25 February 2013
One child at a time
He was crying when he arrived and he was crying when he left.
But during the nine months in between there has been so much joy and laughter in our home that an enormous hole has been left behind. The house feels strangely empty despite there still being six of us who live here. We don’t hear the shouts of ‘Awesome! Awesome!’ coming from the garden anymore that he used to shout as he raced around on his little bike. We don’t see those big, brown eyes and gorgeous smile getting wider and wider as we introduce him to the joys of camping, the car wash or kite-flying. We miss the spontaneous giggles as another toy car disappears under the sofa. There is no constant chatter from the playroom reminding us how he could barely talk when he arrived and how he could barely stop talking for a second when he left.
Foster care can be a heartbreaking experience as love and affection are poured into the lives of children who have often suffered neglect and abuse, and just as that love and affection begin to be returned, the time comes for them to move into their permanent homes. As our last little charge drove away with tears in his eyes, there were also tears in ours.
The pain is real, but would we do it again? Yes. We are now waiting for the next phone call. Perhaps it will be a little boy starved of affection. Perhaps an older child whose mother is in hospital. Perhaps a toddler with special needs. Perhaps a relinquished or removed newborn baby. Whoever it is, whatever their story and however long they stay, we know from the start that we will miss them when they are gone. But for all the heartache, it is also the most rewarding thing that our family does.
There is sacrifice and there is satisfaction, but we do not foster because of the way it makes us feel. We foster because there are 89,000 children in the UK who have all experienced trauma of some kind, and need a home and love and help. Each one of them matters to God not as a statistic, but as people made in His image whose stories matter to their Creator. Four thousand of those children need adoption, and there is also a need for 8,000 more foster placements to keep up with demand. The numbers are overwhelming but, one child at a time, together we can make a difference.
Evangelical Alliance, Care for the Family and the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service have come together to launch a campaign called Home for Good. Between our agencies we have connections with more than 15,000 churches. Our target is to recruit, support and encourage one family per church to use their homes for the good of those who need fostering, or to bring children who need adopting home for good.
This summer we spoke to hundreds of Christian foster carers, adopters and social workers across the UK in conferences in Birmingham, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, London and Manchester. I was genuinely moved by story after story of heroic families that had deliberately taken on some of the most difficult-to-place children. The most saddening thing to hear was that for many of them their church was the hardest place to bring their foster and adoptive children. Some of them had been turned away from Sunday school because their children were disruptive. Others had been criticised by members of the congregation for not being able to ‘control their own children’. Little did these critics understand the traumatic background these children had come from and the near miracle it was to have them come to a church service in the first place. The Home for Good campaign aims to help the wider Church to gain an insight into the particular needs and challenges for foster and adoptive families.
I also heard many stories of how church families had gone the extra mile to get alongside and help foster and adoptive parents and their children. Some older people in the church making an appointment each week to take whichever foster children were in on Monday nights out to the cinema and for a meal, giving their carers a regular night off. Other churches who would provide lifts, meals, clothes, equipment for families when they most needed support. In my own experience, I don’t know how our family would have coped with our adoptive and foster placements without the practical and prayerful support of our church family.
Whether you can foster or not, will you help us make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable children in the UK? Will you help us find homes for good for children many of whom think no one wants them? Here are three ways you can help us:
- Pray that we would see a culture change across the UK Church so that we can provide homes for good for all the children currently waiting in the UK and that our churches would become welcoming places for carers and children alike.
- Become a Home for Good champion. If you care about this issue and are willing to champion the needs of vulnerable children and spread a passion for fostering and adoption throughout the UK Church, please contact us.
- Encourage your church to celebrate Adoption Sunday, joining with thousands of churches around the world from Ukraine to Zambia to the Philippines.
Together we can celebrate our own adoption into God’s family and also learn about God’s compassion for widows and orphans.
If you would like to think more about these issues, why not order our book Home For Good (written by myself and my wife Miriam, published by Hodder) through your local Christian bookshop and encourage others in your church to work through these things with you. The book tells more about the joys and challenges of fostering and adoption through true stories, through the Bible’s teaching and through our own experience. Better still, why not contact a local fostering or adoption agency and offer a child near you a home for good.