The holiday season can be an eagerly anticipated time of year, but for children in foster care, it can also be a difficult and emotional time. This may be their first holiday separated from biological family, and there may be triggers of sights, smells, sounds, and traditions that cause them to miss home. This may result in challenging behavior as a child attempts to process intense emotions such as sadness, homesickness, confusion or anger. Keep in mind the following trauma-informed tips to help your foster family enjoy the season. The holidays can bring opportunities to create special memories and experiences with foster children and enhance the bonds they have with foster family and community.
Nationally there are over 440,000 children in foster care, and in Colorado well over 5000 children in foster care with 590 legally free for adoption. When we hear these numbers our hearts typically go out to the children affected; we shake our heads, nod and say that it’s a terrible thing. But what can we do after that? What can we do to support children in foster care, their foster families and birth families? Maybe your church can recognize National Adoption Month by supporting families who are interested in fostering and adopting children or celebrate adoptive children and their families. If you’re not sure what steps to take, here’s a few to consider.
Arick Graham’s parents fostered. He had adopted siblings. When he and Rachel met, it was natural for Arick to ask Rachel if she’d ever want to adopt. Back then, Rachel didn’t think her heart would ever have the capacity for that. After they were married, the Grahams felt God speaking to them about adoption, but they had no idea what that would look like. With three young daughters, Olivia, Claire and Kate, Rachel did know she had underestimated her capacity to love. Rachel loved Kate just as much as her older sisters.
If you support a family serving in the foster care system, you are likely aware that the goal of any case is reunification with the foster child’s family. Not only is reunification a beautiful example of God’s redemption, it is also the goal per the federal law that outlines Child Welfare practice. Reunification can be the most difficult stage for foster parents. Even though foster parents know reunification is the desired outcome, they almost certainly will experience grief over losing a child they have embraced and grown to love. The end of a placement is one of the times your foster family will need you the most. Below are some ideas on how to help the family celebrate reunification and grieve the loss of a beloved child.
“Rebecca and Sean O’Loughlin are some of the best foster parents we’ve seen…hearts of gold, five extremely healthy bio children, lots of family fun, navigated a very painful case with dignity and grace"- Lutheran Family Services (LFS).
After reading this note from LFS, we wanted to learn more about the Sean and Rebecca O’Loughlin and their family.
Since 2013, Karen & Paul Dunlap have fostered close to 50 children. Their three grown children have also fostered and adopted, and over 100 kids from foster care have been part of the extended family!
Recently, Karen and Paul welcomed Nia*, an angry 14-year-old, straight from a juvenile detention center. After Nia dumped black trash bags of stuff on the bedroom floor, Karen realized some of the anger stemmed from the fact that Nia was adamant that none of the things belonged to her. No jeans that fit correctly, or even a familiar pair of shoes. Karen asked Nia, “What if we take $100 and get you some things that you pick out.” The teen reluctantly went. Karen shared, “She purchased stuff I had to bite my tongue about, reminding myself that it wasn’t about the purchases. It was about Nia knowing I heard her, and I cared.”
Currently, the Dunlaps are taking short term placements, like Nia. Some are older, tough kids, even gang members. Even in the short time they are with her, Karen works to spend the kind of quality time with them where they feel heard, safe, and loved. She prays that they will see the real reason she can so easily love them. She says, "Especially with shorter placements, it's easy to feel like we have made no lasting difference in their lives." But knowing that God's heart will be forever chasing after these kids, she is content to be planting seeds he can use in their lives down the road. She hopes that one day they will say, “I remember that one lady who thought God was the answer. Maybe she was right!”
Back to school is a busy time of year and it can be difficult to get back into the rhythm of a constantly moving routine. Children in foster care may experience an additional challenge as they are starting a new school year in an unfamiliar home, school and community. This can cause a child to experience anxiety, sadness and fear which must be managed emotionally and psychologically.
One helpful tool during this season is to create a quiet space for the child to enjoy. Having a designated quiet area in the home allows space for a child to refresh mind and body. This is especially important for children who have sensory needs, mental health needs or no longer nap. Not only does this provide a break from stimulation, but it teaches children a new coping mechanism to manage stress and other big feelings, and how to advocate for themselves when overwhelmed.
Summer is quickly coming to an end, and it’s time for foster families to prepare for the back to school transition. This season can present mixed feelings for a child in foster care. Some children may have fear or anxiety about starting school in a new community, being academically behind or developing relationships with peers. As your foster family works to settle children into a school year routine, below are some suggestions on how you can support both the child and family during this transition.
Relay coupons and school supply deals: This time of year, there are so many avenues for accessing school supplies. If you know of a specific supply drive, coupons or other deals, share them with your foster family. If you have children of your own, invite the family to school supply shop with you and tackle the task together!
As a pastor or a lay leader, have you thought about building a Foster Adoption Friendly church but don’t know how to get started? Project 1.27 provides a 3-hour Church Ministry training that guides a leadership team through developing a Foster Adoption ministry designed to work within your church framework.
“The greatest benefit of the Project 1.27 Foster Adoption Ministry Leadership training was helping our team get organized from our vision statement to ideas of ways to better support families that have heeded the call to adopt.” - Project 1.27 Church Partner
Contact Project 1.27 for more information on a training in your community.