visiting orphans - caring for foster children by caring for foster families
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction." James 1:27
James 1:27 is a beautiful verse about religion, about following God by loving others. The verse can be found in any Christian resource about adoption or foster care and is widely known as "the" orphan care verse. James 1:27 isn't really about adoption or foster care, though. It's not really a call to adopt or bring orphans into your home. James 1:27 is a call to visit orphans. It's a call to spend time with, to play with and hug and feed and serve and know and care for orphans.
One of the most practical ways any non-foster/adoptive parent can actively care for foster/adopted children without fostering/adopting children is to help foster/adoptive families. Try saying that 10x fast. Done? Ok, now we can move on.
I’ve read a bunch of these “how to care for adoptive/foster families” articles, and there’s one thing they all have in common: they’re clearly not written by actual adoptive/foster parents. So, rather than the typical (vague) “babysit and make food” list, I’ve decided to compile a list of the ways the people around me have actually served me and my kiddos in our foster care journey. (Keep in mind, I'm a foster parent. These may not be as applicable to private/international adoptive families.)
You will see that my family and friends are rock stars. Don't be intimidated. Be inspired. Maybe you can come alongside a foster/adoptive family in just one of these ways. Over the past three years, my friends and family have:
- Babysat the kids while I checked a newbie out of the hospital - Insider tip #1: Any newborn baby or child being released from the hospital will need to be checked out by the foster parent. This means last minute babysitting is needed. This means your foster friend/family member already knows you’re willing to run over at a moment’s notice to help. The key here is to offer the help before it's even needed. (Repeat after me: “I’d like to be placed on your emergency babysitting call list.”)
- Brought dinner over the night of a new placement - Insider tip #2: Every new placement will arrive right at dinner time. Scheduled to come at 11am? They’ll be there at dinner. Supposed to arrive at 8pm? They’ll be there at dinner. Dinner the night of a new placement is a lifesaver. (I also once had a friend bring me two days’ worth of lunch for me because "you’re going to be so busy taking care of all the kids, someone needs to take care of you.” I told you, rock stars.)
- Gone shopping the night or week of a new placement to get:
- Clothes - Insider tip #3: (In NJ) New placements arrive with an emergency clothing check, which means I HAVE TO go to Target and spend every cent of the check on adorable kids' clothes. I know, I know, it’s a hard life. There have been times, though, that I just can’t get to the store and my sis-in-law has done it for me. Also, Insider tip #4: Even if the child comes with clothing, there will always be some key item missing. I had a child arrive the other day with 20 outfits and not one pair of socks.
- Formula/Diapers/misc items - I had a baby come the other day with the directions that he would only use one. type. of. pacifier. Ok, where is this magic pacifier? Oh you didn’t send it? Cue panicked call to my sis-in-law: “I need you to get me a pacifier.”
- Food - Insider tip #5: Chances are that the kids who are entering foster care have not had gourmet, well-balanced meals three times a day. There may be some compromise for a little while in the food department (read: chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and pb&j ONLY). Call your foster friend/family member, find out what three foods this particular child likes, and make a food run.
- Helped me track down or given me needed equipment or furniture - In one of my finer moments of fierce independence/absurd self-sufficiency, I decided to take in a four year old child while my husband was away on business. That was a little absurd. The truly absurd part was that I didn’t have a bed for this child to sleep in, which meant that (with the other kids in tow) I had to pick up a bed frame at one house, jam it into my mini van (yes, I used a computer cable to tie the door down, in case you were wondering), pick up a mattress at another house, then carry both the frame and the mattress into the house and up the stairs BY. MYSELF. The lesson here: Offer delivery service along with your furniture (or at the very least, a rope).
- Came to the house to hang out with the kids while I managed phone calls, social workers, lawyers, therapists, nurses, service coordinators, etc., etc. - Insider tip #6: The first week or two after a new foster child arrives is chaos. Imagine taking in a new child and all that’s involved (emotionally, physically, spiritually) with caring for and “figuring out” that child. And then imagine spending 1-2 hours a day in meetings and/or phone calls with aforementioned individuals. Someone sitting with your kids while you handle all of that is a beautiful thing.
