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Finding Respite for Families in Adoption and Foster Care

Air Date 11/16/2016

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Our guests offer practical advice to listeners for helping provide valuable rest and refreshment to foster and adoptive families, who have invested so much of their time and resources into caring for children in need.

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

John Fuller: Everyone cheers and encourages families to foster or adopt a child. It's a wonderful thing. You might think that when the child gets home, the journey is finished, but in reality, it's only the beginning. This is "Focus on the Family." Your host is author and Focus president, Jim. Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Now this is National Adoption Month in the U.S. and we're going to hear from our guests today about some things you can do to come alongside these foster and adoptive families and make an amazing difference in their lives.

Jim Daly: John, a number of months ago, Jean, my wife, and I took in two little ones as part of our contribution, what we could do to reach out to those children who are in foster care. And it's been rigorous. It has its challenges. But you know what? And really, to Jean's credit, it's been rewarding in so many ways. But it's draining, and we want to talk today about the importance of reaching out beyond our little world, because usually things are neat and tidy in our little world. And Jean and I actually just returned from Israel with Ray Vander Laan. He's the author of That The World May Know.

And it was an exceptional trip, and I would say the main theme that Ray was teaching us—there was about 60 of us that went with him—was that God's whole instruction to us is to get out of our comfort zone and to get into the chaos of the world so that He might work through us to bring peace in those situations. And I think it applies to what we see in the foster program and the need for Christian families to be involved.

John: And it really is much more than just the front-line work of being involved in foster or adoption; it's all the support that is required. As an adoptive family, there have been so many times when we've needed help and we look around and boy, it's kind of empty out there.

Jim: Oh, it's so true, John, and the formal name to that is "respite care." And when we look at foster homes where these families have taken in children in the foster community, it is rigorous. There is a lot of strain on the family. And respite care provides an opportunity for those of us in the Christian community to come alongside those families and maybe take those children for a long weekend or maybe a week.

When Jean and I were in Israel, we had to have respite care for these two children for two weeks. That's a big demand. And the sad truth of it is, we need more Christian families involved in respite care. It's not as demanding as being a full-time foster parent, but it provides the support and the help that a foster family truly needs.

John: And joining us to talk more about this are Jean Daly, your wife Jean--

Jim: Yay!

John: --and Andrew and Michele Schneidler. They are here from the Seattle area. They are former foster parents, and have adopted three children. Andrew is the founder of the Children's Law Center of Washington State, and he and Michele lead an orphan-care ministry at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond.

Body:

Jim: All right, Andrew and Michele and Jean, welcome to "Focus on the Family."

Andrew Schneidler: Thank you.

Michele Schneidler: Thanks, Jim.

Andrew: It's great to be here.

Jean Daly: It's always a pleasure to be with you.

Jim: You say that with a big smile. I appreciate that. Hey, you folks, you met Kelly Rosati here at Focus, who kind of is our vice president for this area. She's done such an outstanding job. How did that connection happen, and what compelled you into the foster work that you're doing?

Andrew: I think where I first met Kelly was actually through her book. Somewhere I came along her book, and it was, I believe, published through Focus, the Wait No More book, and I read it myself, and then I said, "Michele, you've got to read this book." And at the time, we were meeting with families in our local area, people who were interested in becoming foster/adoptive families. And Kelly is a dear friend of ours, but we walked this journey together, so we both understand this, the unique challenges as well as rewards of being a foster or adoptive family.

Jim: So your family, describe before you got involved with foster care. Was it just the two of you, or do you have biological children?

Michele: Yeah, we were married for 10 years. We started to try to have children, and we were infertile, and I knew I already knew I wanted to adopt since I was 15-years-old, and so, it wasn't that difficult for us to move into the adoption world.

Andrew: She knew she wanted to adopt. She asked me when we were dating, and I said, "Oh sure, sure," because we were dating.

Michele: Trying to get the girl. (Laughter)

Andrew: But frankly, I never really thought about it. And then when I did think about it, I was actually intimidated by the idea--

Jim: Why?

Andrew: --because so much of it is unknown. So much of it is beyond my control. And then everyone hears stories where, gosh, I don't want to have this or have that happen kind of thing. And actually now I'm a huge proponent of it.

