When your church doesn't 'get' fostering, adoption and supported lodgings

What happens when your church doesn't seem to understand?

A huge strength that many of us hold as Christian adopters, foster carers and supported lodgings hosts is that we are part a beautiful and robust support network; the Church. Our church communities should be a main source of practical, emotional and spiritual support. When we experience joys as a family, we want our churches to celebrate with us. And when we navigate the challenges, we need our churches to be safe, supportive spaces for our families.

There are so many churches that are brilliant at this, welcoming children with care experience and their families with openness, care and a willingness to learn. But what happens when your church doesn't seem to understand either your heart for fostering, adoption or supported lodgings, or the challenges your family face?

As an adoptive parent, I understand the frustrations of those whose churches don't appear to 'get it'. Married to a church leader, I also understand the tension of leading a diverse group of people with different passions. But caring for the vulnerable and practicing welcome and hospitality shouldn't be an optional add-on for us as the Church; it's at the core of who we are!

So, here are a few ideas that I hope will help you journey with your church towards a place of shared understanding, so that your gatherings, spaces and communities can be some where every child, young person and family can find belonging.

First of all, who are the people you need to be fully on board with your heart? I'd like to suggest that there are three groups of people who really important to consider:

  1. Your church leadership team. They steer the vision and welcome of the church.
  2. Your children's and youth work teams. They will be working directly with your child/ren.
  3. Your small group. They will be your support as you care for your children.

Taking each of these in turn, try to figure out where you're feeling challenged. It may be quite encouraging, for example, to realise that even though your church leader hasn't responded to your emails, your small group are hugely supportive of you, both in prayer and practical ways. Or that even though you've found it difficult to attend your small group recently, your children's team are fully on board with becoming trauma-informed.

This exercise also allows us to extend grace to those who perhaps have not been as responsive as we'd have liked, by realising the many pressures on them in their different roles.

Church leaders have pastoral responsibility for a large and varied group of people, and you can guarantee that each person in their congregations will have their own 'agenda': their own personal passion that God has placed on their heart, and for many, their own personal struggles or challenges too.

Sometimes it may feel as if they're not supportive of you, when in reality, they are simply trying to balance the needs, passions and gifts of the whole church.

You can help them out by asking to meet directly with them. If you're part of a larger church, it may be someone else on the leadership team who is able to meet with you, but either way, you should be able to make an appointment.

A good church leader will want you to talk to them, or a member of their team, about the things that matter to you - and those that matter to God! Fix a time when you won't be disturbed. I know this can be difficult, particularly with young children, but it's important to try. You don't need special words or an agenda - just go prepared to share the story of your journey, plus anything it might be helpful for them to know.

There are plenty of Home for Good resources for church leaders - you could give your leader a copy of the Home for Good book, or a few stories or articles from the website. Printing it out might yield more success than an emailed link, which they may not have had time to read.

Children's and youth leaders have an important role in understanding all the varied needs of the children and teenagers in their groups. It is their job to ensure each one can access the group sessions.

Again, arranging a meeting with your children's or youth leader will pay dividends, as you can pass on all the helpful strategies that you've developed in the home, as well as information about your child's specific needs.

You may think that meeting with the leaders is a bit over-the-top, but remember there's potentially a lot of information that would be helpful for them to know. One way or another, you're going to need to pass this on. Doing it largely in one sitting, when notes can be taken and questions asked, is far better than sharing it in snippets after each service, when the children's leaders are busy tidying up and less able to absorb details.

Did you know that Home for Good is hosting a webinar, Creating communities of welcome, designed to help our church leaders, kids and youth teams and others in our congregations understand and care for care-experienced children? Maybe your children's team would be interested in attending!

Small groups (or house groups, cell groups, life groups - whatever you call yours!) can be a wonderful source of support for you as you care for your family. They should be praying for you, asking how it's going, and offering practical support when needed.

Do make sure you are asking for prayer in group prayer times. If your group has a way to communicate during the week, utilise this too, helping others to understand more about your family.

Besides prayer requests, remember to share any answers to prayer, as this will really encourage your group, and help strengthen their faith, as they realise how God is looking after the children or teenagers you care for.

It's always hard asking for help, but don't be shy to mention your practical needs to your group. Remember that our faith often grows as we serve others, so by asking, you're giving them important opportunities to be blessed in their relationship with Jesus!

If your small group doesn't appear very knowledgeable about or interested in your family situation, ask your leader whether you can share a bit more in one session - perhaps in an extended prayer time. Explain the joys as well as the challenges, and that you're grateful for their support. Point them to wider resources that will help, maybe sending them links to articles. (Your small group, as friends who have regular contact with you, are more likely to find time to read things you send them!)

As early as possible

If you are hoping to care for a child or young person through fostering, adoption or supported lodgings in the future, I would recommend having these conversations with your church leaders, children's/youth leaders and small group as soon as you start sharing the news publicly. Don't expect others to be automatically trauma-informed, but be willing to talk, listen and educate.

I've already mentioned Home for Good articles as a great way of starting a conversation with others. Some people also find it helpful to start their own blogs as a way of communicating their adoption/fostering journey to their church communities, family and friends.

Two-way benefit

There is an obvious advantage to your family of being part of an understanding and welcoming church. But there is also an advantage to the church of having you there, with your passion to follow God's heart, and your willingness to chat to people about your journey.

If you have tried all of the above, and your church is still unresponsive, know that Home for Good is available to listen, pray and help you consider your options. Contact our Enquiry and Family Care team.

It might not be immediate, but what joy it will be to be able to look back at this moment in a few years' time, and to see how God has used you to draw your church family even closer to His heart.

Written for Home for Good by Lucy Rycroft.

Author:
Lucy Rycroft for Home for Good


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