Shaping debate on religion in public life.

Let the Little Children Come to Me: Christian Approaches to Foster Care and Adoption

15 Sep 2016

Guest blogger Ruth Wilde works as Faith in Action Project Worker for the Student Christian Movement, as well as working freelance for Christian Peacemaker Teams UK. In her spare time, Ruth studies Theology at the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham. She is in the process to be approved for fostering.

My wife Ellie and I have always wanted to look after children who have no-one able to look after them. We considered adoption at first, because we, like many people, had ideas about adoption being inherently better than fostering by virtue of it being more ‘stable’ (or so we thought). Then Ellie suddenly felt what could be described in Christian terms as a call from God. It became apparent to us both, through speaking to other foster carers, and through reading and watching programmes about fostering, that we may well have a vocation to fostering.

We now understand the need for and importance of both fostering and adoption, depending on the child’s circumstances, and how both can help a child to grow and develop in a healthy, secure environment. We also learnt that there is a severe lack of foster carers in the UK. Aristotle once said, ‘Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation’. We certainly felt that the need was for foster carers rather than adopters, and we also felt that, if God was calling us, we must be capable of doing it.

It is important for Christians to stay informed about the care system, so that we don’t make the same mistake as David Cameron who, in his final Queen’s Speech, announced a bill aimed at pushing adoption over fostering, claiming that he was ‘unashamedly pro adoption’. Back in 2011, he also shamefully said that children were ‘languishing’ in foster care, a statement which insulted foster carers and undermined the important work that they do.

According to a recent national survey, ‘nearly 70% of social care professionals do not support the government’s reforms.’ Sadly, the government reflects the ignorance which exists more generally about fostering and adoption. It hasn’t got everything wrong in the new bill, of course. It is absolutely right about the need to help care-leavers more. Nowadays, the average age at which young people leave the family home is around 25/26, and yet young people from far more difficult backgrounds are expected to be ready for leaving care at 18 (or as young as 16 if they sign themselves out).

However, the problem with the government’s bill is that they don’t seem to understand what foster care is about and for, and therefore they don’t understand why pushing for more adoption and quicker adoption is not the answer. There are many things which are wrong with the care system, but cutting more children off completely from their entire extended families (which is what happens in UK adoptions), is not always appropriate or the right solution.

Foster care, when done properly, can be just as long-term as adoption. The main difference is that children are able to remain in contact with their birth families, often through regular face-to-face contact. This means that the crisis of identity, which many adopted children have, and the drastic cutting off of not only parents but aunts, uncles and grandparents, is not necessary. Staying in contact with birth families, according to Kevin Williams, Chief Executive of the Fostering Network, is the best thing for most children. Children understand where they’ve come from, and they make their own minds up about their parents and other family members, all the while being brought up in a safer and more stable environment by a professional foster carer, who understands the child’s complex needs.

Which brings me to the other major point about foster care and its importance: the availability of professional training and support. Listening to a phone-in on the radio confirmed what I already knew to be true: the biggest problem for adopters is that they have little to no support post-adoption. When their adopted child begins to have behavioural issues linked to a difficult start in life, adopters are left on their own dealing with these complex problems. They are given no extra training. The fact that the government has no interest in this has prompted many experts to believe that the government’s new plans are really driven by a cynical desire to save money.

Foster carers are trained professionally and taught all of the latest research on child psychology and techniques for dealing with difficult behaviour. They continue to train throughout their careers. And yes, foster carers are considered as having a career and treated as professionals. This is good for the children, and it’s good for the carers themselves. The education and training given to foster carers is incredibly important for the stability and development of the children in their care. Adopters, who have children from similar difficult backgrounds to foster carers, are given almost none of the training that foster carers receive.

As Christians, it’s important that we advocate for what is best for the children themselves. We are after all followers of Jesus, who said ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’ (Matt 19:14). At another point, Jesus makes it clear that family is not always about blood ties, and can be made up of people with whom we voluntarily join together: ‘Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’ (Mark 3:35).

Instead of being, in the words of David Cameron, ‘unashamedly pro adoption’ and (by implication) against fostering, the government should, ‘be unashamedly pro foster care as well.’ The government should also crack down on for-profit agencies which give millions of pounds each year to their board and directors instead of making sure money is put back into supporting foster carers and children. So much of our tax payers’ money, which is meant to be spent on care of disadvantaged children, is lost to rich owners of for-profit agencies each year – to me, this is obscene.

God wants us to put children first and care for them, just as God cares for us. We need to call on the government to put children, not money, first, and to give both foster carers and adopters the right support and encouragement in the job that they do.

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