But I remember a specific prayer where we were praying about what we should do. And my prayer went something to the effect of, "Okay God, if You ask me about this whole adoption thing, if You ask me if I'm open to it, I'm gonna be honest. I'm not open to it." But fortunately my prayer continued; it said, "But I'm open to becoming open to it." And that's sort of become my mantra through life, but also when I am encouraging people. It's okay to say, "I'm not open to this," but are you willing to just to be open to becoming open? And that was all God needed.

Jim: The Lord's got you when you say that.

Andrew: He's got the foot in the door.

Michele: Yeah.

Jim: He hears that. Let me paint the picture for the listeners, because when you're not engaged with the foster system, you don't really know what's happening. We have just over 400,000 children in the United States that are part of the foster-care environment. These are children where the court has decided the parents, for whatever reason, can no longer, you know, function in that role, and there needs to be separation. Of the 400,000, about 100,000 of those children, the parents have lost parental rights and they've become wards of the state, and the parents are no longer involved in their children's lives at all. It's usually a big wall, hard and fast, and those children tend to go to foster care, and they can move to several homes. They're dealing with a lot of emotional scarring. Why are my parents not loving me? Why am I in this person's house?

I was that foster kid. You know, my mom died when I was 9, and our stepdad walked out, and I ended up for one year in foster care, and it was tough. You know, it was the oddest thing. When Christmas came around, they gave presents to all their kids, but not to me.

Andrew: Oh man.

Jim: It was that bad. And that, as a child, as a 9-year-old, I mean that really traumatizes you, and it makes you think, what's wrong with me? Where did I go wrong? And so many kids experience that.

There are many wonderful foster parents and I don't mean to slight [them because of the] handful that do it poorly, but the reality is we need more Christian families engaged, and that's what it's about, isn't it?

Andrew: Yeah.

Michele: Well, and I think too it's important to help Christian families who want to get engaged, [to] know how to engage with a child who's hurting. What we see is, parents will get involved with foster care and adoption for great reasons, and they want to help a child in need. They have room in their home, so they bring a child in and they don't even think about the reality that the child is grieving—

Jim: Right, the loss of their parents.

Michele: --and is going through loss and is confused and doesn't want to be there. So that's the part where support is needed--

Jim: Right.

Michele: --you know, a wider circle of support, not just foster parents and adoptive parents, but be it relatives and friends, and (the) church needs to--

Andrew: The community.

Michele: --the community needs to rally around foster parents to help them love these kids that are grieving.

Andrew: And adoptive parents—

Michele: They're going through loss.

Andrew: --and adoptive parents as well.

Jim: Right.

Andrew: I think in the intro they talked about how it's just the beginning of the journey when this child is placed.

Michele: Absolutely.

Andrew: And that is absolutely the truth. So often I think what we see is sort of like, "Oh yea, you adopted. You crossed the finish line. See you later!" And that—

Jim: Right.

Andrew: --is really where—

Michele: Yeah.

Andrew: --we need to be going. That's really when the tape is cut; that's when the beginning of the race is.

Jim: And there [are] really three categories that we're talking about here. One is when a person adopts out of foster care, which, you know, that's permanent. That is saying, I'm taking this child in, or these children if they are a sibling group, and they become mine and that is a beautiful thing. Then you've got regular, what I would say is regular foster care, where it's a temporary situation. It may be a year; it may be a few months until those biological parents get their life in order to a degree that the state is satisfied that they can continue to parent, and those children will go back with them.

And then there's the respite care that we talked about, which is short term. Could be a long weekend. It's what I call grandparenting for foster. You are able to take these children into the home for a couple of nights, maybe a week or two, to give that foster family a breather and let them get back to some regular routines. Jean, I mean it does impact your routine, doesn't it?

Jean: Oh, absolutely! Rather dramatically, yes, it does.

Jim: In our case, we have our teen boys, and then we made the decision. Five years ago we had two boys that were about our boys' age and there were many things going on in that situation. We took a breather. We did respite care for other families. And then Jean got the call and now we have a 3- and 5-year-old at our home, and that's been really demanding for you.

Jean: Yes, it has. (Laughter) We had a 13- and a 15-year-old at the time, and we brought in a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, so yes, it definitely is demanding, and as Andrew and Michele have talked about, it's not just bringing in young children. You're bringing in traumatized children.

Jean: You know, Jim and I had gone through the training, the six weeks of training. We were older; we were mature. We had our own children. We felt very prepared. Jim's the president and CEO of Focus on the Family. We listen to a lot of parenting advice. We felt very prepared and we really weren't.

