The church and foster care: supporting the children

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | March 05, 2023 

Many churches in America are supporting and encouraging foster care. This is a wonderful thing as there are many, many children needing temporary, and possibly permanent homes. Foster care requires a lot of preparation on the part of the foster family. The church needs to work to support the foster children in their congregations too.

Foster care is an inherently dysregulating process. Children leave their biological families, homes, belongings, school, friends, and more. Being welcomed in is wonderful, and children may not know what to expect. Churches should prepare to receive children in regulated or dysregulated states. If children are regulated, wonderful. If they are dysregulated, they are still wonderful and might benefit from things such as cold water or snacks (Purvis, n.d.), a calm and quiet room (Project 127, n.d; Stumbo, 2018), and fidget toys (Ferry, 2011). Really, all children in the church may benefit from these things, and if the church provides them in the context of healthy adult relationships it could bring unity to the church as a whole.

If possible, churches need to support regulation without calling kids out. Foster children already suffer from many invasions of their privacy, as well as a feeling that a spotlight shines on them (Cunci, 2021). What they need is a place to be loved, to feel that they can learn and grow. Most foster children want to be “normal,” not acknowledged according to their status in the welfare system. This is another reason why resourcing the church as a whole, rather than just accommodating certain families could be helpful.

Children need to be acknowledged for who they are. They do not want to be compared to others, because they are not like others (Agile Admin, 2021). Churches need to understand that foster children are often under-resourced. Coming from hard places means that they might not have learned about right and wrong growing up. They might say bad words. They might do the wrong things. They don’t need shame, though. They need love and gentle correction. The church can be a healthy place for this. It can also be a place for foster and non-foster children to build accepting, healthy relationships.

Too much positive attention can also be dysregulating for a child. Think of receiving nothing, and then having all eyes on the person. Just sensations in the body of receiving positive affect can be overwhelming (Gobbel, 2021). Sometimes support needs to be auxiliary, rather than direct. Churches can support the foster child by supporting his or her foster family (Lozier, 2013). The regulation of the caregivers helps the regulation of the child.

Foster children come from hard places. The church will do well to make itself an easy place, not a place that excuses sin or promotes bad behavior, but a place that understands where behavior comes from. A place that promotes regulation. A place that calls kids in, rather than out. A place that acknowledges kids for who they are, rather than who they aren’t. A place that supports both the children and their placement families. A church that does all to the glory of God.

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Many churches in America are supporting and encouraging foster care. This is a wonderful thing as there are many, many children needing temporary, and possibly permanent homes. Foster care requires a lot of preparation on the part of the foster family. The church needs to work to support the foster children in their congregations too.

Foster care is an inherently dysregulating process. Children leave their biological families, homes, belongings, school, friends, and more. Being welcomed in is wonderful, and children may not know what to expect. Churches should prepare to receive children in regulated or dysregulated states. If children are regulated, wonderful. If they are dysregulated, they are still wonderful and might benefit from things such as cold water or snacks (Purvis, n.d.), a calm and quiet room (Project 127, n.d; Stumbo, 2018), and fidget toys (Ferry, 2011). Really, all children in the church may benefit from these things, and if the church provides them in the context of healthy adult relationships it could bring unity to the church as a whole.

If possible, churches need to support regulation without calling kids out. Foster children already suffer from many invasions of their privacy, as well as a feeling that a spotlight shines on them (Cunci, 2021). What they need is a place to be loved, to feel that they can learn and grow. Most foster children want to be “normal,” not acknowledged according to their status in the welfare system. This is another reason why resourcing the church as a whole, rather than just accommodating certain families could be helpful.

Children need to be acknowledged for who they are. They do not want to be compared to others, because they are not like others (Agile Admin, 2021). Churches need to understand that foster children are often under-resourced. Coming from hard places means that they might not have learned about right and wrong growing up. They might say bad words. They might do the wrong things. They don’t need shame, though. They need love and gentle correction. The church can be a healthy place for this. It can also be a place for foster and non-foster children to build accepting, healthy relationships.

Too much positive attention can also be dysregulating for a child. Think of receiving nothing, and then having all eyes on the person. Just sensations in the body of receiving positive affect can be overwhelming (Gobbel, 2021). Sometimes support needs to be auxiliary, rather than direct. Churches can support the foster child by supporting his or her foster family (Lozier, 2013). The regulation of the caregivers helps the regulation of the child.

Foster children come from hard places. The church will do well to make itself an easy place, not a place that excuses sin or promotes bad behavior, but a place that understands where behavior comes from. A place that promotes regulation. A place that calls kids in, rather than out. A place that acknowledges kids for who they are, rather than who they aren’t. A place that supports both the children and their placement families. A church that does all to the glory of God.

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