“For as long as I can remember, I have loved looking after children; my younger siblings, kids in Sunday school, babysitting for friends, etc. When I finished school, I worked as a babysitter for many years, and spent four summers working with kids at an American summer camp. I never thought much about whether or not I would have children of my own, but knew I would care for children in some capacity. Although the idea of adoption and foster care has been in the back of my mind since I was young, it was not something I actively thought about or pursued. I just anticipated it was a path I would likely venture down at some stage. It was so far in the back of my mind I didn’t actually mention it to my husband before we got married!
Feeling The Call To Foster
Matthew and I got married in 2015, and joyfully welcomed our first daughter into our family in 2018. Shortly after she was born, I was reading through the book of James in the Bible. The main theme in the book of James is for Christians to not just profess we believe the Gospel, but to actively live out our faith. I couldn’t stop thinking about how we as Christians are called to love our neighbor and care for the vulnerable. Although there are countless ways in which we can live out these commands, it was then I became very focused on caring for children in need.
This is when I first brought up the idea of us potentially doing foster care with Matt. He was a bit surprised and apprehensive, as it wasn’t something he knew much about or had ever considered doing. He said, ‘Ah yeah, maybe when our kids are a bit older.’ I was a little disheartened with his hesitancy, but I also felt it was something which God had placed on my heart, so I believed at some stage I would become involved in foster care.
I started to follow some foster moms and former foster youth on Instagram, to gain knowledge and insight into the foster care world. This encouraged me to start learning more about trauma informed parenting, as it is enormously beneficial when parenting children who have experienced trauma. I rapidly became more and more passionate about foster care and the idea of our family stepping into this area.
When our first daughter turned one, I was pregnant with our second daughter and we were in the beginning stages of building our house. Despite all this, and Matt’s uncertainty, he agreed we could attend the training and start the application process, knowing I was very keen and committed. For some people, the process only takes a few months, but due to my pregnancy, our house being built, changing agencies, and parts of our application getting lost, it took us two years from our initial training until we were fully certified foster parents. During this time, I read numerous books, listened to countless podcast episodes, and completed various online trainings, all related to foster care and trauma-informed parenting.
Before we were officially certified, I advised our agency worker I would impulsively say yes to any placement, and Matt would be the one who would wisely consider the placement to decide if it seemed like a good fit for our family. At this stage, it had been over 3 years since I’d had a full night’s sleep, so although I was keen to do short or long-term placements, Matt sensibly thought we should wait until I had caught up on sleep, so we agreed to start with a respite placement. In Australia, respite care typically cares for a child, or sibling group, for one weekend each month, to give their full-time care a rest.
Receiving Our First Placement
In mid 2021, the same week our paperwork was officially approved, we received our first placement call: a 1-year-old boy needing an emergency placement for a week. As anticipated, I was immediately ready to say yes, but I expected Matt to probably say no. He was working long hours that week, which meant I would be alone looking after our 3 and 1.5-year-old girls, as well as a 1-year-old boy. But I was surprised when I called Matt. He readily agreed to the placement! There were only a couple of hours to move our 3-year-old into a single bed, set up the second cot in the spare room, and get the house organized.
In that first hour, as I rushed to get things ready, I quickly realized saying ‘yes’ to a placement provokes conflicting emotions of excitement and sadness. My heart immediately welled up with enthusiastic anticipation at the idea of having a precious little child staying with us. But, almost immediately, my heart dropped down with sorrow that he wasn’t able to be with his family. But then, when the car pulled in, excitement welled up again as we went out to meet him.
He was brought to us by two Child Safety Officers who he didn’t know, so understandably he was a bit upset at first and didn’t want to come to me (another unknown adult). He was only upset for the first few minutes, until our girls sat down beside him and began to show him their toys. Then he began crawling around the house to explore, and our girls got down on their hands and knees to follow him! When Matt got home that evening, and met him for the first time, he was greeted with a big smile which helped put his hesitation at ease.
Our first few days as foster parents were delightful. He was a happy, relaxed little boy and we really enjoyed having him stay with us. Our girls loved having a little boy to cuddle and play with, and he attached well to Matt and I. By the end of that week, our girl’s behavior had deteriorated a bit, as the novelty of having him stay with us wore off, and they missed having all of our attention. But, overall, it was a wonderful first experience as foster parents, and we are so grateful we were able to ease into it.
After this initial week-long placement, we have continued to do monthly respite for this little boy. It melts my heart each month, when he gets out of the car with a huge smile on his face and eagerly runs over to greet our girls! I am so thankful we said yes to having him that first time, and am grateful he feels safe and loved with us.
Ready For Long-Term Placements
Our first experience of caring for a child in foster care was so positive, I was ready to say yes to longer placements. However, Matt, knowing I was still sleep deprived, encouraged me to settle on doing respite for a bit longer. So, for the rest of 2021 we continued to do monthly respite as I tried to catch up on sleep. I continued to spend time learning about trauma and how to best care for these vulnerable children. In December of 2021, Matt planned to take the whole month of January off work so he could finish numerous projects around our property. This was the first summer I would be able to help more, as I wouldn’t have a baby or toddler who required so much of my attention.
