Caroline’s Story Part 1
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Welcome to the 2024 season of the Safe to Hope podcast. I want to introduce you to our next storyteller Caroline. Last year in 2023, our three seasons all included a story from a victim of abuse. At Help[H]er, I want to remind everybody, we work with women in churches in multiple types of crisis. So for this season, we’re going to be talking with a foster mom, a mother of five beautiful children, a woman who has both witnessed and experienced trauma in a very different way. Foster families populate evangelical communities, especially more so lately. So the question we want to address in this season is “How can the church come alongside and care for the very unique needs of the parents and both the biological children and the foster children who come into these families.”

But again, let me just introduce you to our storyteller. And as mentioned, Caroline is mom to five children ages six months, through seven years. That right there is enough to say that these families need your support. Caroline and her husband, Tim, have been married for eight and a half years. And I must say, they amaze me. First of all, because of their hearts for some of the most vulnerable little people, but also how they seem to juggle life so easily. But from an outside perspective, they look really good. But I’m sure there’s a good bit of chaos in their home. Anyway, welcome, Caroline. I’m confident we are going to get a clearer picture of that chaos as we speak.

Caroline
Thanks for having me, Ann Maree. I’m excited to be here.

Ann Maree
We are grateful for you, in many ways. I can’t reveal all of them because of our anonymity. But happy to be able to share what you and I have been working on as it relates to your story. And I know our audience will benefit from hearing about how God has and is still redeeming your story in his story.

Our goal throughout this 12-week series will be to hear your circumstances and experience, but also to hear how God’s redemptive thread flows throughout, which is typically what we’re looking for in our storytelling series.

By way of reminder, on the Safe to Hope podcast, names have been changed in order to protect those associated with these stories. The Help[H]er ministry exists to help people in crisis and to train people helpers so integrity is one of our great concerns. To the best of our ability, we have sought to honor the privacy and dignity of those who share their precious stories with us.

So, Caroline, to get us started, maybe you can begin by telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got to a place where you and your husband decided to foster children.

Caroline
My husband and I met in a college campus ministry, and we were both new believers. We were taking in a ton of theology, evangelism and other various trainings. So when we started dating, we both knew that we wanted to live in a way that was on mission.

Right before we got engaged, my husband had brought up the idea of adoption. Adoption was not something I had ever thought about. I think I almost immediately shut him down because it was a foreign idea to me. I had not known anyone who was adopted. I had heard that the theology of adoption was biblical, but that was really all I knew. I don’t think it was because I was scared. I just had no concept of it. We decided to continue the conversation as we got older since we were very young when we got engaged and were still in the process of graduating from college and starting new jobs.

My first job was a teacher at a Title 1 school, which in our state, means that 94% of the school is on a free and reduced lunch program. In this school where I started working, 99% of the students were on free and reduced lunch. I do remember always having a unique interest in movements in history of those who had been considered the least of these, although no one in my personal world would have ever been considered impoverished or lacking in any material needs. I just always had a strong desire to bring justice to those who have suffered injustice and work with children who deserve a fair and equal education. I didn’t know it at the time, but this school where I started working would change the trajectory of our family.

Ann Maree
Yeah, it sounds like God, where he plants the seed. We might initially argue, but and then he nourishes that passion. And that’s so beautiful to watch and see. So tell us how God used your teaching position at your school to light the fire that became your passion to care for foster children.

Caroline
During my second year of teaching, I had a student named David. I had heard about him from several other teachers, and was warned that he could be a bit rambunctious, but that I would love him. So the first time I met him, I didn’t understand what everyone was talking about. He was really quiet, had a lot of energy, which meant he did not sit still for long. He would jump around often. But nothing out of the ordinary for that school.

So around 1:30 on the first day of school, I got a call from our assistant principal that David needed to come down to the office with his backpack for early dismissal. I remember thinking that this was odd since it was the first day of school. I later got an email informing me that David and his brother were picked up by our local Department of Social Services, which are in our state is called it DSS, and that they were placed in foster care.

