Awkward, Messy, and Rooted in Relationship
How would you feel if your child was taken and placed with an absolute stranger? Even if it was the best thing for the child, wouldn’t you want an opportunity to sit down and know more about these new people?
The reason many couples choose to become foster parents usually involves a desire to help a child in need. Little do people initially realize how much involvement with a biological family they could have throughout the fostering process. Many foster families dream of helping children, but what about the biological parents?
In 2019, 70% of children who were in foster care were returned to their parents or placed with family members (Alabama (DHR) Department of Human Resources).
When a child comes into foster care, it is because they do not have a caregiver willing or able to safely meet the child’s needs. This can look like a drug addiction, abuse/neglect, incarceration, and many other scenarios. After following an individualized plan from DHR, a parent or family member may regain custody of the child when it is safe for them to be placed back in their home.
With such a majority of children returning to family, what can foster parents do to help? The best thing a foster parent could do is build a relationship. Knowing who is filling in their shoes as a parent can put a biological parent at ease. Building trust and developing relationships take time. Meeting the mother of a child in foster care for the first time can be an awkward situation and foster parents must never expect a biological parent to instantly trust them. However, it is worth the effort. By building a relationship with birth families, being models and mentors, and sharing the redeeming power of Jesus Christ with them, foster families can have more of an impact on the home life a child returns to.
Here are some practical ways to build a connection between foster and biological parents:
-Asking for the recipe for the child’s favorite meal
-Sharing pictures with the biological parents either digitally or by printing them
-Asking for input on hair styles or asking a parent to do a child’s hair at their next visit
-Offering an extra visit on a holiday or birthday
-Getting to know the child through the parent – their likes and dislikes
Christian foster parents wish to share the love of Jesus with the children entering their home. Knowing these children could return home any day, foster parents should take a step back and realize the biological family should also be the ones being ministered to. A fear many foster parents have is “what environment will this child return to?” However, foster parents often impact that environment through their intentional efforts with the biological family. Foster parents, do not be afraid to build that relationship and share Christ’s love with a birth parent. As Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 It could radically change the path that parent is on, and the child’s path once they return home.
I’m thankful to see Agape foster parents doing this today out of the love they have for Christ, the child in their home, and the birth parents.
For example, one of our Wiregrass area families had two boys placed in their foster home. During one of their home visits, the foster mom placed a note and some pictures in one of the boy’s diaper bags for his mother to find. It listed her phone number and basically read, “Your boys are a joy. Please reach out to us if you need anything.” The mother called that night, and it was the beginning of a relationship that ended with reunification. Throughout the case the foster family’s church helped the mother obtain things she needed in order for her boys to come home. Additionally, after the boys returned home, the mother had a tragic loss in her family and needed somewhere for her boys to stay a few nights. The family answered her call and said yes. Had the foster mother not tried to build a positive relationship, the boys and their mother may have had a very different outcome.
Another Agape foster mother recently heard one of her former kids wasn’t doing well. She went to her house and knocked on the door to check on her. When the girl’s mother answered, the foster mother saw she was sick and could not go to the store. The foster mother and her husband went to the closest grocery store and bought the mother a week’s worth of groceries and gift cards to the grocery store for future needs. This foster mom didn’t even have this child in her home anymore, but the bio mom and foster mom had built a positive relationship. Stories like these are truly what sets Agape families apart and makes them a joy to work alongside in our ministry.
About the Author: Angie Brabham, LBSW, from Troy, AL, is a foster care social worker at Agape. She trains and licenses foster homes in Southeast Alabama. She has been with Agape for 1 year. Angie’s passion for children and families comes from experience working in child welfare and seeing the need for birth families to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.