Looking for ways you or your church can support foster and adoptive families? This list and free printable will help you know exactly what to do.
How the Church Can Support Adoptive and Foster Families
Bill and I started our adoption journey almost exactly 2 years ago. It has been a wild ride since then both in our hearts and in our circumstances but over those years what we have learned is that God is at work to mold us and our family into what He desires.
Somewhere out there are more children that are supposed to come into our family. I don’t know when we will meet them but until then, we are just following in obedience.
We are a little over halfway through our foster care training classes right now.
That means that I am not particularly qualified to talk about what foster families need from their churches and communities but I am VERY interested in learning about it.
So, I took to social media and I asked foster and adoptive families: how can the church serve you?
And the response was overwhelming!
I got loads of comments in various groups and even direct messages from people who had wisdom to share.
I heard some amazing stories about how the church was coming alongside foster families and loving them well.
I also heard heartbreaking stories of how the church ignores their situation or even belittles these families.
I believe that all Christians need to play a part in caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27). That does not mean that the children in foster homes are all orphans – many are not and only need assistance for a short time until they can go home. That also doesn’t mean that all Christians need to be foster and adoptive families (though I do think more should consider the possibility). It does mean that we all need to step up and help.
We need to care for foster and adopted children in a special way AND we need to care for the families they have joined as well.
In this way, ALL believers can fulfill the call to care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) and together the burden of fostering can be eased.
God has a big heart for children in need and the church needs to share that heart.
So what follows is a list of 30 ideas that come directly from seasoned foster families. These are ideas that other churches are using to minister or that foster families wish churches would use.
I have also included a printable PDF version of this that you can access at the bottom of this post.
Feel free to print that off and bring it to your church.
Take it to the leadership and ask them how they think they can better come alongside foster and adoptive families.
Or use it as a guide for yourself so you know how you can prayerfully bless those you know who enter the foster and adoptive realm.
I won’t make you wait any longer:
This is something we often think of for moms who have recently given birth but it is incredibly helpful anytime a new child comes into the home. Though mom is not recovering from birth, the whole family has now entered a new level of busyness and they are sorting through what life will look like now.
They are also dealing with trauma and all that it brings with. A meal train during this time not only expresses your concern and understanding but also gives the family just a few minutes of breathing room when they don’t have to worry about what food they will put on the table.
Ask for clothing sizes and provide them
Most often the placements that come through foster care are quick. There isn’t much time to prepare and the supplies the children bring with them are often limited. This is a great way for the church to step up!
When someone in the church welcomes a new placement, ask for the clothing sizes and send out messages to those within the church who might have a child or grandchild who has recently grown out of that size. Provide what you can.
Diapers, wipes, and formula for infant placements
Infant placements can be a whirlwind as a family adjusts, not only to a new placement, but also to the challenges of having a baby in the home. Care packages with diapers, wipes, and formula (ask what kind they want before you buy it!) can go a LONG way. Not only are those things very expensive, they are not regularly kept in a home that doesn’t have a baby already living there.
What you need to do for this will vary state by state so ask the foster families in your congregation but do whatever it takes. If you need to have a few people get background checked and fingerprinted, do it!
Babysitting is a crucial way that you can bless foster and adoptive families! From the more than 70 foster parents I talked to, this is a rare gift that they appreciate more than anything.
Become a foster family
I know this is a big ask BUT I really do believe more people should consider becoming foster and adoptive families. There are so many children around the world in need of loving homes and Christians should be at the forefront of stepping up!
If more than one family in your church steps up, there is automatic camaraderie and support. More people will be available to do respite care. More people will understand what you are going through. And more people can educate the church as a whole about this important ministry.
Host a parents night out with trained caregivers
I know we already talked about providing babysitting on a normal basis but there is also the opportunity for the church as a whole to come together in this. Many churches are developing a “parents night out” program specifically for foster and adoptive families.
The caregivers receive all of the necessary approvals from the state (see #19) and they receive additional trauma training. They are in a larger group so those adults who are easily overwhelmed have others to come alongside them. And the parents who faithfully care for these children each day get a few moments to relax and enjoy adult conversation.
Host an adoption shower
If a family in your church is going to adopt, provide an adoption shower. Even if the child is 16 – a new family member is being welcomed by the family and that should be celebrated by the church!
Many parents travel oversees to get their children and having gifts they can come home to in order to meet some of those initial needs goes a long way.
And even more than the stuff you acquire at an adoption shower, the fact that your church is celebrating with you and behind your decision, means a lot for any family!
Duffel bag drive
Did you know that many children come into their foster homes with almost nothing? Often they only have a trash bag with a few items. That is why it is SO helpful for the foster families in your church (or even a larger drive for the local agency) if you host a duffel bag drive.
Fill these bags with helpful necessities like toothbrushes and deodorant but also with comfort items like blankets and toys.
