Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Thoughts on foster care

I've been thinking a lot the last couple of days about the desperate need for more foster parents in general and in South Africa in particular.

With very few exceptions (extreme behavior issues would be one example), kids DO NOT belong in institutions. They belong in families.

I might sound a bit hypocritical when I also say that I work in a baby home. Regrettably, due to the way the process works in South Africa and the lack of families available, children often end up in a facility like ours for a while instead of going to a family right from the start (which would be the best option). We work very hard to have a low caregiver/baby ratio, keep babies with the same caregivers, and give them a very high standard of care. And most importantly of all, we work and do what we can to place babies in a family environment as soon as possible. It's not all up to us, indeed, in some cases none of it is up to us, but we do what we can to work with the social workers and the system in South Africa. We serve as a temporary landing place for babies while they find a permanent place. So that's why we aren't an orphanage and why we can't (and wouldn't want to) keep babies for years. We are technically a place of safety.

In SA, kids don't usually go into a foster home first thing - they go to a place of safety. Later on they are transferred to something more long-term if they need to remain in care. A family can be a place of safety, and later a foster home, but again - there aren't enough families to deal with the influx of kids who need homes. 

We CAN set up a baby home to be a place of safety. We CAN minister to birth moms, but we can't always fix their situations. Often they have given up their babies for reasons that go beyond not having enough money - a lot of times despite the support someone can provide externally, a birth mom still has to make her own choice to accept help and be responsible. We CAN provide information to families who want to foster and adopt. We CAN raise awareness about foster care. (We are hoping to do a conference this year!) We CAN pray, pray, pray. We CAN write blog posts that attempt to convince you that becoming a foster parent is a great idea! ;) What we CAN'T do is twist people's arms to get them to become foster families!

It takes a lot of strength to foster. It takes a lot of strength to adopt as well, but fostering presents a unique challenge in that you get attached to a child that you may or may not have to up. Sometimes you think you might keep them forever and at the last minute everything changes. Sometimes (like me) you KNOW you won't get to keep them forever, and know that is even for the best, and you STILL get attached and it's STILL hard. I have had a little one know me as Mama and stay with me and have had my heart break in two as I watched him leave, happy for him and grieving for myself at the same time. (I regret nothing.) I can still feel how so many of our babies felt in my arms. I think about them and wonder how they are doing and how big they have gotten. I haven't attached to all of them, but I have attached to a lot of them. It's different from working in a daycare because you know these babies don't have anyone, no mama to come get them at the end of the day, no one to call to come get them when they are sick, no anxious parent to hand them back to when they start crying. They are ours. I grow to love them in a special way, but I can only imagine how hard it must be to give up a child you were hoping to adopt and keep in your family forever.

Foster care is hard. It's really hard. It's not what a lot of people envision their family to be. They want permanency, stability, certainty. Dealing with birth moms is hard. Dealing with social services is hard. Attaching to a child can sometimes be hard, especially if they are older. Maybe I'm not qualified to comment extensively on how hard this all is since I haven't officially done foster care, but I know it to be true, and I wouldn't want to sugarcoat it. There's a lot of happy, sweet, fluffy stuff about orphan care floating around out there, and even though plenty of people will assure you it isn't all fluff, sometimes I think that's what the church hears. Help babies! Rescue orphans! God adopted us! All great, but orphan care involves a lot of suffering and we can't forget that. We know that children come from hard places and we expect that suffering, but sometimes we might forget just how much we might suffer and grieve while carrying out God's call.

On the other hand, we can't fear suffering. (Well, ok, we can, and anyone with a brain probably doesn't like the idea much.) But we can't let that fear stop us from doing what God might ask us to do. He might ask you to say yes to adoption. (Maybe, maybe not, everyone has a different calling.) But He might also ask you to say yes to the "maybe yes, maybe no." He might ask you to let go of a beloved child who calls you "mama." He might ask you to persist through multiple court dates and waiting, waiting, waiting, and unexpected biological family, and visits with difficult birth moms, and to show them Christ's love when it is the last thing you want to do. You might be afraid of saying yes to the wrong thing and having to live with the consequences. That does happen. But you can still make the best decision you can knowing that God is sovereign over it.

There are many things He might ask you to say yes to when it comes to orphan care. He asked me to say yes to moving halfway across the planet, to finding a new family, to working in a baby home, to NOT being in a position to adopt right now, even though I would love to do so - even when I see kids in desperate need of families every day. He asks me to say goodbye a LOT. That isn't easy. But like I said, I regret nothing.

One of the hardest things is to know (and sometimes watch) kids go into institutions long-term because there are not enough families. I can trust God's sovereignty, but I can also do everything I can to help when it comes to recruiting people! Whether you are in the U.S. or South Africa, please take some time to pray about whether there might be something to which God is asking you to say yes.

And please...don't be afraid. God is so good, and so beautiful, and so sufficient, even in the midst of suffering. He will enable you to bear whatever burden He calls you to bear...He will give you the strength, and joy and love in unexpected places.

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