Then, just after Christmas, we got a call for an 8-month-old boy who needed somewhere to stay immediately. There were no details, so we didn’t know if it would be for a few days, or a longer placement. As expected, I wanted to say yes. As I went to discuss it with Matt, I thought he wouldn’t be keen, because if it was long-term it could change our summer plans a bit. I gave him the limited details and asked what he thought. Again, without hesitation, he said, ‘Sure.’ I was very surprised, and responded, ‘Really?!’ and he firmly said, ‘Yes, if we are going to do it, we might as well just do it!’
We had two hours from the time we got the call until he was dropped off. In those hours, the importance of community and support in foster care was very evident to me. While I got things ready in the house, one of my sisters cared for our girls and another sister went shopping for formula and diapers. Friends offered us boys clothing and bottles, and the local fostering community, which I am a part of, prayed for us.
When he arrived, sadness, excitement, and nerves were all mixed inside me, as we went out to greet the case workers who dropped him off. They handed us a bottle and a pacifier and said they didn’t have anything else, nor did they have any information on what he ate or any of his routine with regards to napping, etc. As I looked down at him, a smile spread across his face and he let out a little giggle. ‘That’s fine. We’ll figure it out!’ I said.
And we did! He has been with us for two months now, and we have settled into being a family with three little ones. Our girls adore him, especially the youngest, and they want to help feed him, cheer him up, get his clothes, and run down to climb into his cot when he wakes up. He is happy and content, has a healthy attachment to Matt and I, loves to watch our cow and chickens, and laughs at the girls when they are being silly.
Looking back now, I clearly see God’s hand in the timing of this call to us. Multiple other foster parents had been called, but due to the time of year, they were away and not available to take a placement that day. Matt was relaxed, due to having the summer off, so he was in a good place to say yes, alongside me. I had just filled the freezer with lots of meals, which took the pressure off me trying to juggle having a new baby and still getting dinner on the table. And with Matt home for the summer, it meant the little boy, as well as our girls, were able to get plenty of attention from both of us.
Increased Understanding And Empathy
Although we haven’t been fostering for very long, it’s interesting to look back and see how much it has already changed me. For most of my life, I have struggled to understand, and have empathy, for those who consistently make unwise choices resulting in negative consequences. I generally see the world in a very logical, organized, black or white kind of way, which only contributed to my lack of empathy for those who behave very differently to me. Before we started fostering, I would hear, or read, that one of the traits of foster parents is they are usually very empathetic. I would cringe, knowing I wanted to be a foster parent, but I was not empathetic.
Throughout our foster care journey, and my study of trauma, the biggest area of growth for me has been the significant increase in my capacity to have empathy toward others. As I began to understand how our brains develop and function, and how much of an impact childhood trauma has on the brain, I started to have more and more ‘Ah ha!’ moments about how trauma affects people’s lifestyle, choices, and struggles years, or even decades, later. My increased empathy affects how I relate to my children, children in care, my friends and family, and the biological parents of children in care.
Before starting our fostering journey, I assumed I must be a better, more loving parent than those who have had their children removed and placed in foster care. I assumed the biological parents must be uncaring, unloving, and selfish. But over the past few years, the biggest lesson I have learned is that I was quite wrong in my assumptions.
While I am sure there are some who fall into the category of unloving and selfish, many of the biological parents are not much different from me. They are loving parents who want what is best for their children. Just like me. They are not selfish or unloving; they are unsupported. For many biological parents, their own childhood was tainted with trauma, family brokenness, destructive behaviors, unhealthy relationships, and/or lack of support. They then usually go on to parent in the same way they were parented, which continues the generational cycle of brokenness.
In foster care, we can’t just love, support, and care for the children in our home. We must also love, support, and care for their parents. Sometimes it is possible to cultivate a personal relationship with them to show love and support. And when that is not possible, there are other ways we can support them; through prayer, through talking positively about them to their children, and through making every attempt to make their visitations go as smoothly as possible.
Advice For Prospective Foster Parents
For anyone who is considering foster care, or adoption, I encourage you to do three things:
Firstly, try to find a local foster care or adoption support group, and attend a few meetings. Getting to know the foster/adoptive parents will start to give you a glimpse into the realities of parenting children who come from hard places.
Secondly, befriend a family who does fostering or has adopted. Ask them questions, spend intentional time with them, and offer to help them with meals, babysitting, or running errands. Because each family circumstance is unique, I suggest getting to know two or three families, as this will allow you to have greater insight into the lives of foster and adoptive families.
Thirdly, go ahead and start the application process! Then go to the trainings and learn more about trauma-informed parenting. It doesn’t mean you are committing to becoming foster parents or adoptive parents, but it will give you a greater understanding of what is required and help you better decide if this journey is the right fit for you and your family.
For those who would love to be involved, but don’t have the capacity to foster children in their home, here are a few ways in which you can help out foster families. You may be able to offer a foster family your specific skills in gardening, car maintenance, household cleaning, cooking, or babysitting. If you are not skilled in an area you think would benefit the family, then maybe you are able to provide financial support for them by covering the cost of a gardener, babysitter, meal delivery service, etc. Other ways you can help are by doing school pick up, running errands, picking up supplies/groceries, and most of all, regularly praying for them. There is always space to be involved in foster care, without being actual parents!
I am so grateful we embarked on this journey of foster care, and for the ways it has grown me as a person, but also how it has grown our family, our love for those in need, and our willingness to serve God in whatever He calls us to do. Foster care is hard, but it is important work, and it has led me to trust and depend on God more than ever before.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alice de Hoog. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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