Tag: the system

Foster Care: A Sibling Story

“He has your eyes…”

We are sitting in a hospital room.  Our daughter has just given birth to our first grandchild and her biological and adopted siblings are gathered about.  Each taking a turn holding and admiring the newest addition to our family.

It was a traditional scene.  One where the family will “ooh” and “aww” over the beautiful life that has just entered the world.  But a certain comment took my breath away.

“He has your eyes Jose.”

Uncle Jose, only 14, looked up with pride.  It was an important moment.  Because in adoption, you don’t always get to see another who has your eyes.  A small symbol that provides a silent and powerful connection.

Our family is a patch quilt of sorts.  My husband and I have two daughters adopted from foster care.  They have a biological sister and brother adopted by my parents.  It’s a complicated little family that doesn’t make sense on paper and confuses most people who meet us.   But it’s our family.  And when those four children entered our lives, we knew they all needed to stay together.

And here we are ten years later in a delivery room and I am again struck by the power of the sibling bond. And so grateful that they could experience this miracle together.  That they could all take a turn holding the next generation of their family, of our family, and see tangibly the power of that sibling connection.

We are all woven together now, they and us.  Biology doesn’t define our family; the love and commitment knit throughout that hospital room is what makes our family.  But I don’t deny the power of biology – the miracle that is witnessed when you hold another and see your own eyes looking back.

Everyday siblings in foster care are separated because there are not enough families to keep them together.  And when that separation turns into permanency, these children will inevitably be denied the basic privileges and experiences that siblings deserve and need.  From the big moments like births and weddings to the small moments like raiding your sister’s closet or playing with your brother after school.

It’s hard work taking in a sibling group.  Helping each individual child heal and work through their trauma while also caring for multiple children with multiple needs.  But can I tell you something?  It’s worth it.

“He has your eyes Jose.”

Interested in knowing what it takes to be a part of this amazing work?  Check out our orientation page and get started today!

Arizona Faith and Families was founded by Paul and Nikki Lehman.  Paul and Nikki started their family by adopting two teenage girls from foster care.  They are now the proud parents to five children and one grandchild and work to equip others toward successful foster care and adoption. 

Separating Siblings

Today I received six different emails requesting foster homes for sibling groups.  Today I had to reply that I did not have any foster families available who could take in these siblings.  May I share this with you?

6 year old boy, 1 year old girl

3 year old boy, 1 year old boy, 2 year old boy

7 month old girl, 2 year old girl, 4 year old girl, 7 year old boy

Newborn girl, 3 year old boy, 1 year old boy

8 year old boy, 12 year old girl

8 year old girl, 9 year old boy, 11 year old girl, 13 year old girl

This was just yesterday.  Every day our office receives dozens of emails requesting foster homes for sibling groups, a surprisingly difficult population to place.

This is because sibling groups range in age and size.  While a new foster family might feel equipped and prepared to parent a 5 year old, not too many feel equipped and prepared to parent a 5, 7, and 10 year old.  And that’s ok, because it is no easy task!

But what happens when foster homes aren’t available for these sibling groups?  They are forced to be separated; often times into multiple homes or into group home settings.   Today they will not only experience the loss of their home and parents, but will also be torn from their siblings.

This is a tragedy.  Praise God we no longer have children sleeping in DCS offices (remember 20015??).  But the work is not done.  Arizona has nearly 200% more homes than it needs for children ages 0-2 but falls far short of what we need for children over age 7 and especially for children who are a part of a sibling group.  You can view the statistics on the DCS website.

Arizona needs foster parents.  Foster parents who are willing to step out in faith, possibly have a very hard 12 – 18 months of parenting multiple children with multiple traumas, and stick around long enough to inspire others.  This is hard.  It requires people with real grit.  It takes people who are teachable and who are willing to be flexible.  Foster parents who have space, the time, and the ability to transport multiple children.  Foster parents who have a strong support system for when things get tough (or are willing to build one).  Foster parents who understand our calling as Christians to care for the orphan and who are willing to follow this command despite how uncomfortable it may be.