The next morning, I got to school early to meet with our assistant principal, and she discussed with me how to go about handling David when he arrived at school. She had known his family for some time and this school it was not uncommon for kids to have tons of siblings. She had been involved with the family for a while. So she warned me to watch him extra when we’re outside on the playground that day. She called him a runner, meaning that he could attempt to run away, just due to emotions and his experience from the night before. I also needed to make sure that David and his brother had each other’s contact information since they were placed in different homes.

This was my first experience with foster care but not my last. David entered into school that day walking in with his head down. And when I went to talk to him, he told me that last night was a really, really bad day. I didn’t know what to say, but  I do remember thinking that no one trained me for this.

Ann Maree
That was a great comment, Caroline. You went to school prepared to teach little human beings but apparently not the kind of human being who has been burdened with the kind of shame that makes them look at the floor rather than look you in the eye. How old was David?

Caroline
He was eight at the time.

Ann Maree
Wow. How heartbreaking. It’s beyond comprehension for me to know what an eight year old boy must have heard and saw and lived in those few short years that traumatically impacted him to so hang his head so low.

Yet, this shame was actually a helpful sign that indicated how much distress was overwhelming his world. I’m starting to see the wisdom of God in placing David in your classroom. We often say that victims and survivors are our teachers. So tell the audience how David became your education.

Caroline
Over the course of that year, David had actually entered into a kinship placement which is a placement with a family member. So he was moved from the foster home to live with his grandma. And I started to form a relationship with her when she was caring for him over that year. So David ended up being the exact student that everyone said he would be, rambunctious, and yet, I loved him dearly.

David was appointed a GAL, which in our state means “guardian ad litem,” which is someone who advocates specifically for the child when they’re in foster care. She would email me to check in on him and would pop into the school to visit him. I had not heard of a GAL before so I got to know her and was really curious to know what she did. This led me to do a ton of research on foster care and advocating. So by going through my county’s website, I was able to find more about what a guardian ad litem was and what they did, since I had not heard of it before.

David’s GAL would be solely representing him during court cases or hearings. She would provide paperwork for hearings that happened or were supposed to happen every 90 days. She was primarily there to make sure that his best interest was met for his care. This is especially helpful when it comes to court dates because social workers are there to work for the whole family while a GAL is strictly representing the children. I was able to find out how many children were in care in our county and how many homes were currently available as foster homes.

As the school year wrapped up, my husband and I felt the desire and the call to become licensed foster parents. We felt a huge burden for foster care just by knowing David and his grandparents. And I remember my husband and I talking about all the ways that Jesus cared for the orphan, the widow, and the vulnerable. At this point, it felt like we knew too much information to not do something. There was a need, and we had the ability to meet the need. We had no children at the time, and we were building a home where we could  accommodate other children.

We had some friends who decided to become foster parents. They got connected to an agency and started the process. So once we heard them share that they were becoming licensed, we decided to also jump on board. David’s grandparents even asked us if we would consider fostering him. They felt that since they were older, he would do better with a younger couple. We said agreed to foster David, but David actually ended up reunify with his biological mom.

At this time, we found out that we were pregnant with our first biological daughter. But we decided to continue with our license and maybe start fostering after our daughter was born.

Ann Maree
Best laid plans, right? Well, I think we’ve all learned a bit about that, since the pandemic. But since I know your story, God had another idea. Tell us what happened after your daughter was born?

Caroline
Yes, our first biological daughter was born in September of 2018. And we finished our license in January of 2019. And so we were told to go ahead and submit our license. And normally it takes a little bit for a license to be approved. So we decided to submit our paperwork, I believe it was January 22. And on January 30, we got a call from our agency saying that two children needed a home. So my husband and I thought, wow, that was really fast and not what we expected. But this will be temporary, so why not.

And we actually found out later that technically, in our state, you’re not supposed to take any placements. If you have just had a baby within the first I think it’s six to 12 months. So now knowing that we should technically not have even gotten that call, we went from being new parents to a four-month old to now parents of three children that were two and under. We opened our door that day to a two and a half year old girl and a 13 month old boy.

Ann Maree
Oh, man, sweet. I remember that day. That timeframe, but also, who they are now, and temporary, right? Well, here’s the first thing that church might want to learn about people like you and your husband, stepping out in faith to serve those who are most vulnerable. It’ll be on God’s timetable, and you’re going to need the Body to come around you in a mighty way. So describe for us what life suddenly looked like in your home.