John: Well, we have some great guests with us on today's "Focus on the Family," Michele and Andrew Schneidler, and Mrs. Jean Daly, and of course your host, Jim Daly. Now we're talking about respite care in particular for families in adoption and foster care. Please go to our website and see our complimentary booklet called "Wrapping Around Adoptive Families." It's full of great ideas and you can learn more at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

Jim: Andrew and Michele, um, your foster experience led you to adopt, and that was something, Michele, you expressed a moment ago, your desire to adopt. You came along—

Andrew: Right.

Jim: --Andrew, eventually. I don't know the time it took.

Andrew: Yes, I'm like a big ship. I slowly come around.

Jim: Was it a year or months, or [what]?

Andrew: I think it was a year.

Michele: Yeah.

Jim: And so, talk about what happened. You ended up adopting one or more children?

Michele: Well, actually our first adoption was a private, independent adoption, so we took Ike home at birth, and then we slowly warmed up to the idea of foster adoption, so actually our second and our third—Gabriel is our second, who is 11 now, and Anna is our third, who is almost 8 and we adopted them out of foster care.

Jim: How old were they when they adopted the other two?

Michele: So, Gabriel came at 10-months-old. So we had in our mind, okay, we want to help a child come out of foster care, and so let's go young so that we have as much opportunity to attach as possible. And we were pretty ignorant to the whole idea that there could be long-term special needs from the trauma that he endured in utero, so that was my first experience as a mom, feeling overwhelmed that I couldn't provide for his needs. I couldn't care for him, because he was hurting so much.

Jim: What were the special situations for him?

Michele: So he was traumatized in utero by meth exposure, and by the time he came to us, he had some hemispheric delay. So he was dragging one side of his body, he had to be in weekly occupational therapy for two years, and he was screaming. He had this horrific screaming that we later found out was because his skin felt like pins and needles. So we were the classic couple trying to attach with our son, and we're holding him, we're rubbing him.

Andrew: Oh, touch them more, because then we would touch--

Michele: We were looking in his eyes, and it was traumatizing him.

Andrew: --every touch on his body. Now he'll say, "Daddy, you know like when your foot falls asleep and it tingles and you touch it?" He goes, "All my body felt like that." And so, then you imagine if you squeeze someone tight, that would just drive you nuts.

Jim: Oh my.

Andrew: And that's what we were doing.

Jim: Yeah, it takes a lot of patience and understanding, a lot of studying to better grasp what that child's going through. What about your third child?

Michele: So, actually, after Gabriel we shut down our license, so we just thought, okay, this is what—

Jim: All-consuming.

Michele: --we can [do]. Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah, we were exhausted.

Michele: And then fast-forward a couple of years, and the Lord was very strongly putting on our heart that we had a little girl and inviting us to go after her. So we had to go back and renew our license, and then waited and waited and waited, and then Anna came to us at 10-weeks-old. And she took three years before we adopted her, so she actually almost went home, back to her birth mom, halfway through, 18 months in.

Jim: Right.

Michele: And then that didn't work out, and so we ended up adopting her 18 months later.

Jim: Well again, we're pointing to respite, is the idea.

Andrew: Absolutely.

Jim: And we have other forms of care that are given, but respite is what's so desperately needed. And I think once a person gets into the respite mode, then the Lord can nudge them into the next step, which might be a longer-term foster situation.

Let me paint the picture for you, one with Scripture. We should be thinking about what we're doing in the context of our faith and what the Lord said. And James, of course, is the book you turn to, because in James 1:27, the apostle wrote, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

And when you look at the numbers—and this is something that I've been saying for 10 years—you have 400,000 children in foster care; about 100,000 of whom we've said already the parental rights have been terminated, so they're wards of the state. They age out. An incredibly high number of them end up going to jail or prison. I think it's 60, 70 percent at some point.

Think of that! And you talk about a harvest that, you know, a field that is ready to harvest for the Lord. There [are] 330,000 churches in America. I mean, the numbers almost fit, if every church would just take one foster child within their community, and all the families pour into that family that chooses to do foster care, that'd be awesome. But think of the 100,000 that need a mommy and a daddy. And we complain about everything going wrong in this country, and kids not having a mom and a dad.

Yet, through Focus's work with Wait No More, we've had about 3,300 parents start the adoption process, which is wonderful, but it's far too short. That's 3 percent of what we need. And I think it would be wonderful for the church to truly embrace this. Something that you've done at your church is to galvanize support for those families that are adopting, or the ones that are doing foster care, to provide that respite care within the community. I would challenge every listener to do something like this in their own congregation, because there probably are people in your church community who have decided to do foster adopt or respite. Talk about what you've done to galvanize that help.