For a great list of things you can include, check out this article.
This is a GREAT way to show both the foster children and the foster family that you are supportive and excited for the journey ahead.
Do lawn care
This is a very practical way that teenagers and other able-bodied people within the church can help a foster or adoptive family, especially in the early days following a placement.
Bringing in a new foster or adoptive placement is a tremendous adjustment and it takes a lot more time and emotional energy than the family may let on. Meeting this practical and time consuming need for a family is a great way to reach out and show your love and care.
Clean the house
Let’s be honest, cleaning the house is hard if you have children no matter how old they are or how they arrived with you. But when we add a history of trauma, extra appointments, and unpredictable schedules to the mix, things can get messy quickly.
A simple offer to come over and clean the house can go a long way toward reducing the stress for a family and making life run smoother all around.
Provide paper products
Just like meals, paper products are often the reason a family needs to make an unplanned trip to the store that upsets the day. This is a great way to ease a piece of financial burden but also to just plain help.
Provide things like toilet paper and paper towels.
I know some people that have sent this text message, “Just leave your laundry on the front porch. I’ll be over to get it at 6pm.” For a family that has recently received a new placement, this is an incredibly helpful thing to do!
And, for a lot of us who have washers and dryers in our homes already, this is an incredibly easy thing to do.
Stop on your way home from work and pick up the laundry (offer to just grab it off the front porch because they might not be up for company just yet) and then drop it off folded the next morning on your way back into the office.
You have no idea how much of a blessing that is for many families.
Write a note
This is such a simple thing that can make a huge impact!
When a new child is placed into a home of someone within your church, write the child a letter. Let them know that you are glad they have come and you look forward to getting to know them. Also tell them a little about why you like their foster family and what makes their home a safe place.
The foster mom who shared this with me said this is such a practical way to let the children know they are being welcomed with open arms.
If you are good with cars, this is a perfect way for you help a foster or adoptive family! Just tell them that you are coming over to do their routine oil change, etc.
If you are a mechanic, give them coupons to have work done for free or less charge.
Car maintenance is often unexpected and expensive. This is a very good way you can come alongside families who are participating in foster care and adoption.
Holidays are hard for many reasons for children who are adopted or in foster care and their families. On top of the many emotional difficulties, it’s expensive!
Gift cards are a huge help! These can include traditional gift cards for things like groceries, gas, and toys OR you can get gift cards for family hair cuts and oil changes. There are a million little expenses and this is a very practical way you can express love and show that you see these families and their children.
Be a helping hand for appointments or court
This is just reality, children who come through foster care will have appointments for court and both foster and adoptive children will have additional appointments to set up their proper care. This can be really hard for parents who have multiple children in the home!
Offer to come along and be a support person who can help occupy the other children so good communication can happen for the parents. OR (and maybe even better depending on the circumstance), offer to babysit all of the other children so that the parent can go and only have to focus on one child and getting the care that he or she needs.
Offer pew buddies
This is a GREAT idea to offer to single parents or parents who have responsibilities during the service anyway. If you have children in your church’s corporate gathering at all, offering to be a pew buddy goes a long way, especially for foster and adoptive families!
You can offer to sit in the pew and just help take care of the kids. You can watch the other children if mom needs to leave with one that is particularly fussy or you can offer to take the one that is causing trouble. Either way, this communicates to the parents that you love their children, you want them at church.
That’s a big deal!
Provide a foster care closet
Foster children don’t come with much most of the time and sometimes they only have the clothes on their backs.
Foster families can’t keep clothes of every size and toys for every age in their homes all of the time and they often don’t know who is coming very long before they arrive.
Have a foster care closet set up and organized in your church where people can donate their gently used (or new!) items of all different sizes and foster families can gather much of what they need in those initial days.
Host trainings – like Empowered to Connect
Parenting children with a history of trauma is much different than parenting children without this history. An amazing way to support these parents is to host trainings like Empowered to Connect You can host trainings like this via simulcast and open it up to other foster and adoptive families in the area (or you can even do this for trainings with your local agency).
This is also a GREAT way to expose church staff to the issues these families are facing and creative ways that they can come alongside these families.
Offer support groups
This is a GREAT way that churches can support foster and adoptive parents because, as with any parenting, isolation is one of the hardest things to fight. There are challenges that are unique to the foster/adoptive situation and those are more easily addressed in the context of a group that understands what you are walking through.
Offering a chance for these parents to get together and support one another is hugely helpful!
Provide respite care
Foster families sometimes don’t have a choice and need respite care (a short amount of time where the child goes to another home). Sometimes this is because the family is unable to take the child on a trip, other times there may be medical issues involved, and the list goes on.