Caroline
It looked very different than what we pictured. Setting up the children in the home that day was just complete madness. The baby boy was crying hysterically the whole time because he was congested and sick. Our four-month old biological daughter had to be held during this time and the two-and-a-half year old girl talked nonstop. She had a lot of questions.

And this was all happening as we were sitting at our kitchen table signing paperwork with the kids’ social worker, and then with our agency’s worker. There were people texting me with good intentions about wanting to help. They were offering clothes, checking to see if we needed meals. At the time, I felt like I needed to take everyone up on everything because I just didn’t know what I needed. Several ladies from our church provided clothes. I had a friend who came over to help hold my baby and set up the bedroom. And our friends who were also fostering came over and basically filled up our fridge with toddler friendly foods since we had never been parents to toddlers.

As my husband and I went to bed that night, we hardly slept even though we were exhausted. There was this overwhelming feeling of what have we just done. As life now began to take a whole new shape over a period of a few short months, we became consumed with doctors and specialists.

On the foster care paperwork, you can mark if you would like to take a placement with special needs. We had marked that we didn’t want a child with special needs because as new parents, we didn’t have the capacity to deal with that. But if you’re familiar with foster care, that just means that the child has be diagnosed as a special needs child.

Our foster son had various medical needs and special needs. So we saw pretty much every single possible specialist imaginable for pediatrics. Their appointments were taking place in our home every day, sometimes two times a day. We had home visits from DSS, which again is social services. They are required to come into the home monthly to lay eyes on the children and to go over paperwork with the foster parents.

We were also driving an hour one-way for weekly visitation with their biological mom. Our visits with her think were an hour. So that weekly visit took up three hours in our day of driving and visitation. We were responsible to document any Medicaid medication that was given and to document every time that a child fell got a scratch. We had to be diligent to see to those details to keep up with our license while also trying to be a faithful in other significant areas: as new mom to my biological daughter, a wife, a friend, a sister and a daughter.

Since I worked part time, along with being a full time stay-at-home mom, all of these things fell on me. And as things in my home increased, the knowledge from others of how to come alongside for the long-run decreased. Not only did the high-demand needs of logistics increase, the trauma needs and special needs diagnosis increased as well.

Ann Maree
Wow. Yeah, somebody asked me if you checked that box about being willing to take in special needs, and I assumed that you did. But I didn’t know. I certainly didn’t consider that they hadn’t even tested for those types of diagnoses yet.

There’s another important point that I want to emphasize. The kids who end up in the foster care system are traumatized. I mean, that’s a given. Like David, your babies had significant devastating circumstances that impacted their heart, their mind, their soul, their body. And they were two and a half and under.

So trauma isn’t just a psychological diagnosis, for those who’ve experienced abuse. Trauma is anything that exceeds one’s capacity to cope. And this is the human condition, right? I mean, God told the first man and woman that they were not created to know evil, and your kids have known evil. So trauma isn’t some secular idea du jour that’s going to go away. If that were the case, then we wouldn’t even be meeting here? Why would the church even possibly try to minister to foster or adoptive families or the multitudes of children who grew up in an atmosphere where it’s anything but easy to cope?

So I mean, we in the church, recognize brokenness. We recognize sinful and fallen homes and relationships, right? So how do we tell kids that what they’re experiencing, well, that’s just not really a thing? But this is my soapbox. They have so little capacity for the life that they were born into sometimes. And that’s going to take a while to accommodate in your home, but also to care and then hopefully, to heal. Yeah, talk to me a little bit about that word, trauma.

Caroline
Yeah. And I also I think there’s kind of a misunderstanding but with good intentions. I’ve had a lot of people say, “Well, good thing they were so young when they came into your home, because they don’t remember. But I can tell you that they do remember because they think first of all that their biological family is the family that God intended them to be in. But due to brokenness, that family has been broken.

There’s research that even shows that children in utero are affected based on the birth mom’s circumstances. And so it doesn’t really depend on the age of the child. If there is trauma going on, they’re going to be affected. So trauma was not a word that I had really known about. I had heard about it, but I haven’t had any personal experience with trauma. Trauma is not a word that was used in most of my circles. I had no knowledge of the brain or neuroplasticity or even people being whole body. Meaning I just did not know how a traumatic event could be stored in the body and have lasting effects until healing work is done.

