But for the Fostering Network’s Foster Care Fortnight we wanted to do something specifically for foster carers, and who better to ask for ideas than those with first-hand experience – foster carers!
We asked some of our Home for Good champions who foster what they have appreciated from their friends or churches, or what they would love to have offered, and this list is compiled from their responses. Thank you to all who responded for the ideas that you shared.
We’ve anonymised the suggestions to ensure that families are kept safe, but also because, as one carer pointed out, it’s really hard to ask for these things for yourself. Of course, this came from somebody who would do any or all of these things for someone else without a second thought!
You see, we at Home for Good have discovered that foster carers are generally a rather selfless and humble collection of people, so the likelihood is they won’t ask for these things directly – but what a gift you could offer them as you seek to support and journey with foster carers in your church or community.
1. Aim for empathy, not sympathy
While foster carers love what they do, and have chosen to do it, at times it can be hugely challenging. The very nature of caring for the most vulnerable children means that it will be both emotionally and physically draining for carers and their families. Saying goodbye is one aspect of this, but also waiting for new placements, not knowing the future plans for children placed with them, and the day to daycare of children who have been through trauma will all take its toll.
Generally, foster carers we’ve spoken to don’t want sympathy – they recognise that this is part of the role they have chosen to do and are as prepared as they can be to go through these challenges. But that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate your recognition that what they do is sometimes difficult. A kind, affirming word of encouragement and acknowledgement can make all the difference.
2. Watch your words
This is such a small thing that can make a HUGE difference. Simply using inclusive language in your churches and conversations is a great start, for example saying to children ‘go and find your adult’ or ‘who did you come here with this morning?’, or to the congregation ‘the adults who are collecting children should go now’, rather than just using ‘parents’ will mean a lot.
Also being cautious overusing words like ‘adoption’, ‘mother/father’, ‘son/daughter’ and others. Some words can be a trigger to children who have suffered a trauma so it is important to be sensitive in how you speak.
3. Respect confidentiality and children’s stories
The child’s story is private and will only be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis. Never ask for details as it means carers are put in a very difficult and awkward position. Don’t ask the child personal questions, and if they choose to share any part of their story with you, ensure that their carer knows they have spoken to you.
Any information you do know – even the most basic knowledge of a child’s name or birth date – is absolutely confidential and should never be shared. Be especially careful when using social media to not share children’s names or photographs. Find out more about confidentiality here.
4. Be savvy with safeguarding
Ensure your church has a strong safeguarding policy and consider the implications within it for looked after children. One foster carer we spoke to wrote an appendix to her church’s policy to ensure the children in her care were kept safe, so if you are unsure, talk to the carers in your church.
5. Get trained and checked
Foster carers would love for you to find out more about some of the key issues surrounding the care of vulnerable children, especially those who are involved in youth and children’s work. Training on attachment, supporting children who have suffered neglect or trauma, therapeutic parenting or dealing with anger or challenging behaviours would all be beneficial. Plus, specific training on issues that are particularly relevant to children in your church, such as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, would be especially helpful.
Recognise that only people who have had a DBS check are able to babysit for fostered children, so if you are wanting to support a family in this way, offer to have this checked through the local authority or fostering agency.
6. Don’t assume ANYTHING
This is good practice for working with any child, but foster carers would especially ask that you don’t assume a particular reading or writing ability of the children in their care, and within a church context, don’t assume any Biblical knowledge. Some looked after children may have never heard the Christmas story or about Noah’s Ark, so if you have the privilege of teaching them, take the time to share the details that others may take for granted.
7. Get practical
Surprisingly, this wasn’t as high on the list as we might have thought. Obviously, many foster carers would appreciate the occasional meal cooked for them or cake baked, or perhaps support with ironing – especially during particularly challenging times or periods of transition – but generally, foster carers were far keener to receive your understanding and prayer support than anything practical.
Of course, this may just be because they’re being humble, so keep offering if you are able to!
8. Mark the moves in a way that works
If you haven’t already, have a read of this article about moves, and be especially considerate during times children move in or move on. Where appropriate, it may be positive for friends and the church family to mark these occasions with welcome or goodbye parties, celebrations or dedications, or simple acknowledgements – but this should ALWAYS be done in conversation with foster carers. As much as it might seem like a nice thing to do, never plan a surprise party for a looked after child or make an announcement about them in church without having agreed on it with their carer.
9. Join the journey without knowing the plan (because they don’t know it either)
One of the biggest frustrations for foster carers is not knowing how and when decisions will be made, and you constantly asking them will not be helpful. Scheduled meetings or court dates might not always happen, decisions might be made about a child’s future without any forewarning or involvement from the foster carers, and even long-term foster carers don’t always have as much of a say in future plans as birth or adoptive parents would. The best thing you can do to support foster carers throughout this situation is simply walking with them, and be flexible, adaptable and responsive to the current needs.
Also, foster carers may not always know exactly what happens to children after they have left their care, which could be very hard for them, and even if they do know they probably won’t be able to share any details with you. It’s best not to ask about children they have previously looked after, although you could say that you continue to pray for all the children they’ve cared for so that foster carers know that you are sensitive to this issue.
10. Pray, pray, persevere and pray some more
This is the thing that came up most – foster carers are deeply appreciative of your prayers for them, their families, and the children in their care.
Persevering in prayer for challenging and seemingly impossible situations will mean a significant amount to foster carers. Praying when you don’t know the details, praying protection and safety, and praying for strength and comfort will always be appreciated. Some foster carers have small prayer groups or prayer chains of a few trusted people, and many said how much they would appreciate something like this.
Even if you don’t know the specifics or the situation seems beyond repair, please keep praying! The impact of your prayers may never be known, but they could make all the difference.
We hope that these ten suggestions inspire you to come alongside and support foster carers in your church or your community, so that together we can ensure that foster carers know how much they are valued.