Adoption Awareness Month: What I Wish the Church Knew About The Most Helpful Ways to Serve Adoptive Families

Adoption Awareness Month: What I Wish the Church Knew About The Most Helpful Ways to Serve Adoptive Families

I’ve probably sounded rather stern concerning adoption awareness.

Most who’ve written about adoption this month are like, “Adoption is great! Let’s all join the parade!” It’s true, adopting children is great—it’s straight from God’s heart. And it is full of God’s blessings. But let me tell you, those blessings have a totally different look than most adoptive parents expect going into it.

So, I don’t want to discourage adoption, or even adoption awareness. But I do want to present a strong case for awareness in the world of adoption.

There are many things I wished I’d known before bringing my children home. Had I been better equipped, I think we’d have had far fewer explosive moments. I would have better understood their behaviors and not absorbed so much of the pain they were flinging around. I would have been more patient and better able to meet their true needs.

This month I’ve been addressing the churches and ministries (and, I suppose, individuals) who are spotlighting adoption. I agree it deserves it’s own special month; but if the church is going to do this, then there are strategies I think they need to have in place first.

Four Ways the Church Can Best Serve Adoptive/Foster Families

1. Education and Training

Any church that encourages adoption MUST have an understanding of these children’s needs and provide tools that support families who seek to meet those needs. To do otherwise is a huge disservice to these children and their families. In fact, I’d say it’s a sin to blindly lead families into this lions’ den where the enemy is doing his darnedest to destroy efforts to “set the lonely in families.”

Adoptive (and foster) families need the staff who regularly interact with them to be familiar with strategies that can address the needs of both the parents and children.

The most endorsed tool available today is called TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention). It is research-based material addressing the developmental needs of “children from hard places” along with techniques to help these children learn to trust and self-regulate. It’s the result of years of experience and study by Dr. Karyn Purvis and the Child Development Department of Texas Christian University.

Anyone can begin learning this material right now by going online where it is easily accessible. Articles and videos are available for free, as well as other resources that can be purchased.

Furthermore, the church Bob and I are attending is hosting a rebroadcast in late April of the Empowered to Connect conference that will be held in Chicago earlier in April. TCU faculty and others will be presenting TBRI material at this conference. The cost is very minimal. Churches in your area may already be signed up to host either a simulcast of the live event or the rebroadcast. You can find more information on their website.

Church leadership then, needs to find ways to offer this training on an ongoing basis to parents, other church leaders (e.g. Sunday School teachers), and people in the community (e.g. educators, social workers, and counselors). What an awesome outreach opportunity for churches, as more and more people in our community are concerned about the plight of those living on the fringes of society.

2. Support groups

One of the best ways to support the needs of the parents is to provide opportunities for them to meet together. Like anyone living in a difficult situation (e.g. divorce, grief, substance abuse, special-needs children), no one understands the unique challenges better than those who are walking the same path.

These groups don’t require a staff member to lead them—just another parent who is good at facilitating the group. In these groups parents need to feel safe enough to share honestly. They need to feel heard, understood, and supported. Furthermore, they need to be able to discuss ideas and strategies. And they need opportunity to pray together.

And from one who knows, these sorts of groups are still needed for parents who are now empty-nesters. Though life gets easier when the drama is no longer unfolding in their living space, this season does begin to expose grief and PTSD.

3. Respite

You’ve probably heard me say it before—respite saved our family. Our church leadership found families willing to take our children overnight once a month—they found enough places that we got an overnight break twice a month. Hosts picked up our kids at 4 PM on Saturdays and we got them back Sunday morning at church. Our children all went places where they had fun with their friends while Bob and I had some time to ourselves. In my opinion, respite addresses the greatest need in the simplest way.

4. Resources

An ongoing list of websites, books, training opportunities, therapists (trained to deal with attachment issues), and other support agencies is frankly easy to provide on any church website. I know it takes time to manage this, but one of the adoptive parents can probably do so easily.

Now I know this looks like a lot. It is. So here’s the priority of services I suggest. Any church that has the “fatherless” in their midst (which is probably every church), should start with providing respite for the parents. I would then suggest starting support groups. Neither of these are that hard to do and will go miles in supporting the parents. These two activities are what got me through. It takes some time and effort up front and a little bit of monitoring, but really, it’s just not that hard.

Then maintaining a resource list happens almost automatically within the support group. The groups I’ve attended are constantly sharing ideas. The group just needs to select someone to create a master list. If the church is concerned about the integrity of the list, then it doesn’t have to be on the church’s website.

The first item I mentioned, education and training, takes much more time and involvement. But it is invaluable if a church can find a way to pursue it.

My soap box talk is this: IF a church is going to put great emphasis on adoption, then they need to be sure they are ready to support these families in every way possible. This training is a must. It is the responsible and essential thing to do.

This last blog is a bit long, I realize.

But let me summarize this series quickly here.

We are in a wonderful time in history where not only do we have unprecedented awareness of the fatherless, we also have more people stepping up to help than ever before. Additionally, research in the past decade has provided the best resources ever available. In order to best serve these precious souls and those who are embracing them, the church needs to understand four things:

The immense struggle of the adoptive/foster parents
The true needs of the fatherless child
What the Bible means when it instructs us to “visit the orphan in their need
• Specific ways the church can support the families who’ve invited the fatherless into their homes.

There is nothing dearer to The Father’s heart than vulnerable children. It is His desire that they have a place to call home—a family to call theirs.

God sets the lonely in families.
Psalm 68:6a (NIV)

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