The more I read, the more foster parents I met, the more I researched, the more I was faced with the question: “Is Jesus enough to heal my children?” I had learned about theological principles in the Scripture that explains who Jesus was. The biblical principles I studied helped make sense of brokenness, which God makes into all good things. Learning about how God deals with the brokenness of the world has helped me and informed my thinking about the things that we should care about. Knowing what we believe about who Jesus is really important.

But at first, I didn’t know and had limited knowledge on was how Jesus cares for brokenness, how he cares for those who are suffering, how he cares for the vulnerable, how he loves the biological family of my children, how he hates evil, brokenness, abuse, and neglect. I did not know that Jesus designed the body and brain to respond a certain way when in danger, and how the body being triggered as the internal response to a threat, is not a sin, but actually how God designed our bodies to respond. These were just things that I didn’t know because I didn’t have any experience with them.

Ann Maree
Right. And you’re not alone in this, which is what again, why we’re doing this podcast, specifically about your experience. Because I want to dig in and hear these things. I think the church has benefited by hearing from you firsthand. But also, I think we’re living in these really incredibly interesting times when we can learn so much about the human brain and the body and the connection between the two.

Scripture teaches us that we are both a body and a soul, an inner and an outer man. And our own reformed distinctives do not separate those two things. They are not to be pitted against one another. The Psalmist tells us in 139, how both the inner and the outer man are perfectly made. There was a theologian Herman Bavinck who wrote “It is not the ear which hears but the spirit of man which hears through the ear.” So they work in tandem, they work together. We are both a body, but a body that has a soul, a whole person. Ezekiel 11:19-20, says, “I will give them his people integrity of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh so that they will follow my statutes, keep My ordinances and practice them.” So integrity, spirit, heart of stone, heart of flesh, our inner man qualities, while following his statutes, keeping his ordinances and practicing righteousness are outer man activities.

Paul does the same thing as Ezekiel and Romans 12:1-2, where he says, “Therefore brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is good and pleasing and the perfect will of God.” So again, presenting our bodies is an outer worship activity, while to be renewed in the mind, the brain, which is of course, the body, but inside the brain is a mind which is accomplishing an inner man activity, which is discernment. So when the body is working properly, like Paul says, in Ephesians, the inner and outer man are working in harmony. And I just wanted to show some of this Scripture that articulates whole person, body and soul, and the importance of addressing both in our care.

Caroline
Yeah, I think this has definitely been and continues to be the hardest concept to grasp, specifically in parenting. And this has been something that the Lord has been gracious in teaching us and giving us resources to understand. And we believe that Jesus is always enough and that the Bible is sufficient for all things.

We also believe that through common grace, the Lord has given us a lot of knowledge to professionals, who have studied the brain and how God designed the brain and body. So our daughter did something called neurofeedback, which means it’s basically a type of feedback that focuses on the activity of the brain. It’s a training method that is based on reinforcement learning. So where real time feedback is provided to the trainee, it’s supposed to reward and reinforce desired brain activity, and then inhibit unfavorable activity patterns.

So basically, we had kind of heard about this and had heard that Neurofeedback can help with things like trauma can help with that tension. She had ADHD, so we thought that it could help with that was having kind of a little bit of a hard time academically in school, and so we had decided to give it a try. So our hope in doing Neurofeedback was not for a heart change. We know that even if her brain changes, it’s not changing the heart. That was not our goal. We know that no therapy and medication or Neurofeedback can change any child’s heart. Jesus is and will ever be the only one who can transform a heart from death to life.

So Neurofeedback actually did help our daughter’s brain heal through neuroplasticity, she was able to get off her ADHD medication, which, if you’re a parent and have a child on ADHD meds, you know that it is just a long up and down process of trying new meds and then taking them off, and it affects a lot of different things. And for her specifically, it affected her sleep. So she was having to take melatonin every night to go to sleep. And she was able to stop taking that because she got off the ADHD medication.

