Could your church be part of the welcome?

Making your church a haven for vulnerable young people

24th September 2019

As head of engagement at Christian charity, Home for Good, Kirsty Wordsworth has seen how important a safe and welcoming church can be in providing a supportive community to families who adopt and foster. In this blog, Kirsty gives an insight into how churches can best support the needs of children who have often had a difficult start in life.

Jesus said, ‘whoever welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me’ (Matthew 18:5). This year, it is estimated that 40,000 children and young people will enter the care system in the UK. Each one is in need of a welcome – perhaps a bed for the night or a refuge for a while, or it may be that they need a home for good.

Home for Good believes the church is ideally placed to offer this welcome as families within our congregations step forward to foster or adopt, opening their homes and hearts to care for some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our society.

Children come into care for a variety of reasons, but all have suffered trauma and loss, and many have experienced abuse or neglect. This will understandably have an effect on every child. Some may struggle with trust, confidence or building appropriate relationships. Some may have health issues, developmental delays or additional needs. Some may not be able to cope with challenges and big emotions, and this will present in their behaviour.

For foster carers and adoptive parents to provide the consistent and therapeutic care that vulnerable children need will take dedication and sacrificial love, and ideally, an understanding and committed support network. That’s where their church can play such a crucial role.

Who better to offer love, grace and acceptance than the family of God, who have each received this in abundance themselves?

Who better to offer care, understanding and hope than the people of God, who all know what it is to be broken?

Who better to offer practical and prayerful support than the community of God, who long to serve one another?

Who better to ensure a warm welcome for the most vulnerable than the children of God, who have each been welcomed by the everlasting Father Himself?

Here are five ideas to inspire your church, from five real life stories.

1) Offer practical support in the early stages

“We received so much encouragement and prayer as we started the assessment process, and one church member looked after our birth children so we could attend all the preparation workshops. We had DIY help to get our house ready, and we’ve had meals provided and the loan of clothes and toys as children have come into our home. We’ve been so touched that our church has been sensitive to our change in lifestyle, it makes a big difference to know people are standing with us!”

Milly and Rob, foster carers

2) Respond generously to a specific need

“Although we’ll never know the extent of our little boy’s early experiences, it’s clear he hadn’t always eaten regularly. Seeing food being prepared caused him extreme anxiety. Mealtimes became impossible. I called our church leader in desperation and they were amazing. They organised meals for us for ten days straight, and ensured that food arrived at our door hot and ready to eat. Removing the element of food preparation completely broke the cycle of stress for our little boy and we could begin to gain his trust. What our church did was so simple, but there are no words to explain the difference it made for our family.”

Jill, adoptive parent

3) Understand the unique needs of each child

“We have cared for more than 20 children over the past decade and our church has welcomed each one. Recently, a little boy was placed with us who had experienced extensive trauma and struggled with extremely challenging behaviour. We questioned whether we could even take him to church but every week we were reassured that we were welcome. People gave him space when he needed and engaged him when he was able to respond. Nobody stared or set unrealistic expectations. They just accepted him.”

Tim, foster carer

4) Prioritise the safety of vulnerable children

Sadly, we had to leave our last church when they started using Facebook to broadcast services live. We explained the risks of him being on social media but their solution was that we should just keep him to the side – meaning he could never engage in services with other children. Our church now is completely different. They do all they can to make us feel welcome and valued and reviewed all their policies with us so we knew he would be safe. It has restored my faith in church!”

Helen, adoptive parent

5) Don’t give up

“Our girls came home aged four and five. Both have a significant developmental delay and attachment difficulties, and we knew that parenting them was not going to be easy. Years later we have certainly been proven right, but we are committed to our daughters and we are so grateful to friends at church who are committed to them too. We couldn’t do this without the emotional and practical support they give us – they understand there are no ‘quick fixes’ and they’re in it for the long haul.”

Carol, adoptive parent

The kind of support each family needs will vary, depending on their circumstances, their capacity and their children. It may fluctuate over time as children grow and cope with new and different challenges, or as foster placements come and go.

Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but we can all be part of ensuring that every foster or adoptive family is surrounded by love and support at every point of their journey. At Home for Good, we’re committing to supporting churches to offer a safe space and a place of community to these very special families. You can find out more at www.homeforgood.org.uk