This is a good work.  I would argue some of the best work that can be done.  But it is hard work.  Are you willing to work alongside us?  We’ve been there, done that and we want to give you the tools to do it too.  Check out our orientation page and get started today!

 

Arizona Faith and Families was founded by Paul and Nikki Lehman.  Paul and Nikki started their family by adopting two teenage girls from foster care.  They are now the proud parents to five children and one grandchild and work to equip others toward successful foster care and adoption. 

Who are the kids in foster care?

With over 21,000 children in the Arizona foster care system, it is important to stop and reflect on who these children are and what help they need.

Why are they in foster care?

The number one reason children come into care is neglect (85% based on the latest report).  This means lack of appropriate food, supervision, and shelter.  Children also come into care when they experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.  Often times children who come into care because of neglect later disclose that they have also been physically and or sexually abused.

How old are they?

The largest percentage of children in care are between the ages of 1 and 5 (approximately 33%) followed by the ages of 13-17 (21%).  When foster homes cannot be found for these children, they are placed in shelters and group homes.  In Arizona, approximately 1 out of every 5 children in state care live in a group facility.

How long do they stay in foster care?

Children can come into your home for as short as a few days and as long as a few years.  Many factors affect the amount of time in care, but 50% of the time their stay lasts between 1 and 12 months.  56% of children are eventually reunified with their parents.

What behaviors do I need to be prepared to parent?

Behavior is the language of children.  As such, children will display a wide range of behaviors such as tantrums to express frustration, hording to express fear of starvation, lying to express fear of abuse, and bed wetting from night terrors.  They need loving foster parents who will not personalize or shame them for these behaviors but rather hold their hand through the healing process. Foster parents need a good support team and behavior management skills in order to meet this challenge.  Behavior and behavior management are addressed at length during the 30 hours of pre-service training.

What resources are available?

Children come fully insured with Arizona’s comprehensive medical and dental program (CMDP).  CMDP covers a child’s need for dental, health, and behavioral care.  There are also many non-profit organizations ready to help with clothing, educational resources, and access to scholarships for extra-curricular activities.  Arizona also provides WIC services to children under five and the free lunch program to school aged children.  Children in state care also qualify for financial assistance in enrolling in day care or before and after school programs.

Godly, patient, and loving foster parents are needed to care for these precious children as they wait to re-unify with their birth families or to be placed in an adoptive home.  Who are the children in foster care?  They are real children, with real needs, and real stories.  If you feel God might be calling you to this task, please consider attending an orientation to find out how!

Not ready to foster?  Here are five ways to help now!

Shared Parenting: Connecting Foster Families and Birth Families

This is the fifth entry in a 6-part series on foster parenting.  To view a list of all the videos and blogs available in this series, please click here.

“Shared parenting” is a term that often shocks many prospective foster parents when they first hear it.  Essentially, shared parenting is the building of a positive alliance between foster parents and birth parents on behalf of children in foster care.  This can include simple acts such as passing along report cards, printing photos, or sharing updates.  It can also be more relational and include meeting for meals or play dates at the park.  It is important to note that foster parents will never be expected to put themselves in an unsafe or inappropriate situation.  Each case is unique and will be approached with an individualized plan.  Though it might seem daunting at first, shared parenting is a very important part of the foster care process.

Shared parenting helps birth parents do what they need to do to reunify with their children and allows children to remain connected to their birth families while they are in foster care.  It is a common belief, and misconception, that most foster children do not return home to their families.  Consider the following statistics from the latest available 6 month period:

Number of foster children leaving DCS custody by reunifying with their parents: 3,102
Number of foster children leaving DCS custody by being adopted: 1,576
Percentage of foster children with a case plan of reunifying with their parents: 55%
Percentage of foster children with a case plan of adoption: 20%

A majority of foster children actually return home to live with their biological families.  This means that foster parents do their best to help support and teach biological families while their child (or children) live with them.

How does it work?