She had started working above grade level academically. And because her brain is moving towards healing, she now has the capacity to be able to sit and process through why her body responds the way it does to certain things. So she’s seven. And we can actually have conversations asking her about why she feels like her body is responding this way. Or maybe her brain is saying this, but it’s not what we know to be true. And then also incorporating in what God says is true, as we’re talking with her.

So those things have drastically changed our home and have changed her. But ultimately, what we are asking God to do in the hearts of all the children in our home is for them to know Him as Savior, and that he would use all their lives for His kingdom and His glory. So what’s most important to us is that our kids know they know the Lord. And also we want their brains to be healed.

Ann Maree
Yeah, I was just actually reading John 4 or 5 this morning, when Jesus healed the paralytic at Bethesda. And it struck me that Jesus first healed his body so that he got up and walked. And then later in the passage, it says that the paralytic went back and found Jesus, and Jesus said, “Now go and sin no more so nothing worse happens to you.” And I thought, well, he’s not saying, “You sinned, and therefore you’re a paralytic,” because he addresses that in a different passage when the disciples asked “who sinned, him or his parents” in a different situation. So he’s not saying that “because you sinned, you were a paralytic.” What he was doing was he was addressing both the inner and outer man. He healed the outer man, and when the man came back, he reminded him and gave him truth: “Now going, don’t sin, so nothing worse happens. “And if you do this,” I’m going to challenge my audience here, if you go into the Gospels, and look at Jesus healings, you will see him do that almost every time. He healed the body, and he spoke specifically to the spirit, the soul of the person and their eternity concerns.

So anyway, I want to touch on something here that might get lost in how we think about foster care families. So these very difficult mind-body events for the children cause significant disruptions in their behavior and mood, which of course, causes significant disruption for the family and specifically for those providing care. That’s you. So you know, you had said earlier, you had no knowledge or understanding of trauma before, but now you have actually started experiencing the secondary trauma as well. Can you talk to us about that?

Caroline
Yeah. When you’re living with someone in your home, who is stuck in flight, fright, freeze or fawn mode it’s difficult. So understanding the mind and body affliction and how Jesus meets my kids’ needs led to a lot of relational tension in my life for a couple of years. Because I was learning to best parent my children in a trauma-informed and yet also a gospel-centered way. I longed for this simple idea of a normal family doing simple things like going to the store, a day trip to the zoo, a playdate, or even trying to hire a babysitter were just extremely hard for my children.

And as much as people would say, ”They will be fine. It will be okay.” I knew that the reality was the aftermath would not be fine. A simple outing could result in a two-hour complete screaming meltdown, if on our way home, I had to stop for gas without informing my kids because I didn’t say that we needed gas. Having a babysitter felt completely unrealistic during this time for a lot of reasons. Just 1) is that it’s hard to hire one person with three kids under three, and then 2) any change in routine brought disruption that would cause so much uncertainty for my children that their brains and their bodies just could not function properly the next day, which would affect the home.

So when I would share about the trauma that filled our home, the reality was that my home was far from a peaceful place. This is something that I often heard, that the home was supposed to be peaceful, and it was supposed to be a place of safety and rest, but our home felt very much the opposite. At the time, when I would share about some things that were going on in our home, I was met with, again, comments of just, “Oh, my kids that do that too,” or, “Well, but you guys are so wonderful” when I felt really the opposite of wonderful.

It was a shameful feeling to know that I was being viewed as supermom or any other comments that people would make when I was completely struggling. We ended up being one of the only foster families in our circles. And so I think we stood out in public. We were very young at the time. And so it appeared that we had twins, although our kids, they’re eight months apart now, but they don’t look anything alike, but people don’t know, so it looks like we have twins.

And just even in our large church, people knew our story and knew who we were. People loved our children, our church had so many faithful members who prayed, and I know still do, pray for us and our kids. And so they loved our children really well. I can specifically remember finding out some disturbing information about our children’s case mums before entering into Bible study. And again, with foster care, I think what can be difficult too is that you’re not allowed to talk about your child’s case with anyone because it’s confidential information for the children and for the birth family. So you, as the foster parent, are kind of going about your day, and then your phone rings, and you get a call about something that is very disturbing. And then you hang up and you’re expected to just go about your day. So that’s kind of what happened, I had gotten a call in the car and answered it and then had to kind of not ignore it, but felt like suck it up and walk in to just my normal day. So I could not share what I had just found out.

