How can the Church welcome looked-after children?
Instant Family is a recent Hollywood film focusing on a couple on a fostering and adoption journey. Rachel Burnell, a children’s and youth worker in Isleworth, explores how we can welcome looked-after children and young people into our churches.
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be invited along by the Home for Good team to a special preview of the new film Instant Family and it was a real treat – partly because in three and a half years of fostering I rarely have such opportunities to go out on my own to the cinema, but also because I think it’s a film that everyone should see!
The film outlines the highs and lows of a family who are fostering to adopt and its tear-jerking plotline struck such a chord with me for so many reasons. The fact that Hollywood has made a film about this topic fills me with hope that many more people in the UK will want to foster or adopt the several thousand children that still need a home. Our church in Isleworth would love to be a Home for Good church that supports foster families because, as they say, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” As the vicar and his wife now also embark on the bumpy rollercoaster of fostering it seemed like a good time to share a few thoughts about this.
The church I work at as the children and youth team leader is blessed with many children and is a very family-friendly place, but what happens when a family doesn’t fit the norm and the children are looked after or adopted? This calls for a different style of parenting, as I know myself from having a looked-after child. The expectations for behaviour and sitting still in the pew may need to be reconsidered, especially when the child is new to the congregation. They may have come from homes with very different outlooks on life and with few boundaries or expectations. Many of these children have experienced trauma and feel broken on the inside, and as a church we are all part of their healing process in sharing this brokenness.
Here are a few tips I can personally recommend for welcoming a family or individual with looked-after or adopted children into the church well:
- Don’t assume the child has ever stepped foot inside a church before or knows how it works.
- Be willing to try to understand if the child is fidgety or seeks to draw attention to themselves.
- Find out what makes them tick and try to include this in the children’s group (if they attend one).
- Let the child know they are cherished and loved by God.
- Provide conversation and friendship to the foster parents so they know they are not alone.
- Be sensitive at celebratory times such as Christmas or Easter, as children may be missing family members and old routines.
- Offer to cook for the foster carers and the children as this can take some weight off them.
- Arrange opportunities for playdates, meet-ups or babysitting to give carers a break.
- Offer a listening ear as there may be times when the adoptive/foster parents just need to talk.
- Pray for the child and the carers as it can feel like a spiritual battle when you foster/adopt.
- Invite the family/families to join in with reading and writing prayers.
- Remind the congregations that we are all adopted into God’s family and that these children especially need to know of his love for them.
- Host information meetings for prospective foster parents and also for members of the church family who simply want to learn more about foster care. Home for Good are often very happy to visit the church and speak about this.
- Teach the children in their groups that all families are different and may not look the same as their own.
- Give training to children and youth leaders so that they are aware of how to handle any disclosures or behaviour issues that may arise.
Rachel Burnell is a foster carer and Children’s and Youth Team Leader at St John’s Isleworth.