Reflections on Being a Foster Parent & Adoption
By Caleb & Meredith Cummings | August 17, 2023
Why do we feel called to foster and adopt?
Since high school, we individually had a desire to adopt and felt God would lead our family in that. When we met and began dating during our senior year of college, we had conversations early on in our relationship about our mutual desire to adopt. Looking back on those conversations, our thoughts regarding adoption were much more naively idealized than they are now that we are walking through the process of fostering and adopting. While we considered adopting years prior, we had not considered fostering until a few years ago. Meredith works as a registered nurse in pediatric surgery and for years has seen firsthand and cared for children coming in with non-accidental trauma (NAT). At one point during 2020, over several weeks she took care of multiple kids coming in for NAT’s. The children would come up to her floor alone or with a police officer, go to the operating room for emergency surgery, and then wake up to a Department of Children’s Services (DCS) social worker and her. Meredith came home one day absolutely broken over these children and the overwhelming need for foster homes. We both asked, “Why have we never considered fostering?” We were convicted and compelled by passages in Scripture such as James 1:27 (“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…”) Isaiah 1:17 (“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression: bring justice to the fatherless…”), and Psalm 68:6 (“God sets the lonely in families.”). We prayed through fostering and quickly sensed the Lord saying, “Yes.” Author and pastor Brian Mavis says, “Our homes are the most underutilized physical resource in the Kingdom of God.” We desired then and now that God would use our family and home for His glory and to accomplish His purposes.
How did we get started?
We saw the need and the commands in Scripture and answered the call. “Now what?” we asked. We knew God was leading us to foster but had no idea where to start. This sounds funny now (we are laughing while typing this) – we google searched, “How to become a foster parent in Tennessee.” That Google search sent us to the Tennessee DCS website where we filled out and submitted an interest form. From there, we were contacted by our Foster Parent Support Worker (FPSW) who helped us enroll in 6 weeks of courses. After completing the courses, we began the home study process. This was broken down into three home studies over the course of a couple of months. After we passed our home studies, our home was entered into the DCS Placement System as “open,” and we began receiving calls that afternoon from children in need of a home, a place to belong.
On a side note, we are passionate about helping families start the fostering process. We walk with couples as they begin the paperwork and classes, so they have a resource to ask questions and get help – something we wish we had when we started our journey. We love sitting down and having coffee or a meal with individuals and couples interested in fostering and/or adopting. If you’re reading this and want to know more, please reach out to us. It would be our joy to get together and talk with you!
What support was/is needed?
We foster through DCS, though there are several organizations and non-profits you can go through in Tennessee. DCS has provided several avenues of support for us, along with Foster 180 and local churches that have WRAP around ministries for foster families (something we dream and hope for our church to engage in). For example, we accepted a baby, and Journey Church in Lebanon provided a stroller, baby bathtub, and diapers for us. We accepted a sibling set, and Foster 180 along with other local churches gifted them clothes and shoes. We have had two newborns, a 6-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 15-year-old, and a 16-year-old. It isn’t always possible for foster families to be prepared for every child that may enter their home, and often we are given only a couple of hours’ notice of a child’s arrival, so support is incredibly helpful and appreciated upon accepting a placement. We are so blessed to have a sweet, encouraging, and supportive community of friends and family. What does it practically look like to serve a foster family? Oliver and Savannah Payne brought us a meal when we brought home a 3-day-old. Neely and Andrew Cotton entirely unprompted sent us hundreds of diapers and wipes. The Clays watched Hadley as we were completing our 6 weeks of courses. The Galloways kept our foster child so we could go to an out-of-town wedding. Mary Bunn cried with us as a foster child very unexpectedly went to another home. The Rodriguez family has watched our children during court, DCS meetings, appointments, and so on. These are just to name a few, though many others have sacrificially supported us with their time and resources and hundreds more through prayer. We have felt the immense gift of a supportive community and have been so loved and cared for by our local church.
How has our perspective changed?
We are not special, we are willing. We cannot emphasize this enough. You do not have to be “special” to foster or adopt, just willing. Fostering is incredibly difficult – one of the hardest things that we have ever done. It is easy to romanticize fostering and adoption, but these children do not come to us happy, healthy, and whole. They come broken, with a history marked by trauma, and have been ripped away from everyone they know. Our home is fuller at the cost of another parent losing their child(ren). People say and ask well-intentioned, hurtful things. Hearing that we are amazing or special people and that others “could never do this” stings and is isolating. Statements like these infer that you must be a special or elite-status person or family, which is far from true. Your biological child(ren) experiences second-hand trauma from your foster child(ren)’s first-hand trauma. Children feel the pain of gaining and losing a sibling overnight and never seeing them again. They also see what it looks like to love unconditionally for as much time as they have. We hear a lot, “When life calms down one day, we’d love to foster.” We would press back and say life is going to stay busy – our life is far from calm right now. It is a matter of saying “yes” and realizing that your “yes” will come with great sacrifice and greater joy. Sacrifice comes on the path of obedience. We cannot do this in our own strength. God equips us as we come to Him with needy, humble, open hands and hearts that are ready to say “yes” again and again to His mission. Everyone has a role to play in this mission – not everyone’s role should be the same. There is a call on our lives, and it is not to be comfortable. It is to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus.
If you would like to find out more about the fostering/adoption process or how to support others, please send an email to Caleb Cummings.