And as I walked into church, again, was just met with people who love my children really well and cared for them. But I just remember one person commented and said, “You’re going to keep him right, why would you not want to.” And I about burst into tears, because, of course, we wanted to keep them but that’s actually not what foster care is. Foster Care is not the primary place for adoption. The primary goal in foster care is not ever adoption, it’s always reunification. And I think that’s awesome misunderstanding that a lot of people have is that the goal is not to end up adopted it is for them to go back home to their birth parents. And so, I think to be met with a comment like that, again, just the best intentions of they loved my son, they wanted him to stay in our family. At those times, I felt very misunderstood.

And then as I walked into Bible study, we were sharing a prayer request. And I just remember wishing that the things that the ladies in my group were sharing, I just wished that those were things that I had to share because it felt normal. And I ended up having to go into the bathroom and ended up crying in the stall. Because the weight of what was going on in my home paired with the brokenness of the foster care system was overwhelming, and I just desperately want it to be understood even in the slightest way.

Ann Maree
That is really, really helpful to share. It’s not that there’s any malicious intent of the flippant kind of comments. I think we understand this intuitively, in grief, like if somebody in our family dies, and people make comments that hurt. You know, we all have experienced death at some point. So we learn what to say, what not to say. But not all of us are going to be foster parents and understand those dynamics. So it is really, really important that you share.

I’ll just emphasize one of them and that’s the silence of having to be silent and not being able to share. And that’s the culture of a Bible study is to be open and vulnerable and be able to share. But you are by law, unable to share the deepest, darkest hardest things in your heart. Silence is very harmful in this environment, but more so because you had to be quiet. And I bet you also, with all these young children are exhausted at this point and not just from physical demands, but the emotional demands and the roller coaster because you never know what that call is going to be and how it’s going to impact all of your relationships or which one is going to impact the biological family, the kids, the church, the court system. It’s just a lot to juggle.

Caroline
Yeah. And we pretty much lived like that for four years. So technically, again, in our state, the foster care and the court system worked perfectly as it shouldn’t be, kids would be either unified or have a plan of permanency within 12 months. So this was, again, like I said, the kids came in 2019, and then we had COVID thrown in the mix, which I know for lots of people all over the country, COVID really affected the court system. So that, and on top of some other things that had happened, had really dragged on our kids case for I think over three years.

So we had specific prayer requests that we would send out to people and I know that people were praying for us. And it was things that we were praying for, and God just kept saying, “NO”, to these specific requests that we had. So the stress of the system that we were living in increased.

And during that time, we also welcomed our second biological child into the family, which, again, normally is the time of exciting happiness of having a new baby. But this actually led my foster daughter into a tailspin of emotion and various behaviors. So bringing home, a baby was not a happy time. And it wasn’t that she was just adjusting. I think normally people say, “Oh, they’re just adjusting to a new member of the family.” But think for her. Watching a baby born from my body and being cared for and nursed and held was extremely triggering for her and hard for me also, as a postpartum mom.

My foster son’s needs only increased as he got older. And although he was progressing, it felt like the doctor appointments and the therapies were the same. Just meaning we were still having all the same sessions. I think at this point, we had five therapy sessions a week in our home with four kids aged four and under. And also with therapy sessions in our home. As the foster mom, you’re supposed to be in the sessions. So it’s not like the therapist is babysitting your child kind of thing. So you’re supposed to be present in the sessions even though all the other kids are at home.

Again, I had always heard that the home should be a peaceful place, and this house was far from that. The screaming trauma tantrums would occur for hours, almost daily, paired with therapists in and out of our home. And at this point, I would say we were in crisis, and we didn’t even know it at the time. I just kept telling myself that things would get better when our next court date would happen or more therapy or more time, but it didn’t.

 

And I’m not sure that the churches as a whole have the training or the knowledge to care for caregivers of those who are suffering from long-term trauma. It felt like a hopeless season that was marked by glimmers of hope through a couple of close friends who graciously dove into caring for me and my kids. Our children’s ministry director who had an intensive background in elementary education. She also played a really big role in caring for my children at church and my family. And then there were other members of our church who I knew prayed steadfastly for us really that were glimmers of hope that were extremely helpful.

