Twelve. One of the numbers that represents completeness in the Bible. The 12 disciples, the 12 sons tribes of Israel, 12 gates in heaven and 12 angels guarding them, and more. 12 doughnuts make a dozen, a complete box. This month marks a full 12 years of being a certified foster parent. My husband and I did not begin this journey with the same goal we have in mind now. We originally wanted to adopt, but God changed our hearts to become a foster-only family. We started fostering when we had 2 bio sons, ages 3 and 1.5. Bio son #3 was born a year and a half after that.
Lord willing, we will not stop fostering after 12 years. Hopefully this marks the beginning of another 12 years or more. On May 14, 2008, we were 12 years younger, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so excited about all the children who would come into our home and the relationships we would build with their families to share with them the love of Christ. Here are 12 lessons we have learned.
1. Nothing goes as planned.
A five-week placement became a year and a half journey to reunification. Deadlines and court dates are set, but they continually get pushed back. A two-week placement lasts five months. On paper, foster placements should be less than a year, but that doesn’t happen.
2. Your heart is able to mend even when you think it is broken beyond belief.
God heals our broken hearts through His promises and the comfort of knowing that our babies will be well-loved with their birth families. This isn’t always the case, but thankfully, we have seen very successful reunifications. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
3. Reunification is GOOD.
When you know your child is going back to a good home, you can wholeheartedly root for the parents. They need our encouragement, mentorship, and prayers so much, despite their mistakes that led to their child being taken away. Perhaps they never had any other support.
4. Not everyone will be excited for your family.
Some will think you’re taking on too much trouble and that these children need to be left for someone else to take care of. Some will think that you should focus on your biological children instead. Be gracious and pray for their hearts to warm towards your foster children.
5. Develop your village.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. It’s a must. Because some of the people you think will come alongside you won’t, seek out those who will. Some will say they will help but never do, yet others who never offer help will mercifully, graciously, and unexpectedly show up on your doorstep in person with their time, prayers, hugs, baby supplies and treats. Some are just waiting for you to ask so they can bless you by meeting your needs.
6. Befriend the birth parents.
Mentor and guide them. They need you. Even if they will never reunify, they need you to respect and appreciate them for trusting you with their child. It is such a gem to be able to continue to see their child grow up if you maintain a positive relationship.
7. The system is flawed.
We live in a broken, imperfect world. Just know this and it will help you to persevere and forge onward. Fight if you must, and as much as you can, but in most cases there is little manpower can do to make big changes in laws and processes. Advocate for your child.
8. Befriend your case manager and social worker.
Our foster agency assigns us a case manager and the county assigns us a social worker. Some of you only have one. Befriend them as much as you can. Some keep their distance from foster parents because it is a work relationship, but others don’t mind developing a friendship. When they know we are on their side, they will advocate for you even more.
9. Foster care works.
We hear all the negative stories portrayed in the media of irresponsible or abusive foster parents as well as stories of children being returned to abusive birth parents. But there are so many other cases in which the birth parents are successful in following through with their case plan. Cheer for them, friends! In the midst of your tears and shredded heart, cheer for them. They love their children, too.
10. Biological children thrive when they have a foster baby brother or sister.
It’s natural to worry if our children will do well when we bring new children into our family. Our sweet spot is caring for infants. Other families love taking care of teens. Pray and figure out which age group fits best with your family.
11. Everything works together for good in God’s timing.
This is a tough one to believe in the foster world because there is so much evident abuse that we see in some birth families. For believers, we see that we cannot trust in this fallen world at all. But God. He sent His son Jesus out of His great love for us so that we would not perish, but have eternal life, from John 3:16. This is the way of redemption. Not foster care, the civil authorities, or good humanitarian works. Jesus. Believe in Him, repent, live for Him. We have the great privilege in declaring God’s salvation to the world.
12. Trust in God, not man.
He will give you the desires of your heart when you are in tune with Him because His desires become your desires. It’s so worth it. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6