What the Church needs to know about caring for children with lived experience of the care system

Understanding why and how parenting may need to be different.


As the Church, keen to support families who foster, adopt or provide supported lodgings and be a place of welcome and acceptance, we need to recognise and respect different ways of parenting, and we also need to be open to doing things differently where needed.

To equip us all to do this better, we have three suggestions for anyone keen to support and understand the care community. Hopefully these tips will be easy to remember, as they happen to follow A, B, C!

Avoid assumptions

Every child is unique, with unique experiences and a unique way of processing and dealing with these experiences. Even if you have previously supported foster or adoptive families or supported lodgings hosts, or you’ve had care experienced children in your children’s ministry, don’t assume that every family or child will be the same.

Most families would far rather be asked if there are any particular routines, strategies or techniques that are beneficial for the child, than risk the child be unnecessarily upset or confused. Also, don’t assume that things will always stay the same. Once a child has been with a family for a while there may need to be some changes, so be adaptable and understanding to this.

It is also vital that you don’t make assumptions or judgements about parents’ or carers’ styles of parenting. Foster carers and adoptive parents develop intentional parenting techniques for each child using their skills and experience, what knowledge they have of the child’s past, and often, out of creative necessity to find the things that work – and even those strategies won’t always work. Your respect, encouragement and understanding will be a great support to them.

Beyond behaviour

Any child’s behaviour is a form of communication, telling you something about how they’re currently feeling, or what they currently want or need. It can also tell you about who they are and what they’ve experienced.

Obviously, if a child is feeling frustrated, anxious, overwhelmed or angry, or they’re tired or hungry, this might be expressed through what many would unhelpfully deem ‘bad’ behaviour. Hopefully, a child will have an adult or adults around them from birth who will be available to meet their needs and seek to understand their feelings.

If a child has not had this stable and nurturing adult figure, it will likely affect how they express their feelings. In some cases this could lead to behaviours that, again, might be labelled ‘bad’. But this could also result in ‘good’ behaviour, such as being overly compliant or caring for younger siblings.

Foster carers and adopters will be aware of this as they develop their parenting strategies, seeking to find techniques that address the behaviours but primarily support the child in working through their experiences.

By understanding and seeking to look beyond the behaviour at the child, recognising that there will be past experiences you don’t know about, you will make a real difference. Look instead at the child’s heart, their unique gifts and traits, and the huge potential they have.

Compassionate commitment

This suggestion doesn’t need much explanation. By committing to journeying with a family – supporting them, championing them, encouraging them, affirming them – and doing so with love, empathy and compassion, you will be part of ensuring that all foster and adoptive families are made welcome in our churches.

"Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10.24

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