Ann Maree
Yeah, I was not even remembering that it was 2020 as well. I’m trying to picture five days a week therapy visits during COVID.

Caroline
No, well actually during COVID, they all got moved to virtual. So we were doing them on a laptop.

Ann Maree
Five of you in front of a laptop, right? Yeah. I just it makes me cry to realize how much this was. I know we’re going to talk in our last episode very specifically about the helpful ways that people can come alongside foster families. This will be a good episode for the church leaders to hear. But what were some of the ways these friends that you were just talking about in this church family cared for you all during the season?

Caroline
Yeah, it sounds simple, but prayer. I really knew that when we asked for prayer, it was happening. I did start sending out kind of like a monthly newsletter for people who wanted to hear about our family and also know how they could pray for us. So people usually knew when we were going to court and how to pray. But specifically on court dates we had our pastor, our elder, and another pastor, friend of ours who texted me, every court date, without fail. That means that as the mom, they made sure to let me know that they were praying for me, that they loved us and that they loved our kids.

I worked for a campus ministry at the time, and my boss who worked at the church would text our family, and would call my husband and I to see how things went, and he knew when things did not go how I would have liked them to go. And not only my boss, but my whole staff team at our church still diligently prayed and cared for me.

Again, our children’s ministry director was very knowledgeable about child development and the various needs of children. She had an education background, which this was a huge blessing to me. My oldest daughter at the time was her preschool teacher, and she had some concerns about her academically. And there were not necessarily concerned what we were seeing at home at the time. So my children’s ministry director took our oldest daughter one Sunday morning, and she did a kindergarten evaluation on her at the time, just to give me a clearer picture of what she might need as she entered elementary school. She bent over backwards to care for my children and their needs by providing also a safe relationship with another adult where I could share with her the kind of support that they needed.

And also, she knew how to care for them. My kids hugged her every Sunday and developed a sweet relationship with her. And not only her but the whole team just deeply cared for my family. They were never looked upon as foster kids, but I feel like they were always looked upon as covenant children in our church. And then again, our community of just really close friends, like I mentioned, we are really young. So we were the first in our circle with children. Not just one, but three. And without fail, my friends did not miss a beat to care for our family. They babysat because they knew a bit about our home. They were the best babysitters for us. They cooked meals. They brought me coffee during therapy days. One of my friends came to court with me. Another friend drove with me two hours to sit with me during a visitation. They brought clothing for my kids; they educated themselves; they prayed; and they went mentored with me. They still do this today.

Ann Maree
It’s a great friend group. Thank you, and it shows the importance of our children, ministry director, teams, etc, of getting some sort of education. So that would be another thing that we could talk about that would be helpful in a church.

So and you mentioned that the goal of foster care doesn’t come with the intention that the foster parents will adopt the children, but rather that they will be reunited with their parents. And your case had a lot of ups and downs, I know. But it had a unique ending then that sometimes foster kids will reunite, but then they can also move on to a different location.

And then you can foster a different group of children with perhaps a quiet season in between. That gives a foster parent an opportunity to regroup and rest in between and reintroduce themselves to each other. There can be adoption, sure, and even perhaps more foster care. And that means that the family has grown now in number with adoption and foster kids. But anyway, all that to say there are many options. Caroline, can you just tell us what happened in your situation?

Caroline
Yeah, so even as you’re saying that I’m just remembering that when my husband and I decided to become foster parents, we had this idea to get as many kids in and out of our home as possible, which did not turn out to be the case at all. That’s not what happened. As my kids’ case was preparing to come to a close, we were met again, with God saying, “No” to what we really believed was good for our kids.

So our kids had been in care for over three years at this time. And at one point, our plan was adoption, and then according to what happened in our case, it switched back to reunification.

And then, at the end of 2021, we were presented with the idea to become legal guardians of our children. So again, that is not one that is recommended for children five and under which our children were at the time. That idea was discussed in our foster circles as something you should not do. But for various reasons, in our case, this is what legally was going to be the best option.

But at the end of 2021 in October, we became the legal guardians of our children, which meant at the time and even still, full adoption was not currently happening. Ours is called “permanent legal guardianship,” and so we still felt like that was something to celebrate that after three years, our kids were out of foster care, and were officially and legally part of our family.