Whatever the case, it is a huge blessing to foster families if they have people they know and trust who can care for their children during these times. Having people inside their church community who are certified and ready to provide that care goes a long way toward making the families feel comfortable and continuing the child in a healthy direction.
Make sure teachers receive trauma training
I heard so many sad stories when I asked about this. SO many people said that their children had been hurt by the lack of compassion and understanding their church (and especially children’s teachers) displayed.
It is critical that your church inform the teachers about how to deal with children from hard places, how to overlook little offenses, how to really support these kids, and how to see beyond the momentary behaviors to what a child is overcoming.
These concerned parents were not looking for people to make excuses for bad behavior but rather to love their children well and help them heal.
Caring for children with a history of trauma is much different than caring for children without this history. Love these families well and train your staff.
Here is a suggestion for video trainings that our church has used that has been very helpful!
Talk about what is and is not appropriate
This is a big one! And may end up as its own post in the future but a frank discussion with your church about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to say came up OVER and OVER again as I talked with foster and adoptive families.
Please do NOT ask foster families how long a child will be in their care or for details about their birth families (they don’t know and can’t share even if they do know. Plus, quite frankly, it isn’t any of your business!).
Welcome these children happily, introduce yourself, ask them about their favorite color or favorite activity but don’t press. You don’t know details because you don’t need to.
And PLEASE don’t make ANY derogatory comments about a birth family. These children love their families and, in the case of foster placements, will hopefully be reunited to them. DON’T make that more difficult.
All parents struggle. Guilt, frustration and lack of confidence can make parents feel insecure and like they’ve made wrong decision.
But the decision to love and care for foster children or to adopt children is a beautiful thing that the church should celebrate.
Though often overlooked, a kind word or note of encouragement goes a long way! If you see a child improving or a parent handling a difficult situation with love and grace, tell them about it!
These little things can really make a big difference!
Pray, pray, and then pray some more.
Pray for foster children and foster families but also pray for birth families and case workers. This is literally the most important thing that you can do.
Pray for these families and let them know you are praying.
Be a mentor
Maybe you don’t feel like you can adopt or foster because of the time commitment or various other situations in your life. That’s ok! Not everyone needs to participate in this way. BUT you can still support these children by becoming a mentor to them.
You can join a specific mentoring program but you can also just minister to the kids who come into your church through other foster and adoptive families.
Take them out to eat; invite them over to your house; involve them in the projects you are doing; teach them a new skill. There are a million simple ways that you can reach out and begin a mentoring relationship.
You can be a sounding board that a parent can never be. You can show the children that other people, outside their foster or adoptive home take the Gospel seriously and it impacts everything. You can form real relationships that help foster healing for these children. This is especially beautiful as it sets up a good relationship and good memories within the church for these children going forward.
Love the children
Many people might think that this goes without saying but unfortunately, it does not. Love the children who enter your church through foster care and adoption like they are members of the family.
Don’t approach them with your guard up because you are afraid of loving them too much and getting hurt when they leave.
Love with abandon!
That is what these children need. They need adults in their lives who are going to love them ferociously and show them the love of Christ without reservation.
It is incredibly hard on a child when they need to move. It is also hard on all of the people who love that child. BUT it is always easier to have genuinely loved and lost than never to have loved at all (yes I went there but it’s true!).
Seriously if you see a child acting out, don’t judge them or their parents! This goes across the board for all children- not just for foster or adoptive parents!
You don’t know what sensory issues a child has, what their day has been like, what emotions they are dealing with, or what trauma they have faced. Just because a child acts out does NOT make them a bad child. Stop judging and just go back to what we said before – genuinely love the child and the family!
You don’t know where this child came from and the family can’t (and shouldn’t anyway) tell you. It is none of your business.
Treat children like members of the family
Don’t treat foster or adoptive children differently than biological children! Treat them like they are part of the family – because they are, even if only for a little while.
These children should get the same invitations to parties and family events as biological children. If you buy gifts for the biological children, give the same kind of gifts to foster and adoptive children.
They need to feel they are a part of the community and have that support.
Just KEEP offering
If you ask a foster or adoptive family if they need help with something and their response goes something like this, “No, I think we are ok for now but thanks for asking.” Don’t stop asking! Foster and adoptive families are just like everyone else; they don’t want to admit that they need help.
So just keep asking. Just keep offering. Just keep doing helpful things.
Show them that you are really in this for the long haul with them and you want to come alongside them in their journey. That continued support will mean more than you know!
Loving the Least of These
Above all else, just remember that it is the responsibility of the entire church to care for children. We are all supposed to have a heart for the “least of these.” But our role of support in that will vary from person to person. That is OK. But there is no excuse not to be involved.
I hope this list helps you see that even if you aren’t able to foster or adopt, you can still play a vital role in supporting this crucial ministry!
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Do you have other ideas that you have used or been helped by? Let us know in the comments below!