Shared parenting will look different based on the specifics of each case, and will be determined by an assessment of safety issues.  At a minimum, foster parents are expected to support the positive aspects of the biological parents, and will be expected to refrain from berating the birth parents in front of the child.  This level of shared parenting could be as simple as telling a child that they have beautiful eyes like their mother, or sending a note to the birth parents to let them know how their child is doing.  In a best case scenario, you could build a strong relationship with the birth family and include them in holiday celebrations or even a weekly family dinner.

Is this really a good thing?

YES!  Absolutely.  Foster children will come into your home with strong attachments to their birth families, and it is important for foster children to retain appropriate contact with their relatives (unless their case plan requires no contact of any kind).  Children in care are comforted, and more easily attach, when they see biological and foster families working together.

As Christians, this is a very special opportunity.  Foster parenting is not only a ministry to children but also to families as a whole.  Developing relationships with birth families provides the opportunity to share the gospel, model healthy parenting, and effect change in the lives of a child’s family.  We would do best to take advantage of this special opportunity.

“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Col 4:5).

To find out more about becoming a licensed foster parent, visit our licensing page today.

Source: http://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/99/docs/SemiAnnual-Child-Welfare-Reporting-Requirements-4-15-9-15_FINAL-Revised.pdf

Next part

Click here to view the next part of this series which will explore the types of children that are in foster care and how we need to approach parenting a foster child.

This blog entry is part of a 6-part series on foster parenting.  To view a list of all the videos and blogs available in this series, please click here.

A Practical Prayer Guide for Foster Care

People often ask how they can be involved in foster care; the number one way to be involved is to pray.  Acts 1:14 explains how the disciples were “joined together constantly in prayer”.

If we, the Christian Church, seek to step in and care for these orphaned then we need to be “joined together constantly in prayer”. This is no light task we have taken on, but if God is for us who can be against us? When we look at the broken system that is foster care today we should be deeply moved to go before our Father in prayer on behalf of all those involved.

Let’s take the first step in caring for these children, would you join in praying today?

Biological Families

  1. Pray for the biological families of these children to come to saving faith in Christ and be transformed in how they parent. Pray that God would send Godly mentors and friends to help them on their journey
  2. Pray for them to receive the help they need
  3. Pray that they would be treated well and loved by the Christians they encounter through the system
  4. Pray for Godly foster parents to show them Christ’s love and partner with them in working towards reunification

Children

  1. Pray that they would come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior
  2. Pray that God would heal their wounds and hearts
  3. Pray for them to be safe from abuse while in foster care
  4. Pray for them to find a forever home either through reunification or adoption
  5. Pray that God would send them someone who can speak truth into their lives and help them to heal from the trauma they have encountered.

Foster Families

  1. Pray for more laborers in the field
  2. Pray that God would continually encourage them and strengthen them on their journey
  3. Pray for boldness and opportunities to share the Gospel with these children and their biological families
  4. Pray for their marriage to remain strong and united
  5. Pray for biological children living in the home, and for foster children moving in, to transition well

Adoptive Families

  1. Pray that they would not be discouraged as they wait
  2. Pray that their marriage would be unified through this time
  3. Pray for them to love their child as God loves their child
  4. Pray for them as they raise their children to have wisdom and guidance

The Workers

  1. Pray that God would draw Godly people into the field of social work
  2. Pray that they would be encouraged in their job and not grow weary in doing good
  3. Pray for Godly judges, therapists, support staff, ect. to be involved in this process
  4. Pray for them to boldly live out their faith daily and for opportunities for them to share the Gospel

Please feel free to print and share this post as a tool for guiding your prayer time.

The Broken System

*Writers Note: The following article contains links to news and data related to this topic.  Please take the time to educate yourself on the crisis in Arizona and then pray about where God would use you to move on behalf of children and families in crisis.

Spend any amount of time in social services and you will inevitably hear the phrase, “The system is broken”.  In fact, the “broken system” has become such a norm that we never really pause to think about it.  It is a widely accepted fact that we simply must work within.  It’s broken, but we do our best.