(INSIDER TIP #7: You’ll notice all of the ways I’ve mentioned so far are within the first day-week of a new placement. This is a foster parent’s most hectic, needy time. Tell your foster friend/family that you want to know when they get a new placement, so you can help right away, then offer specific ways you can help.)
- Covered other responsibilities I thought I could handle before another kid entered the picture (Oh, homeschool co-op, how I love/hate you).
- Babysat for the weekend so my husband and I could get away - Almost two years ago, under the magical spell of a restful overnight, my husband and I realized just how important it was for us to have time to reconnect and refresh. I believe the words “every three months” were thrown out. We’ve been away one night since. Getting away as a foster parent is very difficult. Insider tip #8: In many states, someone else can watch your foster kids for a night, but it has to be at the approved foster home. Because of the sheer number of children we have, one 24 hour overnight is typically divided into three shifts for three different individuals. Each 5-8 hour shift is quite enough for anyone to handle. Do you want to be your foster friend/family member’s actual, real-life, I-will-be-grateful-until-the-day-I-die hero? Offer to watch their kids at their home, so they can have a night away.
- Cleaned my house - The other day I headed out for the morning with the kids. My mom called and asked me to leave the door unlocked. When I got home, my house was vacuumed and my sink was empty. It may have been a magical cleaning elf, but I have a strong suspicion it was my mom. Note: This can also be combined with the babysitting option. My mom provides this "twofer" deal every time she gives us a date night.
- Prayed specifically and faithfully - My close friends and family constantly ask how they can pray for me and my kiddos and tell me that they’re praying. It shows interest, it shows love, and it’s a constant reminder that God is actively involved in it all and worthy of our trust. I once told an acquaintance about how sad I was that our foster daughter’s bio mom wouldn’t give approval for her to join our family on vacation. She answered, “I am going to pray that you will get approval for your next vacation, every day until it happens.” It happened. She was the very first person I told.
- Asked what would encourage me and my family (with a list of her own ideas) if one of our long-term placements went home - Guys, there aren’t even words for this one. Your foster friend/family member will tear up when they think of you if you do this one.
- Offered their children as living sacrifices (see Romans 12:1, not Deuteronomy 18:10) - In my most desperate, survival mode season, one of the ladies at church offered to make the 30 minute drive, back and forth, to bring her daughter over for the day to help with the kids while she was at work. (They key here is offered. I would’ve never presumed to ask someone to do such a thing for me. It was a huge blessing.)
- Asked, texted, called, e-mailed, celebrated, cried, coo-ed, and showed general interest, support, and love - This is the one. If you do this one, you’ve got it down. Emotionally and spiritually carrying your foster friend/family member will be your greatest gift to them. Not only will this show your love, it will get you placed at the top of the list to be asked to help in all the ways listed above. Consider yourself informed...and warned.
Foster parents, there are only three jobs for you here:
#1 - Go out immediately and get a group of friends and family like the list I’ve got above. They are Grade A Prime folks who not only deeply, dearly, sacrificially love me but also care a whole lot for orphans (or anyone in general who falls under the “vulnerable, needy, lost” category). Where do you find such people? Possibly within your play group/PTA/work friends/foster support group, probably within your family, hopefully within your church. Most of the people above were close family and friends, but some were acquaintances (when “Can I serve you?” is followed by “Can I have your address?” you know you’ve found yourself a true servant). If you don’t have such folks, you can relocate to Southern New Jersey, and I will happily share mine with you. Another, less extreme option? Fulfill your second job:
#2 - Share this post with your friends and family. I suggest prefacing it with a “wink” emoji, but to each his own. Seriously, maybe rather than bemoaning the help/support/prayer you lack, try letting the people around you know exactly how they can help. I know it can be hard, but (when done well) it will most likely serve you (and your kiddos) and build your relationship with the people you reach out to (you can specifically reach out to them personally or just passively aggressively re-post this article with aforementioned wink emoji).
#3 - Take the help. If people ask, answer; if they offer, accept. This should be the easiest one, but sometimes it seems to be the hardest...