Foster Care is an invitation to step into a story with life-changing highs and heartbreaking lows.
We invite you to step into a story of a typical seven year-old-boy named Logan. Logan likes riding bikes, legos and loves playing video games with his brothers.
Logan’s life is not easy. His mom struggles with alcohol and substance abuse. And his dad is not in the picture. His mom lost her job and became depressed. A teacher noticed consistent bruising on him, and the local Department of Child Safety stepped in. Logan was removed from his home.
When Logan arrived at the Department of Child Safety offices he watched his caseworker call family after family. No one could take him. There weren’t enough foster homes. He spent the night in that DCS office. Then another.
Finally, a family could take him in. Unfortunately, this family lived 3 hours away. His foster family takes care of him, but they are overwhelmed. They have little outside support, which only increases stress on the children in their home. For every visit with his family, Logan is now required to hop into a car with a driver. A person he doesn’t know (contracted through local child welfare) and drive 3 hours for a visit with his mom.
The removal from his family was incredibly traumatic. In an instant, he suffered some major losses.
He lost his home, his toys, his friends, and his neighbors – and he lost his family.
Scenario Two: Supportive Church Community
Now imagine a second scenario.
Logan is removed from his home. There is still an incredible amount of loss. However, where Logan lives, there are plenty of foster homes. Logan is placed with a kind family near his house. He doesn’t even have to change schools! That family has enough room for his brothers, too. And they have a supportive church community that brings meals, clothing. They even help the family set up some of Logan’s favorite video games. Logan gets to see his mom. He watches how his foster parents champion her healing, and he notices they speak kindly of her. They encourage her and help resource her when she needs it. Even though they know it will be hard, they want Logan and his brothers to be able to go back to their mom. They pray for restoration for all involved.
Logan starts attending church with his foster family. Everyone at church is so kind to Logan. They welcome him and know that sometimes because of his trauma. He might need a little extra help, and they are trained and prepared for that. He feels safe there.
What’s the difference between these two scenarios? At Arizona 1.27 – we believe the local church to be the difference.
In 2012, the number of kids in Arizona’s child welfare system was growing at an unprecedented rate. In just two years, the average number of kids in care grew from 8,000 to 12,000. Pastors from Arizona churches knew there had to be a way to get their congregations to be “on mission” in terms of caring for the vulnerable children of Arizona and truly living out James 1:27. These pastors met and began dreaming of how churches could collaborate to work together. To help find foster and adoptive families for children in the Arizona foster care system, and thus Arizona 1:27 was born.
Arizona 1:27 is a collaborative movement of churches working together to ensure every child in Arizona who needs a home thru foster care and/or adoption has one . Arizona 1.27 was born out of the belief that the local church can and should play a key role in the child welfare system in every state.
Our name comes from James 1:27; “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
We equip churches with a holistic approach and comprehensive model to RECRUIT members of their congregation. To DEVELOP thriving foster and adoptive families through a pathway of training. And SUSTAIN these families with a supportive community from their church home.
Since 2012, the Arizona 1.27 network has grown to more than 100 churches spanning seven counties – all working together with a common belief that children need families and families need community.
We know that 20 percent of children who age out of the foster care system at age 18 will immediately end up homeless. In addition, between 75-85 % of males that age out are incarcerated within two years while the same percentage of females become pregnant in that same time frame. 1
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 60% of all child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system. 2
Recent scientific research shows us what Jesus modeled. That relationship is where change happens. “The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult”.3 Through relationships, Jesus works in our hearts to mold and shape us.
By diligently recruiting and believing that God has a family for every child in foster care, or an adult relationship to champion their success, we can help to significantly reduce the negative, long-term effects of trauma and its outcomes for children.
Keeping Kids Close to Home
We challenge churches with the idea of keeping kids local in their neighborhoods. We know keeping kids in their community is the ideal situation and vital to help minimize trauma. Having consistent relationships (tutors, teachers, coaches, after-school programs, etc.) is a significant tool in providing stabilization. If children can stay in the same classroom or sports team that consistency is important when so much is changing for them. The more we can keep kids connected to their community and culture, the better their chances for success.
In Arizona, we know that God has placed the right people in churches to meet the needs of children in foster care in all 15 counties in our state. Our consistent prayer for Arizona is that through the engagement of the local church, we will tip the scale and have more families waiting for children than children waiting for families.
Champions of Reconciliation
As believers, we talk a lot about the ministry of reconciliation in the context of our restored relationship with God through Christ. When we step into fostering a child, we step into a beautiful picture of reconciling relationships. Whether we end up adopting a child or helping that child reunify with a biological parent, we get to step into the messy brokenness of kids and families and help bring restoration and healing, just as Jesus did for us.
It’s through our own grace story that we recognize God wants to save and redeem all stories, no matter how messy. We as believers can be a part of this story of restoration, walking with families to find hope in Jesus.
When we think about God’s heart to reconcile himself to humanity, that same principle applies to a mom or dad who is working hard to be reunified with their child. There is no greater place that the action of championing reconciliation should be evident than the ways of the people of God and His church, leaning in to help families find wholeness and healing.
