What the Church needs to know about support through application, assessment and waiting

How to support those going through the process to foster or adopt.

Making the decision to foster or adopt is hugely significant for any family, but between making that decision and having children come into their home, prospective foster carers and adopters must go through a fairly long process of application and assessment, which can then also be followed by a period of waiting.

We love hearing how churches are wrapping around in support of families who foster or adopt, perhaps using these ten ideas as a starting point, and how churches are increasingly encouraging families as they consider the call to foster or adopt, which we wrote about here, and so we also want to equip you to stand with the individuals and families who are in the midst of the process between those two points.

We hope that these five suggestions will help you to understand how they may be feeling, and enable you to practically and prayerfully support them through this time.

1. Be patient

If you want to know more of the details of the application and assessment process, they are outlined for adoption and fostering, but for both it is likely to take a minimum of six months from initial enquiry to approval, and can sometimes be up to a year or more if there are delays or issues along the way. Therefore, the first way that you can best support is to be patient.

Many prospective adopters and foster carers find the assessment process frustrating as there is so little that they are in control of. Even when they have done all they can to attend the right meetings, complete the right paperwork, and engage with the right training, they are still dependent on social workers and other professionals for things to keep moving forward – and most of the time these social workers and professionals are already stretched and working beyond their limits.

Plus, the journey doesn’t end with approval as for many this can be the beginning of more waiting to be matched with a child or for a placement to be made, and further frustrations at not being in control. By patiently walking with those at every point of this process, simply being there and praying along the way, not expecting instant results or sudden changes, you will be a real encouragement and support.

2. Find out and remember the important dates

There will be a LOT of different meetings and deadlines, but some are likely to be more significant than others. Meetings with social workers, medicals, preparation training, home visits, interviews with referees and family members, and mountains of paperwork will each be a step on the journey. Naturally, different aspects will concern different people, so ask if there are any things in particular that you should pray for or could help with – and remember when these things are happening.

The occasion that will likely cause a lot of anxiety is going to panel, when a group of professionals meet to consider the comprehensive report that has been written about the prospective carers/adopters. This is a hugely significant point in the process, when the recommendation for approval will be made, so you will definitely want to remember this date. Adopters will also need to have a second ‘matching’ panel, when another group of professionals will approve their match with a particular child or children.

You could show your support at these significant times with an encouraging text, a card, or even a bunch of flowers or little treat. Whatever you think your friends would appreciate most!

3. Focus on how they’re feeling, not what’s currently happening

It can be very exhausting to be repeatedly asked about what’s going on, especially if nothing is happening or nothing has changed. Rather than asking for the latest update on their assessment or whether they’ve been matched with a child yet (which you would likely be told if there is anything significant to report), why not ask about how they’re feeling in the midst of their journey and what you could pray for.

It can be that the same situation will affect people in different ways – even people who are married to each other – so focus your care and prayers on the individual and how they’re doing amidst the circumstances, rather than on the circumstances.

4. Offer practical help when it’s needed

As part of the assessment, prospective carers and adopters must have their house checked to ensure it is safe, and they will also need to prepare their home for the arrival of children. For some this won’t take much doing, for others it might mean a complete renovation. Find out if anything is needed and consider how you could help, and whether the church could be involved.

We’ve heard stories of churches organising a painting party, collecting children’s clothes and toys, offering to help install stairgates, and covering the costs of electricians or plumbers – some have even been able to offer to do the work for free!

Do be sensitive of what to offer though, especially when adopters or carers have been approved and they are waiting for children to arrive. This waiting can sometimes take months and even years, so being offered second-hand baby clothes or children’s toys during this time could be painful. You could always hold on to these things and offer them once a match has been made.

5. Don’t assume, make comparisons or offer glib answers

Being told that you heard of people being matched with a child just days after panel, or that the assessment is like a pregnancy, or that ‘everything happens for a reason’, will not support or encourage an individual experiencing their own unique pain in response to being told there’s been another delay, or they’ve not been chosen as a match, or the child they long to care for has experienced horrendous abuse.

Be careful not to put your own experiences or expectations on others. Most of the time, the best thing you can do is just to be there, listen and pray.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12.15)

Thank you so much for standing with individuals and families who are on the journey of fostering or adoption. Your support is hugely significant and will make a real difference.

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