According to the most recent statistics, as of June 30 2020 there are close to 46,000 children growing up in out of home care across Australia, with this number increasing by 7% between 2017 and 2020.
With these numbers expected to continue to rise. Child Protection Week (Sep 4 – 10) and Foster Care Week (Sep 11 -17) present an important opportunity to focus on the plight of fostered children and the incredible organisations working to meet this need in our communities.
Mary Dickins, the Executive Officer of Fostering Hope, represents one of these organisations, whose mission is to partner with the Australian Church to find more than enough homes for children in need of a family.
“In Australia, children who need families are those removed from their families due to safety concerns. These children enter ‘out of home care’ and the child protection system. It is never God’s design for children not to be with their biological families, but when this isn’t safe, we need families for these kids – families that will offer hope, healing, and understanding.”
For vulnerable children in need of out of home care, life is difficult. Child abuse and neglect can have lifelong adverse consequences and parents whose children need to be taken into care often have multiple and serious long-term problems.
A loving home can do so much to give these children nurture and to turn their lives around. However, fostering can be difficult for all sorts of reasons – the behavioural problems of the children, the need to support contact with the parent or parents, difficulties with the bureaucracy of the child welfare department, and various other stressors. So how can we as Christians partner with organisations like Fostering Hope to make a difference?
As the need for out of home care continues to increase, our foster carers need advocates – Christians who will stand alongside them and promote the life changing work being accomplished through foster care. This could be as simple as partnering with your local Church to celebrate Stand Sunday this coming Foster Care Week.
“Every year we host Stand Sunday. This is a day when we ask Churches to mark a date in their Church calendar to Stand with carers and the children in their care. Held on Sunday September 11th 2022, this is an opportunity to celebrate the carers in each Church and community, to pray for needs around each Church, and for people to individually consider how God’s asking them to respond”, Mary says.
Recruit Foster Carers
Have you ever considered becoming a foster carer? Perhaps you or someone you know might be the perfect carer for a child in need?
Fostering Hope is committed to supporting those considering fostering by providing a preparation for fostering course each term. In which they facilitate training and support, and connect new carers with a buddy for the first 12 months of their journey.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and as a Church community we have an important part to play in fostering children.
“When considering who else could be on a carer’s team we think about everything a family expecting a new baby would – meals, babysitting, house renovations, and prayer support”, Mary says.
“Every child in care has experienced at least one broken attachment and trauma. This is called complex developmental trauma. This kind of trauma impacts a child’s developing brain and body, who they see as safe and not safe, and how they interact with the world around them. We need churches, youth groups, and others to understand this kind of trauma so churches can be a safe place for fostering families.”
Additionally you could consider respite care. Respite carers are carers that have children for a weekend a month, and are a key part of the fostering journey. They offer extended family and community to children and a well-deserved break for the full-time carers.
“Fostering Hope really believes a lot more people could be respite carers.”
Support Foster Carers
As Mary says “Just like anything we do for God, fostering a child is full of joy and challenges”.
“Bringing children into your home with complex developmental trauma, working with birth families, and navigating your state’s child protection system are all challenging. Going on this journey with other carers, having someone to pray with, having training to go to, all this supports carers on the journey.”
We may not all be able to foster a child in need or provide respite care, but we can help the fosters carers in our community through continued prayer and support. Another simple way to support a child or family in need could be as a mentor. Giving up just a short amount of time to make a huge amount of difference.
“Fostering Hope runs a mentoring program which connects Christian mentors with a child or young person in care. This ministry is powerful for everyone – the mentor, the child, and the fostering family. The commitment is a couple of hours a month to invest in a child or young person.”
“Right now, we need carers, we need churches willing to understand the impacts of trauma, and we need to support the carers on the journey,” Mary says.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we met this need across Australia to bring glory to God? Wouldn’t it be amazing if churches went from being a place known to abuse children, to being known as the best families for children and offering respect and hope to birth families? Wouldn’t it be amazing for Christians to be known as stepping into this space and offering the best families that are a picture of God’s design for family life? Fostering families are a picture of God’s family on display for the community right here. They are a picture of each of our adoption into God’s family.”
“As you are reading this in National Child Protection Week, I encourage you to prayerfully consider how you and your church could respond.”
Fostering Hope is Christian Foster Care organisation devoted to seeing a movement of Australian Christians and churches living out their faith by caring for children growing up in out of home care.