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6 Ways to Serve Foster and Adoptive Families | by Jenn Ranter Hook

The idea that all human beings have a deep, inherent worth to God is closely intertwined with the call to care for vulnerable children, who are often ignored (whether unintentionally or not) in our society. While this concept of caring for children is such a crucial part of living out our Christian faith, as we seek to show love to others, there is often a disconnect between wanting to help and actually doing something to help.

Fostering and adopting is such an important mission and calling, but not everyone is able to pursue it. However, there are still ways for all of us to help those who have taken on this journey.

The desire to help might come easily, but you might not feel well equipped, know where to start, or worry that your help won’t make a difference. I have walked alongside many families as a therapist and ministry leader, and from my experience, I have discovered some key ways that you can have a high impact in the lives of adoptive and foster families. I recommend six steps as you begin your journey of helping these families. Allow me to share these steps with you:

  • Become educated. One of the best ways to get started on this journey is to educate yourself on adoption and foster care, attachment/relational ties, and trauma-informed parenting. Almost all children impacted by foster care or adoption have experienced trauma in one form or another. Understanding how trauma impacts a child’s emotions and behaviors will greatly impact how you offer support.
  • Just ask. If you already know families raising children through adoption or foster care, ask them how you could most support their family. Listen for specific needs you can meet, such as providing meals or babysitting. If you are not familiar with a family in need, contact ministries through your local church or community that support foster and adoptive families. Most families will be eager and delighted to receive your help.
  • Realize you are not the expert. While you may be a parent or are experienced working with children, keep in mind that your view may conflict with the parenting strategies of families you seek to help. A fresh perspective should be offered in compassion and love, not in judgment. Do this by listening to the parents, giving them the opportunity to tell you what would be most helpful for them at that time. Also, be specific about how and when you can help. Seek out activities that allow you to have meaningful conversations with the kids. And before you leave, schedule another time to meet, which shows the families and kids that you are dedicated to helping them.
  • Limit advice. One of the things helpers must refrain from doing is giving advice before fully understanding the issue at hand. Although the intention is good, this type of help usually isn’t helpful, for it doesn’t honor the struggle or pain and can feel invalidating to the recipient. Many children impacted by foster care or adoption have experienced hard circumstances that will require time and different parenting approaches to bring about healing. Just as you would want others to be compassionate during hardships in your life, be sensitive to the families you are offering to help.
  • Offer grace. Offering grace and unconditional acceptance may not be an easy virtue to live out, but it is vital to helping foster and adoptive families. A common fear for these families is that their children will also experience judgment, criticism, and rejection, especially if they have challenging behaviors or struggles engaging with people due to their traumatic backgrounds. The ability to love a child unconditionally – in spite of the child’s behaviors – is a welcome gift for both the parents and their kids. Building relationships with adoptive and foster kids is just as important as supporting the parents.
  • Remain committed. Time and time again, adoptive and foster families have someone who starts off happy and supportive, but the excitement and the support dwindle in a few short weeks. This can be very hurtful to both the parents and children, especially when the support systems vanish during a difficult season. Know your limits regarding time, money, and emotional/physical capabilities.

Before you commit, think about what support is realistic for you to offer. Start small with your support and be consistent. What can you commit to for the next six months to a year? Small efforts done consistently over a long period of time can make a huge difference.

. . .

Jenn Ranter Hook is the founding director of Replanted, a ministry that helps empower the church to support adoptive and foster families. She received her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and has previously worked as a trauma therapist for children and adolescents in foster care. She speaks on topics related to adoption and foster care support, mental health, and trauma. She is also the author of Replanted: Faith-based Support for Foster and Adoptive Families, and she lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband.

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