We had thought about doing foster care for a while, but the time never felt right. Scripture often talks about God’s heart for the fatherless (Deuteronomy 24:16-18, Psalm 10:14-18) and James 1:27 says that religion that is faultless includes looking after orphans. We see God caring for vulnerable children and expecting his people to do the same. So when an opportunity arose to care for an indigenous foster child with the same medical condition as our youngest child, we understood the time was now.
We met with the foster care organisation and began a process of preparation and training. We attended a two day training for new foster care parents. Most of the people in the room were family members who were taking care of a niece/nephew/grandchild unable to reside with their parents because of risks and safety issues. We were the only non-indigenous foster parents in the room. We learnt about trauma and how it presents behaviourally in ADHD and similar disorders. We studied how triggers connected to their trauma can set off an intense emotional response. We were instructed in therapeutic parenting. We explored the whole area of identity and the importance of history and culture in understanding their own identity. We learned about the stolen generation.
We were grieved how the loss, sorrow and trauma associated with some of those events continues to greatly impact Aboriginal people and communities to this day. We heard the statistics of how more than 35% of young people placed in foster care are indigenous. Certainly the percentage is disproportionate and reflective of the issues in these families and communities. There is a story of heartache here that warrants grief and sorrow and is an opportunity for the love of Christ.
After a few Zoom meetings, and a couple of overnight stays, we became foster parents to a 13 year old boy. He was older than our two boys. It is not the usual practice to place a child with carers who have younger children, but it also very difficult to find placements for teenagers, particularly those with specific medical needs.
Our foster son attended a special needs school. He loved reading and computer games. I taught him how to ride a bike. We took him to appointments. We were linked to a psychologist who worked with us closely during the placement. We attended to his medical needs, and he learned to do this himself. But it was far from easy. There were difficult behaviours to deal with. He lied profusely, even when the evidence was all against him. He stole. He would take technology without permission into his bed room and watch videos late into the night. We implemented tight boundaries and gave clear, consistent consequences for each of these things.
The behavioural difficulties began to escalate. When triggered, he would become destructive and threaten self-harm. I had to physically restrain him to prevent him hurting himself or anyone else. At times we called the ambulance and the police, and he would be taken to the hospital. These nights were long and emotionally tiring. Eventually, we reached the point where we had the emergency services at our home twice a week, so we considered that we had to end the placement. It was a difficult decision. He was one who really needed help and love, but he tested the limits of that love. We really wanted to help him, but it had moved beyond what we could give while keeping him and everyone else safe.
We needed time out after this experience – time to recover, reflect and recommit. The emotional letdown from finishing a difficult placement is significant. We had some holidays, and debriefed with the foster care organisation. We were then committed to taking on a new child. The real question was ‘when’. One might wonder why we would even continue with foster care after such an experience. There were a number of reasons why we continued:
- a sense of calling from God;
- the need for carers for indigenous young people;
- the presence in the foster care organisation of people who were of good character and integrity.
So when we received a phone call to take on another child, after some questions and investigation, we became the foster parents of another child, a placement which is going much more smoothly than the first.
It is good for Christian families to consider foster care. There is suffering and struggle that comes with fostering a child, but also joys and a deeper sense of God’s love. Does not God love people who fail to love him? It is not something that all people would be able to do. We relied heavily on our church family. Brothers and sisters in Christ gave us support, dropping everything to help at difficult times, and stepping into the thick of it. It was not a task we did alone. It is easy to become a foster carer – just call up an organisation to volunteer as a foster carer and begin the process. The hard part is following through and persisting with it, and making the time for it. If you have the capacity to be a foster carer, will you pray about it and consider it?
– A keen foster carer