Ask someone who advocates for orphans what they need most, and they’ll tell you, “More families.” Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were more than 400,000 children in the foster care system in the U.S. on any given day. And, since April of 2020, the CDC reports that number is growing.
But fostering and adopting are a lot of work. According to Lifesong for Orphans, 38 percent of Christians families consider adopting, but only five percent actually do. Why the discrepancy between the desire to adopt and actually doing it? The reasons range between the expense, the intimidating process, and the paperwork.
But we are called to care for orphans.
What if churches like yours could support families in their congregations, to come around them and build a community that takes the pressure off? We talked with experts, as well as adoptive and foster families to find out what they needed.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
– James 1:27
10 ways your church can help
1. Talk about fostering and adopting regularly. Recognize those in your congregation who are fostering or on the road to adoption. Make your congregation aware not only of the needs, but also the opportunities to come alongside families doing this self-sacrificial work, so the church can become a part of the process and form a supportive community. Christian Alliance for Orphans recommends working this sentence into your consistent conversation: “At our church, some of us are going to bring children into our homes. The rest of us are going to find ways to serve and support them.”
2. Pray. Invite some in your congregation to focus specifically on praying for these families. Preferably, these will be people willing to pray whenever needed, so families can call them right before an emergency doctor’s visit, a court date, or a mountain of paperwork coming due. Remember that fostering and adoption involves spiritual warfare – a battle for the future of one child at a time.
3. Network. There are many complexities to fostering and adopting children – from applications and home studies, to the emotional toll of always having to expect the unexpected. Knowing the best ways for your church to support these families may come with a learning curve. But alliances like Global Orphan Project’s Care Portal and Christian Alliance for Orphans train and coach churches in foster care and adoption ministry – providing community, network, and opportunity for those who want serve orphans.
4. Rally your small groups. Consider what it might look like if all of the small groups in your church supported one or two foster families. Consider how they could wrap around a family to provide support.
5. Gather stuff. Instead of taking old baby clothes, jackets, car seats, or prom dresses to a thrift store, find a foster closet in your area, or consider using space your church already has to create one. Be sure to consider children of all ages – from newborn to teens. And communicate regularly that this is available to members of your church and community
6. Tutor. Parents and teachers in your congregation probably already understand what it feels like to be in over their heads helping kids with homework. Imagine what this is like for foster families, who sometimes raise multiple foster children along with their own. Encourage those in your church with educational skills – parents and teachers – to consider volunteering to help a foster family.
7. Train babysitters. Foster families will need a break once in a while, but not just any babysitter can care for a foster child. In most cases, it is illegal to leave a foster child with someone who is not trained. Sitters must be 18 years or older, be CPR certified, and have undergone a background check. Consider hosting CPR training in your church to get sitters through the first step.
8. Create a care-package team. Frequently, foster children arrive at someone’s home without much warning. Appoint a team to create a customizable system of care packages (and a good relationship with the foster closet you’ve found or established). Items include diapers, strollers, car seats, bikes, comfort items like stuffed animals, and new blankets. This team can be on-call when a new foster child arrives at the home of one of your church’s foster families. Consider preparing welcome packages for adoptive families too.
9. Develop support groups. Foster and adoptive parents often live in a world of unusual and complicated situations involving changing rules, interactions with biological parents, unmet hopes, and frustrating systems. This is what they signed up for, but the journey can be difficult, and there are often very few people who can understand what they are going through. As a church, provide a time and place for these families to come together to support each other. If you have trained counselors on staff or in your church, consider enlisting their services as facilitators. If possible, provide certified babysitters during this time.
10. Train respite parents. Certified babysitters can only babysit for a certain number of hours and a certain number of times. When foster families need time for travel or much-needed rest, respite care providers are needed. Because becoming a respite parent requires more than babysitting, these families are hard to find. Find those in your church willing to be trained appropriately, so you are ready when your foster families need a break. What does it take? The Methodist Church’s Board of Child Care has a great explanatory web page.
For more ideas, read the book Everyone Can Do Something, by Jason Johnson. It’s written specifically for church leaders just getting ready to launch and lead orphan ministries.
Becoming or supporting foster care and adoptive parents is essential if we are going to rise to the challenge of James 1:27. What will your church do to love these families well?
Special thanks to Jedd Medefind of CAFO and Jason Johnson for their input on this article.