Foster Care is Not a Rescue Mission
If we are truly going to be champions of seeing families restored, we cannot enter foster care as the rescuer. But instead, as the vessel, God will use it to bring the love of Jesus to a family. There is a strong correlation between children entering foster care and their parents having been in foster care at some point in their life.
Oftentimes, the experience of foster care is generational. Therefore, we must support the family in its entirety to change outcomes of children now and later in life, not simply seek to remove and “rescue.”
It is vital to help parents learn parenting strategies and healthy caregiving approaches that they might have not ever experienced. Most parents whose children have entered foster care also have an absence of support in their lives, whether physical resources or relational. We know these supports are vital to success in life and in caring for children.
By being ministers of reconciliation, we are called to love the whole family, which includes advocating for the best outcome for the children involved in the child welfare system and also for the biological parents. One of the ways that we can seek redemption and restoration of the whole family is by engaging in relationships with biological parents and co-parenting whenever it’s possible.
There is a cost to be counted before stepping into getting involved in caring for the vulnerable. It will take time, resources, prayer, and heartbreak. There is great wisdom in pausing to evaluate your ability to move forward. However, there are a few common myths that continually hold families back, and when we evaluate them further, we realize that sometimes they are not actual barriers but opportunities for growth.
Impact on Biological Children
Many worry about their biological children and the impact that fostering will have on them. However, we have found that the growth of character and compassion one will see in their own family outweighs the challenges. We have the opportunity to show kids we are made for hard things and to point them to the Lord over and over again. God hasn’t called us to easy places but has promised that he will be with us – we can love because he loved us in our mess and brokenness, and this allows us to radically move into uncomfortable spaces.
The Fear of Saying Goodbye
The most common fear of people considering foster care is the fear of saying goodbye, and seeing a child that you’ve loved leave your home. Well, here it is, you WILL get too attached – or at least we hope you will! Attachment is a positive thing for everyone involved. When we love and connect to the children in our homes, no matter how long they are with us, we are showing them what safe, healthy relationships look like.
Children and youth need solid attachment in order to grow into healthy adults. There is a need for families to become too attached and show kids that safe people will help them, hear them and value them. Without these attachments, kids can struggle with healthy relationships for the rest of their lives. It is incredibly hard to say goodbye when the time comes but we have yet to encounter a family that has had to say goodbye to a child they cared for that regretted doing so.
Loss as adults is hard but, as adults with coping skills and support systems, we are able to experience the tension of loss and healing. This is not easy, and we lament and wrestle through the brokenness of foster care – absolutely. But we would rather be a safe and healing place for a child, to help them regulate and process through hard things than to let them be alone and feel unseen or isolated. The beauty of creating a place of healing means that we have to enter, with grace and vulnerability, into a painful place.
Warning: Don’t go at it alone
Foster and adoptive families that thrive often have one thing in common, a great support system. We know parenting takes a village but fostering, it will take a village and a half!
Many foster parents have their hands full with visits, appointments, paperwork, and court dates, all while doing their best to care and connect with a child who has experienced trauma.
When there is a community ready to jump in and lend them a hand with meals, school pickup, childcare, etc. – it often gives them the strength and encouragement to keep going and the hope that they are not alone in this journey.
There is beauty in allowing the body of Christ to function as just that – a body.
Each of us is not called to do the same thing, but we are all called to do something! What is the role that God is calling you to in this season? To bring a child into your home? Or serve as a mentor or a CASA? To wrap around and support a family in your church who is fostering? We believe it’s not if you’re called to play a role in foster care/adoption, but instead, what are you called to?
Healing Through Relationship
Local churches can be, should be, safe places for bio, foster, kinship, and adoptive families to find connections, mentoring, and family-like support. We know that trauma manifests in different ways. The needs of families including, physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational, can be met within the context of healthy churches. Families can’t do this alone. Community, pastoral care, and discipleship through the local church increase a family’s resiliency and ability to support children that have come from hard places.
We also ask for an all-in approach from churches, not just a bulletin announcement but instead, a commitment that is caring for vulnerable children and families would be a part of the church culture and DNA of their church. When this is the case, foster and adoptive families can feel the support and understanding, children and youth ministries tend to be more welcoming and understanding of kids who might show up with “big” behaviors, and many times biological families that have had their kids removed find a safe place to encounter Jesus in these churches as well. This is the holistic approach of Arizona 1:27
It’s our burden to bear
As followers of Jesus we know that while foster care may be hard. It is a sweet burden to carry. It will cost us time, money, comfort, emotions, and sleep! But the healing and hope it can bring for a child far outweighs the cost. Foster Care and adoption is a journey of faith that will stir all sorts of questions. We will have to wrestle with God for a fresh understanding and grow with Him through hard questions. Do we really believe that God has a plan and loves this child more than we do? Can God really heal a broken family? Can something beautiful come from something so hard? Do we really believe God is sovereign over all things?
Championing the healing of children and families is not easy work, but it is necessary work. As believers, we each have a role to play depending on how the Lord has uniquely gifted us. We pray that every child, who by no fault of their own, finds themselves in need of a family would experience the tangible love of God thru a foster home. Foster care may be the first place they truly encounter Jesus, and the love of Jesus will change everything for the child and possibly even the entire family. We serve the God of redemption. HE can take the hardest moment in a family’s life and use it for eternity!