We’re the Kepners.
Our family is easily identifiable by our unique look. We are a large, blended-in-every-way type family. My husband, Matthew, and I have been foster parents for six years after receiving God’s call to foster. We’ve fostered twenty-six children and adopted two. We’ve also provided respite (think of licensed, extended-stay babysitting) for more than fifty children, and as if that weren’t enough kids, we have three biological children between us. In our experience as foster and adoptive parents, most people have two main questions:
- What does it mean to be a foster parent?
- How do you know God has called you to be a foster parent?
What Does It Mean to Be a Foster Parent?
To determine whether you have received God’s call to foster, you need to know what being a foster parent means. This can be challenging, as the U.S. foster system is an unintentionally well-kept secret.
Most confuse its purpose with something similar to adoption. Adoption means to permanently take in children who are considered wards of the state or legally free. Once adopted, these children are seen as the equivalent of biological children.
There is a subset of the foster system where people can choose only to adopt. However, these are children who are legally free for adoption because they have been in the foster system for two years or more. The average age of these children waiting to be adopted is ten, and there are far more teens waiting to be adopted than younger children.
Although there are adoptions that happen out of the foster system, these instances are typically viewed as a worst-case scenario or as a failure to meet the true end goal of the foster care system, which is to reunite biological families.
In foster care, children are temporarily removed from the custody of their parents due to unsafe circumstances. These circumstances can include things such as the following:
- Drug use
- Severe and unaddressed mental health issues
Foster parents stand in the gap as temporary guardians for children while their biological parents work on meeting their case goals to provide a better environment for their children to come home to. They become part of a case team to help with the goal of reunification for the family. A child’s time with them can range from a few days to a few years. The foster family’s goal is to provide for the child in ways that will allow healing to begin.
Beyond typical care for a child, the foster family also schedules and incorporates therapies, school interventions, visits with the biological family as allowed by the courts, and any other unique needs the child has. Caring for foster children often requires help from outside sources, so foster care ministries can come alongside families and help them as they care for the child and their biological family.
In our family’s experience, caring for a foster child in a way that makes a lasting impact also means caring for their biological family. Often, the parents of foster children were once children raised in the foster system themselves. Most of these parents have limited resources or support to help guide them from the beginning.
In the families we serve, we are often reminded of how blessed we are because we realize our lives could have taken a similar path had we not found the community, support, training, and resources available. With this realization in mind, we do our best to be an extra support and make life a little easier wherever possible.
How Do You Know God Has Called You to Be a Foster Parent?
“I could never do what you do…I’d get too attached.”
You know when people say, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard that?” Well, if I did, I’d be retired at the ripe old age of 27. On the surface, it seems a reasonable sentiment. However, this mindset diminishes the call of James 1:27, which says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
Not everyone is called to foster or foster care ministry, but too many miss the calling because they’re worried about the pain of a child leaving their home.
Imagine with me for a moment, if you will: One of your children has been taken from your home quite suddenly. You don’t know where they are or when you’ll see them next.
You go in front of a judge and a team of strangers who decide on a list of steps you must complete if you want your child to come back to live with you. You have little to no say in their daily care. You now have to balance these steps, a case team delving into every personal area of your life, and you can only have hours-long visitation with your child on a supervised basis. You are at the mercy of the decisions of strangers, likely with no support system of any kind.
I know if it were me, that would be terrifying. Now imagine yourself as that child. Your whole world, already challenging, becomes even more difficult as all you’ve ever known is ripped out from under you, and you’re whisked away to live with strangers.
The hardship, the inconvenience, and the discomfort of loving a child that will eventually leave me is a small ask compared to what these children experience. Like everything else in our world, the foster system is broken and full of darkness, but God works all things together for good.
We have seen first-hand the goodness that God can bring to bad foster situations, and while we may not always understand it right away, we trust that these children are loved even deeper by Him than by us. For as He cares even for the sparrow, how much more He cares for each one of the children in these broken situations (Matthew 6:25-26, Luke 12:7).
So, how do you know you are called to foster?
Knowing that God has specifically called you to do something can look different for everyone. Each of us has a unique walk and, therefore, a unique call in our life. For our family, God’s call to foster looked like Him orchestrating plans behind the scenes long before we ever felt the tug on our hearts.
Obeying God’s Call to Foster
In my teens, my parents fostered children, and while it was a great learning experience, at the time, I didn’t ever feel I was called to it. However, as time passed, God kept placing me in positions where I could work with at-risk children and their families.
When my husband and I got married, we were already involved in the court system, and with my minimal prior experience as a child of foster parents, I brought the idea of fostering up to him. He was less keen on the idea, and we discussed it for a year before he agreed to attend an informational meeting to learn more. It was at that meeting that he caught a glimpse of God’s call to foster, and we’ve been doing so ever since.
We weren’t 100% sure that fostering was what we were called to, but we felt we needed to keep taking one more step in that direction. Looking back over the years, we see how God perfectly placed each circumstance to get us here.
Getting Involved in Foster Care Ministry
If you’re unsure about becoming a foster parent or participating in foster care ministry, prayerfully take your next step and go from there. One way you can do that is by attending an informational session on foster care, as we did six years ago. You may receive God’s call to foster once you learn more.
You can also serve foster families by volunteering in the Foster & Adopt Ministry at Abundant Life. Through it, you will have opportunities to interact with foster families and the children in their homes. If you are part of a Community Group at Abundant Life, your group can become a Care Community for foster and adoptive families.
Care Communities provide for families’ tangible needs, such as providing a weekly meal, offering occasional transportation, or babysitting for a date night. The Care Communities relieve the foster parents as they work to support the children and biological families.