Michele: Yeah, so about six years ago, so, I'm the pastor of orphan care at Overlake Christian Church, and when I first started, we started like everyone else. We began recruiting families for foster care and adoption. But we realized that if we are going to be calling people to care for a child who's been traumatized or abused or neglected, then we need to support those families well. And so, we decided to shift gears and start building up a post-placement ministry for these families so that they feel well-supported.

Jim: Yeah.

And what we found without realizing it was, it was an extremely effective recruitment tool. So families will come to our Refresh conference or they'll come to camp or they'll volunteer at the support group and they'll say, "I can do this. I have a whole support system here of people that are doing really good work and really hard work. And if I have them, I can do this."

Jim: Yeah, it's so well said, and I think what we've got to do as the Christian community is to again, read the book of James—

Michele: Yeah.

Jim: --and fulfill—

Michele: Right.

Jim: --that commitment that the Lord is calling us to, to be there for these children. And it could be for a season. It doesn't have to be forever. It can be for a while. And if we did that, if all of us in the Christian community would put this on our radar, and many of us act on it, I think it would revolutionize what's happening.

Probably what I enjoy the most is that spiritual dimension. The children come in. I remember in one of our circumstances, you know, they didn't know anything about the Lord, so we pray over dinner and our meals every time, and this one child in foster care living with us began to say, "Well, I want to do that. I want to pray." And you're planting those seeds. You don't have to be over the top. It doesn't have to be, you know, a real hard-core thing. But their little hearts begin to want what they see in you, which is exactly what the Lord is saying we should be—a witness for Him, not just in the life of a 20-year-old, a 30-year-old, a 70-year-old, but maybe a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old.

Michele: Yeah, your story reminded me of a little boy we had in care for four months in our home, and he said, "I think I want to be a pilot when I grow up." And I said, "Well, that sounds wonderful. You know, God has a beautiful plan for your future," and I explained to him a few scriptures that support that. And he looked at me with these very serious eyes and he said, "No, I didn't know that."No one had ever told him that.

Jim: Right.

Michele: And that's what these kids need; that's what we're doing when we're bringing these kids into our care and when we're wrapping support around them.

Jean: And we think that our lives are so important, and they're so long, and they really are just drops when compared with eternity. And the rewards from going above and beyond and moving outside of yourself and knowing that you're doing [it]—that brings tears to my eyes (Emotional)—you know, to knowing that you're doing [is] what God calls us to do. That gets you through the day, and yes, I've learned to give so much more grace and patience and have learned how precious these children are in God's sight. And you don't have to be a supermom or super-dad. None of us are. We are fallible human beings, and God uses it, and He wants to use all of us just to be open to be open.

And I love that Andrew and Michele have talked about respite. Early on in this placement, I had a dear friend, Susan, and our friends, Bob and Leticia, who would really step in. Susan would take the kids for four hours.

She would take them even to her house to play with her little doggy and take them to a park, just to give me that break--that break to even get caught up on some laundry or just to have that alone time was so invaluable. And our friends Bob and Leticia, who have taken the kids on a few occasions, and taken them swimming and spent the day with them and loved on them. And in those situations gave the four of us, Jim and myself and Trent and Troy, some time to go out and do something that little kids can't do. We went out and rode ATVs or go out and spend some much-needed time together. I don't even know that people know how helpful that is to even [do that]. I've You know, anyone can do that.

Jim: Well, and you're describing exactly what we need to do in the Christian community. Dr. Sharon Ford, who is the head of Family Services for Colorado--she's now on staff here at Focus--I'll never forget, she said to me when we started Wait No More, she was in tears, and she said, "I've been praying for 25, 30 years for the church to more engage with the state in trying to find the best homes for these kids. And it sounds like you all are on that same mission. If there's something I could do to compel people to consider respite care, or foster care, or foster adoption, those are all the things that we have blended in here today.

But you can start with respite care, which is something we've all done, and that's giving a break to those other foster families to give them a long weekend. Consider it. Now you do have to go through licensing, and that's part of it, and you could get that done in three or four months and then be part of the solution, not just look the other way.

Michele: And for adoptive families, you don't need to be licensed, but we do encourage people to wrap around foster and adoptive families and provide that respite. For the Refresh conference, that's one of the biggest hurdles of getting people there, so we set it up as a respite for parents, but they need to find help to care for their children so that they can come.

