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.
In the space of one phone call, the Chacons became a kinship family. Three years ago, on Katrina’s birthday, social services called and asked if she could provide kinship care for a relative’s six-month old daughter. Katrina describes it as a whirlwind of emotions, “I was excited and scared and trying to process everything at the same time. I’d never done anything like this before, but Baby LoRena needed immediate placement so I said yes. We needed to help her out.”
The Chacon family is part of Project 1.27’s Kinship Support Group in Mesa County. Katrina and Joey have two older children, Darryn, 12 and Ahleigha, 9. They recently adopted Baby LoRena, now 3 years old. An outgoing, spunky family, the Chacon’s are always joking around. Darryn’s allergy doctor looks forward to seeing them because when the Chacon’s come in for an appointment, the family is always laughing. The older kids were excited to welcome and pitch in to care for LoRena when she arrived so unexpectedly.
Like many children who come into foster care, LoRena arrived with little, just the onesie she was wearing. It had been a long time since there’d been a baby in the house, so the Chacons purchased a few things. One of Katrina’s friends, who had an older infant, brought over clothes and baby supplies.
Sometimes it can be hard to identify ways to bless a foster family as they navigate through foster care. From the outside looking in, it is difficult to understand the day to day needs or to know what provides tangible help. In addition to re-visiting your Support Team Roster, below are some unique suggestions to show appreciation and support to your foster family. Pick an idea that fits you and follow through. Instead of saying, “When would be a good time to bring you a meal?” you could instead suggest, “I am free on Thursday to bring your family dinner. Does everyone like pizza? Does that work for your schedule?” When support team members remember to keep checking in and offering help, it makes all the difference in giving a family the relief and energy they need to keep providing high-quality care to children.
Host a virtual card drive: Is your family encouraged by words of affirmation? Consider rallying the members of your support team and beyond to email encouraging notes to your family. Remind them that they are doing good work and are supported by those they love.
Over the last year, Project 1.27 has been part of a small group of Christian organizations and churches from across the country collaborating to find ways to better engage and equip churches across the U.S. to provide more than enough resources to children and families before, during and beyond foster care. After praying and planning, we believe there can be more than enough resources to care for every child in foster care if 10% of churches in every county in the country (3,142 counties) are actively engaged in foster care by 2025.
One of the first steps was to design a self-assessment tool for churches that will help you understand how your church is currently engaged in this ministry space and where there are opportunities for further engagement. The assessment is short and the information your church gains will be informative and inspiring.