But the question must be asked:  Why is the system broken?  And more importantly, can we fix it?  With over 17,000 children in Arizona Foster Care, can we really afford to do our best with something that doesn’t work?  Children born to broken homes, handed to a broken system; the irony is palatable.

I’ve meditated on the issue for the past ten years as I’ve worked in and around foster care and adoption.  I have spent a decade with this system and her children.  Watched its attempts at success, and had front row seats to its failures.  It was broken long ago, and it will crumble with these rising numbers.  The current system of foster care will not sustain 17,000 children.  It will fail.  That failure has a cost no child should pay.

Children failed by the system have multiple moves, caregivers, schools, and homes.  They are over medicated and under schooled.  They are sexually assaulted, physically abused, and lose their lives under the rubble of this system.  These traumas have life long consequences.

And Christian, it is important to note, that we are the ones holding the sledge hammer.  The mess and failures of this system belong to us.  It is not the state’s fault that the system is broken, it is the fault of the Christian church who handed it to her.

The government is not designed to raise children.  It is not designed to heal broken families.  So it should be no shock to us that it is not possible for the government to successfully play this role, no more than we would expect an elephant could climb a tree.  It is outside of its design, structure, and purpose.  The government plays this role not because it is best fitted for the job, but because it must.  It must protect its citizens and the most vulnerable of its people.  It must play this role, because the church has not.

The reality of this truth is painful.  The truth that our Lord and Savior tasked us with the care of the widow, the orphaned, and the oppressed.  The truth that the job of the foster care system was not intended for a government but for the Christian church and her people.  This fills me with so much shame as I look at the disaster it has become.  It is so terribly broken, Christian, and the blame belongs to us.

This conviction is not meant to chain us down with guilt.  It is meant to awaken us.  It should sting, but let that sting cause us to open our eyes!  We may have failed in the past.  We are definitely failing right now.  But praise God we do not have to keep on failing.  We need not stand in the refuse of the system and keep trudging forward.  We don’t have to come up with programs or funding and try to rebuild a broken building with broken bricks.  We are not a government or another human institution.  We are the people of a Holy Church and worship a Holy God.  The God who tasked us to care for the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed only asks that we step forward to do the job.  He is the one that will supply the tools, resources, and structure.  He is the one who will repair it, we need only show up to work.  Will you show up to work Christian?  Church, will you rise up and take back your job?

The question has been asked:  Why is the system broken?  And more importantly, can we fix it?  The system is broken because of us church, but praise God, Yes, it can be fixed!

To find out how to get started please visit our FAQ page and Contact us to get started.   

What is a biblical model for approaching foster care?

When Arizona Faith and Families was founded, the following slogan was chosen: “A biblical model for foster care and adoption.”

So what does this biblical foundation look like?

Highlighted below are four key points:

  1. The Bible is the ultimate source of truth for foster/adoptive parents. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16, NASB).  Scripture is what equips us for the good work that God has called us to do, and it must be central to the training of foster and adoptive parents.
  2. The Bible teaches us to pray. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).  Christians must pray to seek God’s will, and our agency is committed to regular prayer for parents who partner with us.  These prayers are for the purpose of our parents to clearly see God’s will in their lives, for us to accurately identify and understand what each family is equipped to handle, and to ask God to grant each of us wisdom through the process.
  3. The Bible has much to say about parenting. “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps 19:7, NASB).  The children you bring into your home will need restoration.  They will need a place to feel safe and heal.  Christians are uniquely equipped to provide this environment.  These children will also display behaviors that surprise, disrupt, and change your family environment.  We can count on the Bible to give us the wisdom we need to parent during these tough circumstances.
  4. Finally, the Bible teaches us the power of community. “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17, NASB).  Being a foster parent should not be done in isolation.  It needs to be done in community.  In most cases this community includes not only your personal family supports, but also the biological family of the children in care.

Our staff can personally attest that foster parenting is tough!  However, as Christians we have been given the tools that we need to face these challenges head on while bringing glory to our God and Savior.  Arizona Faith and Families is committed to helping our families feel empowered, equipped, and supported as they navigate this process.  Please contact us or visit our FAQ page to find out more.