I Say No To Placements All The Time

I Say No To Placements All The Time

I want to help all the children. But I can’t. Becoming a foster parent made that clear very quickly.

Nothing is more heartbreaking to a foster parent than having to say no to a child in need. The phone call isn’t a hypothetical story, or one you hear after the fact. Behind each call is an actual child, actually sitting and waiting for someone to step in for them. Thinking what life with this child in your family could be, then choosing to say “no,” is devastating.

As time has gone on, I’ve gotten more acquainted with—if not totally comfortable with—saying no. I’ve learned that knowing when to say yes and when to say no is one of the most important parts of doing this thing well. As a foster parent, it’s an important factor in being able to protect your family, serve a child, and maintain any sort of sustainability.

If you’re struggling with a “no,” here’s my pep talk to you:

You should already know what you’ll say “yes” to.

It’s helpful to have mental guidelines for the children you can accept before the call comes. We must be open to step out of our comfort zones and say “yes,” in faith, to something we may not have considered before. But most of the time, the decision isn’t made in the moment. It’s made in the previous conversations and prayers and considerations before the moment’s arrived.

New Jersey has a form every foster parent must fill out called “Type of Child.” It’s a heartbreaking exercise where you label and limit a child by a single factor. Each checkbox offering a different behavior or illness or past abuse, each “no” delivering a guilty pang to your do-gooder’s little heart. Comparing the calls I get to the boxes I’ve checked, I’m pretty sure these forms are never actually looked at, but I was grateful for the exercise. It forced the hard questions before they came, led to conclusions before we were asked.

Even still, my husband and I are best able to stay focused on how God has called and equipped our family to serve a child when we remove the pressure of a ticking clock. Spending time talking, praying, seeking Scripture, considering our family’s needs, and evaluating our priorities outside the pressure of a child waiting in an office has served us well.

Don’t get me wrong, we must continue to prayerfully consider what we’re called to and be open to the unexpected. This year, we had a number of in-the-moment decisions that we wrestled through and, ultimately, had faith to say “yes” to. But peppered between them were many, many “no’s” to what we had previously decided were outside of what our family was called to.

Our “yes” can’t be driven by need alone. There will always be need, and we can’t always be the ones to meet every need. Our “yes” must be driven by faith-filled, prayer-backed wisdom that creates realistic boundaries.

Your first priority is to your forever family.

One of the reasons we do foster care is our forever children. We want them to learn compassion, that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that life is about following Jesus. I am all for teaching our children that there is sacrifice involved in loving others. But I will not let them be the ones who are sacrificed.

I’m not just talking about protecting your child from physical harm. I’m talking about really taking the time to consider each of your forever children and their personalities and needs and place in the family. Maybe it means not bringing home a same-aged child in consideration of the child who doesn’t quite know their place in the family. Maybe it means saying no to a squirmy toddler if you’ve got a houseful of out-and-about high schoolers. Maybe it means not disrupting birth order for a child who holds and cherishes the “oldest sibling” role in your home. I don’t know your family dynamics, but you do, and you must consider how each child you bring into your home will affect the children who are already in your home.

The most important relationship in your home is the one between you and your spouse. In our household, we have a delicate push and pull. I push, he pulls, and our family survives because of it. In marriage, both partners must be together, in unity, for every yes. That means that both the desire to say no and the drive to say yes have to be put aside in the pursuit of unity. In order to arrive in unity, both partners must be wholeheartedly committed to pursuing God’s will, in faith.

You are limited.

I’m still learning this one. Those closest to me roll their eyes and laugh and “what are you thinking?” at me on a regular basis. I don’t like to accept my limitations, especially if it means saying no to a child.

I am limited, though, by life’s many factors: the state, my husband, my kids, my work, my home. But it’s not just life’s external factors. I’m limited by myself: my personal capacity, my giftings or lack thereof, my need for sleep, my sin and temptations, my other callings and commitments, my passions and interests. I am human; inherently weak and by nature, limited.

Saying yes to something that my limitations say no to will only work for so long. Something will give, and those in my home--my spouse, my forever children, and, yes, my foster children--are the most likely to be affected.

You’re not the Savior.

As Christian foster parents, we care for our children out of love for the Savior. The temptation, for many of us, though, is to want to become the Savior.

How do you know if you may be tempted in this way? Do you regularly push to take something on that is outside the boundaries of what you previously decided? Do you sacrifice your family, the people you know God has called you to, in an effort to do more? Do you refuse to accept your limitations? The previous points are a good place to start.

The antidote to falling into the “Savior complex” is to actively and completely trust the Savior. The hope of saying “no” to a child is the truth that the story doesn’t end with you. That child you were called about? God created that child, loves that child, is with that child, has plans for that child.

Your role as a foster parent will sometimes include you saying no to a child in need. But whether your answer is a “yes” or a “no,” being a foster parent is always about entrusting that child to the Savior.

We are called to this journey of foster care, but it doesn’t mean we’re called to every child in foster care. May our “yeses” be faith-filled, wisdom-driven, compassion-motivated answers to serve the children we believe God has called us to serve. And may our “nos” be the same.

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