15 ways the Church can support foster and adoptive families through challenges and disruption

15 practical suggestions for providing families with the support they need through challenging times.

With support from some parents and carers who have experienced challenges, we have compiled some suggestions for ways that we can support adoptive families and families who foster or provide kinship care through the most difficult of times.

This might include sudden or planned placement disruption, or facing ongoing extreme and violent behaviour from children and young people who are processing trauma, or a concurrent care placement that has not led to adoption. The circumstances and journey will be unique for every child and every family, so some of these suggestions may not be appropriate in every situation.

Our hope is that these ideas will encourage us all to be more aware and better understand the challenges that some families are facing, and equip us to wrap around them in support through the hardest of times.

1. Believe them

It is often that children are only able to let down their guard and process all they have experienced in the safety of the home environment with their primary carers, but this means you may only ever see the seemingly calm or happy moments - which is not the reality the family is experiencing. When parents or carers tell you that things are difficult, believe them, and don't try to brush it off.

2. Listen to them

Give parents and carers space and freedom to share what they need to and are able to, without immediately offering quick-fix solutions. And bear in mind that they may not be able to give you all the details because of confidentiality, so don't press them for more information.

3. Affirm them

Carers can often feel very guilty and broken when a placement is struggling or suddenly ends. They may well see themselves as a failure. Love and accept them, speak truth over them and offer reassurance that these labels are not true, and seek to make someone available to them, maybe a pastoral worker, to meet with them and offer support.

4. Let them process

They might need to cry. They might need to talk about 'if only' and 'what if'. They might need to express anger, disappointment or frustration. Let them.

5. Talk with them

Don’t avoid talking about the child or young person who has left. They shouldn’t be made into a taboo subject.

6. Don't expect of them

Let them process their grief as they need to and don't assume they will do this in a particular way. Be especially sensitive if new foster children join the family - they cannot 'replace' children who have left and new arrivals don't diminish the grief of those who have moved on.

7. Don't belittle them

Please don't say 'all children do that' in relation to difficult behaviour. It’s really not helpful and can make parents and carers feel incompetent or over-dramatic. The challenges faced by looked after and adopted chidlren are rooted deeply in the trauma they have experienced, and are certainly not “normal”.

8. Be available for them

Make yourself available to them for when they need you - it may take time for them to be able to talk about it. You could also offer to befriend the child or young person, although this may not always be appropriate. If you do this though, be prepared to get to know someone who may find emotional regulation really hard and not always respond or behave in a way you would expect. See beneath all this and notice the child wanting to be heard and understood.

9. Notice them

Notice when a foster child has left the foster family. They may not be able to tell you the reasons why but let them know you have recognised what's happened and offer comfort and compassion.

10. Support the whole family

If it is a couple, ensure both are being cared for, and if the family has other children in it consider how you can come alongside them in an appropriate way so that nobody is overlooked.

11. Don't talk about them

Do whatever you can to stop the family becoming a subject of gossip and only share what has been agreed. If you are privileged to know more detail than most people, be careful to keep it confidential. Don't put the family on any kind of prayer list or post about the situation in your church Facebook group (for example) unless you have express permission from the family to do so.

12. Link them up

If they are willing, contact Home for Good on their behalf as we may be able to connect them with another family who have experienced similar challenges. You could be in touch with us through a Home for Good Champion or call us directly on 0300 001 0995.

13. Support them practically

There are dozens of ways you can take the burden of a struggling family - meals, ironing, gardening, childcare, DIY - so offer whatever you are able to facilitate and enable others to offer support in this way too. Encourage the family to identify what would be of most help to them. This could include people in the church family with time or unique skills that can really help, for example people able to offer attached support or respite, people who are great cooks and can take a child for an afternoon and teach them to cook something, people with dogs and are willing to have a child accompany them dog-walking. These are all small things but they can really help a family feel resourced and provide much needed breaks.

14. Pray for them

As much as you are able to! With their agreement on how it would work, seek to build a prayer army around every family who cares for vulnerable children. Whether they are settled or going through massive difficulties, prayer makes a difference.

15. Commit to them

Adoption, fostering and offering kinship care are long-term and, in most cases, lifelong commitments. Could you be someone who walks with families on this journey, through every joy and every challenge, committed to doing all you can to love and support them?

Thank you for all you do to support families who care for vulnerable children.

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