Most importantly, because it cannot be overturned unless we are proven unfit, which means that we are having some sort of DSS involvement in our home, and then also that our bio mom would have to be proven fit. So it can vary state to state and through doing lots of research, and then praying and talking with others, this felt like what God had for our family, at least for now. People who had prayed alongside us for three years celebrated with us, and we were reminded of God’s faithfulness to our family over the years.

Our kids were baptized along with our second biological child and our congregation rejoiced with tears filled eyes. I can still remember and of looking out into our really large church and being able to see people rejoice alongside us. So I think what seems like a closing of something on the outside. Yes, our kids were out of foster care. This was a it was a big deal. But it was actually just the beginning of all new things to navigate for our family. And my body was in complete shock after the last three years.

Ann Maree
I can imagine. There’s a hypervigilance again, talking about never knowing when those calls will come. But also you went through a lot with the court case and not knowing the outcome, which didn’t make sense at many times, I’m sure. I’m really thankful, Caroline for your sharing this part of your journey.

I’m really thankful for who you are and what you’re doing. And I’m not going to put you on a pedestal. I know, you’re not supermom, but you really have loved well, and you are loving well. And you’ve given us a great glimpse inside your home and inside the home of a foster family with all the ups and downs and joys and heartaches.

Caroline
Thanks, Ann Maree.

Ann Maree
When we talk again, in the second episode of Caroline’s story, we’re going to discuss how these circumstances impact her personally. So we’re not only here, trying to understand how to take care of fostering families, foster children in the church, but now foster parents who, like we talked about now have this kind of secondary trauma that they have to heal from too. It’s not just the children in foster care. Everybody seems to experience it.

So the foster parents are traumatized sometimes in the proceedings as well. Just keep that in mind as you’re thinking about caring for them in your church. And remember that our definition for trauma is anything that exceeds one’s capacity to cope, and that can be different for each person. Especially each aged person, older and people have a little bit more capacity and learn better. Sometimes, not always. And younger children just don’t have those categories yet.

As a parent whose heart is invested in the children, it’s incredibly difficult to hear devastating news that negatively impacts them, such as in your situation. And it’s also traumatizing to live at hyper vigilance, like I just said for what the next bad news might be, and being on guard for house visitations or health scares. Thinking: “What if they get a scratch and it looks like you hurt them?” It’s probably constant adrenaline, but our bodies don’t always know how to recognize the difference to know if our trauma is direct or indirect. Foster care is directly impacting the children, but it’s indirectly impacting the rest of the family. I look forward to hearing from you again as I’m sure our audience does as well to hear more about your perspective in your circumstances.

So that’s all for today. Join us next time on the Safe to Hope podcast when we will talk with Jessica Galena. Jessica is a licensed professional and a biblical counselor at Fieldstone in Akron, Ohio. She is also a foster and adoptive parent and has personally experienced the healing power of God’s hand through difficulties. I think she’ll be really helpful to hear from in this particular story. Her wisdom for some of the issues we discussed with Caroline today will be enlightening and particularly as it relates to our discussion earlier about mind, body, and the whole person care we talked about. We talk about that often here at Help[H]er.

That’s all for today. Join us next time on the Safe to Hope podcast when we talk with expert contributor, Jessica Gallina. In that episode, Jessica and I will interact with Caroline’s experience. We’ll talk about foster care in general and then some of the methodology that Caroline found helpful in caring for her kids. I know I look forward to hearing Jessica’s perspective.

If you want to learn more about becoming a licensed foster parent, please visit your local county’s department of social services website. If you want to learn more about foster care, we suggest you start with some of the following book resources: Foster the Family by Jamie Men and Reframing Foster Care by Jason Johnson. If you’re interested in learning more about trauma and building connection as a care taker with a vulnerable child, we will include several resources in our show notes. As well, we will include a link if you are a foster parent looking for a support group in your area.

Safe to Hope is a production of Help[H]er. Our executive producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe to Hope podcast series.

Safe to Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of Help[H]er a 501(c)(3) that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for Help[H]er to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to helpherresources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information, or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals or advocacy needs, go to helpherresources.com

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Help[H]er. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

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