by Jami Kaeb
I’ll never forget how I felt when I first started to understand the needs of our foster care community. Back in November, 2009, I saw a video representation of what a child experiences while waiting in an agency waiting for a foster home to be found.
That video spurred me to action: I walked into our state foster care agency, unannounced, and asked if I could see where kids visit with their parents.
Seeing those rooms broke my heart.
The rooms felt sterile and unwelcoming. (This actually led to me and a crew of family and friends to makeover both visit rooms there, but that’s a story for another time.)
You see, foster care is a journey that is birthed out of brokenness. A family is separated. Hearts are broken. Imperfect systems and processes are put in place, and imperfect humans (that’s all of us) do their part. Some take care of kids, others make decisions, while others take the necessary steps to get back on track.
Brokenness is no stranger to those who are part of the foster care community.
You probably know it well.
But there’s something I’ve learned over the past decade: Seeing and experiencing brokenness can lead us to pursue positive, God-directed change in or around us, or it can bring about misguided anger, frustration, or cause us to become jaded or stuck.
We recently shared a post on our social media asking a question that received many responses – some with negative things to say about the foster care system. Quite a few of these statements included generalizations about people who make up the foster care community, such as caseworkers, biological parents, judges, or attorneys.
Don’t get me wrong, I get it. There are some very real and negative things that happen in foster care – an imperfect system carried out by imperfect people will bring about imperfect and sometimes very ugly results. When Clint and I were foster parenting, we felt frustrations, and concerns – probably many of the same ones you feel. Brokenness is very, very real.
But here’s my challenge to you, and to all of us, when things out of our control turn out in ways we wouldn’t choose:
We cannot always control what happens to us, or even to those we love, but we can choose how we respond.
My friend, we can hate injustice. We can hate evil and sin and even the brokenness we see. But when we allow hate in our hearts to drive our actions towards another person, we’ve crossed a line. It’s then when we are reminded of our need to lean into the Power of God, to take on his supernatural love, strength, and hope. We can’t do this on our own.
Here are some things to keep in mind, particularly when we think about foster care workers:
1. Foster care workers truly want to make a difference.
This is rarely just a job for them. They pursued the work because they wanted to support vulnerable children and adults. The systems they’re working in don’t always allow them to do it as they would choose, but they carry that purpose with them every single day.
2. Most foster care workers have an intense caseload.
They simply can’t be as present for everyone as they’d like to be. Many of the foster care workers I know personally wish they could be. But they can’t always respond immediately. They can’t always give your case their full attention. They get bogged down by paperwork. And they’re often having to “put out fires” as much as they’re working to prevent them.
3. Resources and support are lacking.
A study recently conducted in the UK revealed that only 29% of caseworkers feel their workload is manageable. I would bet the numbers are very similar here in the U.S. Time and available support from other staff are often lacking.
4. Stress is high.
The weight of brokenness and crucial decisions is not easy to bear. It’s stressful. They see heartbreaking things every week, and deal with difficult situations, all of which we may never know about. It’s a difficult job. A stressful job. And it can easily wear them down.
I wish it wasn’t that way. I really do. But when we allow our hurt and frustration with these realities to impact how we treat the foster care workers we connect with, we’re no longer on the side of advocacy. And we’re no longer representing Jesus to the whole foster care community.
Because if there’s one thing we know… It’s that no caseworker or judge or foster parent or anyone else here on this earth is really in control. Our God is in control. We advocate. We listen. We share honestly. We offer kindness. But none of us are in control.
So today, I implore you to love.
Scripture tells us, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a)
Let’s be patient.
Let’s be kind.
Let’s refrain from rudeness or resentment.
Let’s speak truth.
My friend, you are not alone. Even in the heartbreak, the frustration, the disappointment, and righteous anger, God is with you. Stay in step with Him. Stay connected to Him. And let’s respond to those God has placed in our lives in a way that honors Him.
Looking for more resources to support and understand foster care workers?
S4E6: A Peek into the Agency Workers’ World
Dear Case Worker by Kristy Sutton
S9E9: Working Together as Foster Parents, Biological Parents, and Agency Workers
S9E1: Spotting Child Abuse and Neglect After COVID-19
Adoption, foster care, and advocacy were not part of Jami’s dreams for her life, but God changed her heart when He made her aware, and she is passionate about helping others become aware too! She and her husband Clint are parents to their seven children (five through adoption).
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