Foster and adoptive children in your children’s ministry

How to meet their unique needs

By Wendy Kittlitz

Once upon a time, our church welcomed its first baby by adoption. She was black, in a sea of little white faces. Gradually, other families began welcoming children into their homes. Some were adopted, some fostered and others were birth children with special needs. Suddenly, one day, we looked around and realized that fully one-third of the children in our children’s programs fell into one of these groups! And most of the others were siblings of these children.

This presented some challenges! Some children had learning difficulties, some had emotional challenges, some were still figuring out what it meant to be part of a family, and some had significant behavioural issues.

Recently, a story was related that broke some of our hearts: an adoptive parent was asked not to bring their child to Sunday school anymore because he was too disruptive.

Children’s pastors and ministry leaders can be an enormous support to foster and adoptive families, but they often miss this opportunity simply because they do not understand the unique needs of these families.

Here are a few practical suggestions to help you support foster and adoptive children in your children’s program:

  1. Invite an adoptive or foster parent (or a few) to share with your leaders some of the unique circumstances they face in parenting their children. Brainstorm together how Sunday school teachers might use some of the strategies these adoptive parents have learned for managing the children’s behaviours.
  2. Consistency is extremely important to these children. Whenever possible, having the same teacher or leader will improve learning.
  3. Educate yourself about some basic issues in adoption, such as the need for attachment, children’s fears, grief and loss, transracial adoption, how God views adoption, etc. Think about how you can apply this learning to your programming.
  4. Teach your Sunday school children to be compassionate toward the needs of others. Maybe you could “adopt” an orphanage or support a program through Compassion Canada or World Vision to increase understanding of the larger needs of children around the world.
  5. Become aware of some common issues in the lives of waiting children: fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), autism, sensory processing difficulties, the effect of trauma on brain development, etc. You need not be an expert, but learn a little so you are at least conversant with the terms. One very helpful place to start is
  6. Understand that your children’s programs are vitally important to both the children and the parents you serve. The children need a safe place to learn about God and interact positively with other children. Their parents need the respite to have a time to worship and reconnect with God without having to supervise their child. Your ministry matters and makes a real difference to these families!
  7. Other educational settings (schools) can sometimes add to the stresses these families experience. They often have to advocate for the services their children need, while helping the children navigate misunderstandings and prejudice amongst their peers. If church programs can be a place where children are accepted and integrated, that is a tremendous gift to them and their families.

Anything you can do to learn more about these issues and increase understanding within your ministry will help make the church a more hospitable place for foster and adoptive families.

James reminds us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows . . .” (James 1:27). Thank you from all these families for whatever you can do to make your church a family that includes and nurtures those who so need the love of God.

Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries for Focus on the Family Canada. She has worked as an adoption professional for 15 years and is also an adoptive mom.