And we're encouraging people to go to your church, ask your neighbors, ask your community, ask someone in your church if they could watch your kids so that you can get away for a weekend, just one weekend. And it's been quite challenging, so that respite is a beautiful way for people who may not be able to step into foster-care adoption, but they can help and it's significant. We hear testimonies of marriages being saved, disruptions being prevented, so many amazing testimonies of people finding renewed hope, just because they got away for a weekend.

Jim: It's that oxygen that keeps you healthy and keeps your blood flow going in the family. So that's critical.

Jean: And there are two categories of respite. So, the first is just taking the children for three or four hours. You don't need to be licensed to do that, whether they are children in a foster home, or they have been adopted. So that's one type. But then the overnight respite care. So, as you just mentioned, Michele, you don't need to be licensed to do that for adoptive parents.For children in foster homes, you do need to be licensed.But I'd really like to speak to that, because I'm on the other side of it right now. We do have a current placement; we have children in our home; but prior to this, we spent two years providing overnight respite care, but I tell people it's the greatest gig in the world. It's like being the grandparents—

Jim: These little babies.

Jean: --or being the fun aunt. So from foster homes come into your home for a weekend, or three or four days. One situation we had them for 10 days, but often it's just a weekend, giving a much-needed break to those families. And it's wonderful! You get to play with them; you know, you are just having fun with them. You can take them to parks or take them to the zoo. It is so easy to do

Jim: It really is. And you know we need to end, but it's back to that same scripture in James, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows." And the challenge is right there. Will you do it? Get involved with your church, contact Focus on the Family, if you need help understanding what are the next steps you would need to go through. I think that's it. Think of every church, 330,000 churches in America, saying, "Yes, we're gonna do that, at least for one child." We would have it wiped out, and I have said this before, I'd love to see TheNew York Times run an article, front page, "Christian Church Wipes Out Waiting Adoption of Foster Care."

You want to see the change of the brand of Christianity in America? That's what we need to do to do it. Do these good deeds so that they'll honor your Father in heaven. This is a very good place to concentrate.

John: Well, we do want to help you learn more, and there are so many resources that we have. The starting point is going to be http://focusonthefamily.com/radio, or call us; our number is 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Let me add also, John, if God is stirring your heart and He is saying, "Get involved; get involved," contact us here at Focus on the Family. I want to ask you to support the ministry in this very specific area. Consider becoming a monthly giver to help us with Wait No More. That would be so encouraging to take care of the needs of these children as we talked about.

And I'll also mention that when you send a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family, we want to send you the DVD, A Servant's Heart, which will help you to come alongside these foster and adoptive families as we described today. Let me say thank you. Do get involved. Let's not sit on the sidelines. Let's actually do what the book of James is asking us to do.

Let me say thank you to all three of you for joining us, Andrew, Michele and Jean.

Jean: Thank you.

Jim: It's been great to talk with you.

Andrew: Thank you very much.

Michele: Thank you.

Closing:

John: And our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and supported by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim and the entire team, thanks for listen. Join us next time as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

  • Featured PDF

    Free Resource: Wrapping Around Adoptive Families

    Focus on the Family

    While we’re not all called to adopt, we can certainly be thankful for those families that follow the Lord’s lead to open their homes to kids. Download our free booklet for practical advice on how to express your gratitude and thanks.

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  • Featured Website

    Wait No More

    You can make a difference in the life of an orphan.

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  • Featured Article

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    Katie Overstreet

    Although many children in foster care have special needs, they are in need of a family as much as any waiting child.

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    Learn about this conference that provides encouragement for foster and adoptive families.

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Guest

Andrew and Michele Schneidler

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Andrew Schneidler is an adoption attorney and the founder of the Children's Law Center, a law clinic offering free and low cost legal services to achieve permanence for Washington State's orphaned and vulnerable kids. He and his wife, Michele, are former foster parents and the parents of three adopted children. Andrew and Michele lead the orphan care ministry at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Wash., where Michele has been Pastor of Local Orphan Care since 2010. Together, they provide help for the foster/adoptive community through support groups, the Harvest Hands Alliance and the popular Refresh Conference.

Guest

Jean Daly

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Jean Daly became a Christian in 2nd grade and rededicated her life to Christ at 17. She attended the University of California at Davis and earned her degree in Biology from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Jean has been married to her husband, Jim, since 1986; they have two boys.