privilege to open our homes and hearts to children and we’d love our churches to join us on the journey.

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