The Challenges and Blessings of Foster Care
Mark Kolchin, Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
It may come as a surprise to many that foster care, like many pertinent issues in society today, is referred to directly in God’s timeless word, the Bible. In Acts chapter 13, Manaen, one of the prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch, is described as someone ‘brought up with Herod, the tetrarch’, v. 1. The Greek word used by Luke is suntrophos, meaning ‘childhood companion’. It strongly suggests that he was the foster brother of Herod Antipas and, thus, the foster son of Herod the Great. It’s true – the concept of foster care can be found in the Bible! It substantiates the fact that foster care is not just a contemporary issue but one that has existed for a long time, extending all the way back to the New Testament era. It further reinforces the fact that there has probably always been the need to provide an alternative home environment for children to come under the care of parents who are not their own naturally. Whether a wicked individual like Herod the Great provided a caring home environment could easily be debated, but, regardless, the record of scripture states that Manaen was brought up in his household and apparently with legal recognition.
An even more outstanding example of foster care in the Bible, however, is that of Joseph with our Lord Jesus. He, who was conceived through the agency of the Holy Spirit and not the biological son of Joseph, came under Joseph’s parental care at birth and was referred to later as ‘the carpenter’s son’, Matt. 13. 55. The implication was that the people of that time recognized that a familial relationship did indeed exist. Whether Joseph legally ‘adopted’ the Lord, as we understand adoption today, cannot be verified – scripture is silent on the matter, but the evidence seems to indicate that it might have been a possibility. Thinking it through, how Joseph provided for his family and protected the Lord when they went down to Egypt, Matt. 2. 13-23, underscores how important foster care can be and what a difference it can make!
What is Foster Care?
By definition, foster care is helping to promote a child’s growth and development for a period of time by someone other than the child’s biological parents. This may be due to an adverse situation that may occur such as the death of the parents. Or, it may be due to those parents being deemed unfit by social agencies to adequately meet their child’s basic needs for an adequate upbringing. The need to remove the child from the household into a safer environment could last for a short time, or longer depending upon the circumstances. Either way, the goal ultimately is for reunification of the child with the natural parents, at which time the role and responsibilities of the foster parents are relinquished.
Some Reasons Why People Get Involved in Foster Care
Many couples consider the possibility of engaging in foster care for a variety of reasons. For some, it is simply a matter of wanting to be a contributing member of society, able to provide a supportive and secure home environment for children in need at a vulnerable time in their lives. They want the best for that child agreeing to provide the necessary care while under their guardianship, a privilege granted to them by a properly-designated social agency which typically provides a financial stipend to help defray the expenses involved in the care of the child. This privilege is until the natural parents are able to get ‘back on their feet’ and the child is returned to that household or that of their relatives, unless other options for the child are necessary. Many participate in foster care under this arrangement for an indefinite period of time. Cases exist even in which some have fostered literally dozens of children (and more!) in this way over many years.
For others, foster care may be motivated by a desire to help that child grow and develop socially alongside their own child, providing a mutual benefit to both. Perhaps this was the case with Manaen. While it can accomplish this, it could always be short-lived since the goal of all foster care is reunification with the natural family – something that could occur at anytime in the process.
For others, participating in foster care might be with the hope that it might lead to adoption, as it has in many cases. The maternal (and paternal) instinct is powerful and couples can have a strong yearning to enter into parenthood, especially when they see it in the lives of their peers. Some even spend a great amount of money in the attempt, with medical help, to have children of their own – some with success and some without. While others may have sufficient financial resources and have gone the direct route of international or domestic adoption, others may not, and consequently see in foster care an opportunity for an indirect route to adoption, though it is not always assured.
The Blessings of Foster Care
The blessings of foster care are many. It gives an opportunity to bring a child or, in some cases children, into a home where the real-life needs of that young person are met. For the Christian especially, it provides the golden opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in a very practical way, which could make an eternal difference in the life of that person as they hear the gospel and see the love of Christ portrayed in that sanctified household . It is truly a ‘good work’, Titus 3. 14. Whether it leads to adoption or not, there is a sense for those who choose to participate in foster care that it is time well spent, invested in things that truly matter – people – and not in the shallow or passing pursuits that characterize this world, 1 Cor. 7. 31. For the Christian, the care extended to these children can be viewed especially as the selfless care of the Lord for us, and, in the case in which foster care leads to adoption, a picture of our adoption in Christ, Eph. 1. 5; Gal. 4. 5. At the very least, it can be easily seen as the Lord’s bringing about the opportunity through His sovereign leading.
The Challenges of Foster Care
However, as many blessings as there are in foster care, there are many challenges as well. These should definitely be taken into account before considering it. Not every foster care situation is rosy and bright. While many foster children are very lovable and cute, some can present a variety of challenges stemming from the dysfunctional home from which they came. Children from these homes may have personal or even medical deficiencies and difficult attitudes to overcome as a result of the neglect or abuse they received from their natural parents. This can present a daunting challenge to those who have agreed to allow them into their homes to care for them. It may put strain upon that household, depending upon the expectations of the foster parents and the other children in that home. The flip side of this challenge is the bonding that can occur because of the personal sacrifice and time invested, another important aspect of foster care.
Additionally, there may be required visitation in which the foster parents are required to bring the child to an agency office, so that the natural parents can maintain contact with their children. This is often court-sanctioned and not an option, but a directive from a municipal judge. Depending upon the situation, this can significantly impinge upon the foster parents’ personal time schedule and be rather unnerving as they sense a continuing negative influence by the natural parents in the life of the child, though this is not always the case. Further, the social agencies who are ultimately responsible by law for their oversight of the foster children can be viewed by some as being overly intrusive as they are required to qualify the foster parents initially, inspect the home to make sure that it meets agency standards, and then maintain a close watch to ensure that these foster children are properly cared for. They can hardly be blamed for doing so, especially in the light of a few celebrated cases of foster care abuse. However, the relationship between foster parent and foster care agency is usually positive and congenial, since it is a relationship that has been entered into on a voluntary basis.
Foster care may not be for everyone, but it offers the opportunity to truly make a difference in the life of a child and can be extremely rewarding. For the Christian especially, it provides the means by which we can let our ‘light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven’, Matt. 5. 16. This is true not only in the life of the foster child and in some instances to the natural parents, but also to the agency representative (with whom there is plenty of interaction) not to mention our neighbours and those in our own church family. Foster care can be a great blessing and, for those special cases which lead to adoption, a blessing beyond compare. ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way’, Ps. 37. 23. Perhaps He is ordering your steps in this direction so that you too will become involved in foster care.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Along with his wife Cynthia, Mark was commended to the Lord's work in 1993 by the assembly in Toms River, New Jersey (USA). He is currently engaged in a itinerant Bible teaching and conference ministry. Web Site: www.knowtheword.com