During my time working as a case manager for youth in foster care, I wondered and prayed about how the Lord might use his church and his people to care for children in need. I met kids of all ages who needed a safe, secure, and loving home and family in order to heal and to grow. Plenty of friends at church had children who were loved and thriving, and I couldn’t help but wish I could plant one of these foster children in each of their homes to give them safety and love among people who knew and loved the Lord.
Fast forward six years, and I started to hear from families in our congregation at TCS who were feeling called to become foster parents themselves. The Lord had answered my prayer in his timing and in his way, and now I was in a position on staff to help prepare our church to support these families as they move forward in this important ministry work.
An organization called Promise686 has developed a ministry model for churches to support foster and adoptive families – both inside and outside their congregations. The ultimate goal of Promise686 and Olive Crest is to see more Christian families engaged as foster and adoptive parents. In the coming months, we’ll begin to offer informational trainings to develop a Family Advocacy Ministry (FAM) in our congregation to support individual foster families through localized Care Communities.
Since we already have several families who feel called to this work (you’ll hear from some of them below!), our initial goal would be to recruit volunteers to support those families. We will also pray that God might lead others to consider becoming foster families once they participate or volunteer in a Care Community. It’s also an opportunity for outreach, as we could eventually provide Care Communities to foster families outside our church, perhaps who don’t have a church home of their own.
I am excited for the opportunity to follow our congregants into service rather than blazing a new trail or starting from scratch, and I am looking forward to the ways the Lord will use our church to care for those in need. I encourage you to read on to hear from some of the families in our congregation who are engaging in this work: Marius & Monica Eugenio, Alex & Hannah McIlhargey, and April & Robbie Cowgill.
What needs are there in Seattle for foster care?
Eugenio: I don’t know exact numbers, but it’s big and growing each year. There are more kids needing homes than homes available, so it’s not uncommon for children to have to stay overnight in hotels or even in the DCYF offices until a placement is found. I’ve also heard that homes that can accept teens and sibling sets is the largest need.
McIlhargey: There are thousands of children in foster care in the state of Washington. I don’t know the exact number located in the city of Seattle, but it is high. The greatest need is for foster parents, but second to that is the need for supporting people who are already fostering. I think one of the other great needs is awareness. This is such a largely hidden issue, but these kids are everywhere and they need us to know that they exist.
How is Covid impacting foster kids in Seattle?
Eugenio: Most impactful is that children are not able to spend time with their biological families in person, causing more uncertainty and emotional trauma. All visits with families, social workers, advocates, etc. are happening virtually right now. King County courts are also currently closed except for emergency hearings, so that’s causing the time in foster care to lengthen for many kids.
McIlhargey: [To elaborate on the effects of court closures:] A kid who was placed in foster care as an infant has court appointments to review the case every few months. In those court appointments they review what’s happening with the bio family and how the placement is going, Then they ultimately decide if parental rights will be terminated (meaning the child is available for adoption) or if they’ll be going home to their biological families and when. Without these court dates, children and families are in limbo with no end in sight of when they might get to be back with their parents again. You can imagine how scary and destabilizing this might be.
What initially got you interested in being a foster parent?
Eugenio: I heard of the huge need for foster homes in King County soon after we moved to Seattle in 2016. Initially, it was a quick thought of “hmm maybe we could do that someday,” but eventually it felt like a nagging burden on my heart. Marius was really surprised when I told him about it—we had two young kids and were living in a tiny apartment at the time. But we both prayed about it over the next few months and got to the point where it felt disobedient to God to not pursue it. We were a bit hesitant but felt that just starting the process of becoming licensed would be telling God that we trust His plans for our family.
McIlhargey: Alex and I have both always had an inkling that fostering was something we were called to and equipped for. My work as a social worker and then as a therapist working predominantly with kids in the system only kindled that inkling into a fire. There is such a great need for people who are willing to engage with children who have been wounded, and families who need a little extra support. I have felt that pull on my heart strings over and over again.
Cowgill: The combination of God’s call to care for the orphan along with the very real need that we see and hear about in our state and country:
25,000 kids age out of the foster system in the US every year. 40% will go on to become homeless, 60% will struggle with substance abuse, 70% of women will be pregnant by the time they are 21. There are currently ~11,500 children in the foster can system in WA. There are 5,393 churches in WA, it’s exciting to think that if 2 families from each church fostered a child, the problem would be solved!
How has the process been for you so far in becoming and/or being a foster parent?
Eugenio: It’s a lot of work! It’s tons of time and paperwork to get licensed, to maintain licensing, and to keep up with the system when you have a placement. We are licensed through a private agency, and they are invaluable in helping us navigate all the paperwork, laws, and educational requirements, as well as liaising between us and the state.
McIlhargey: So far we haven’t done very much! Mostly we’ve just filled out a lot of paperwork which for sure isn’t my forte. It has, however, continued to make me excited to welcome children into our home.
How do you understand God’s heart for these children?
Eugenio: They are His children and, oh, so precious to Him. This is something I continue to learn—to see these children through His eyes and love them as He does. I naively thought there would be an instantaneous love and bond like you have with a biological child at birth, but these kids often come from really dark places, are hurting and scared, and don’t have the capacity to give back emotionally right away. I’m not loving them because they can love me back. I’m not caring for them because they can appreciate it and thank me. I’m doing it because God values them and loves them and calls me to do so also.
McIlhargey: God makes it clear that he has a heart for children in Mark 19:14 when he invites the children to come to him and commands us not to hinder them. He says that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them. The Bible is also explicit in the Old (Deuteronomy 10:18 and 14:29) and New Testaments (James 1:27) that loving God means caring for the widow and the orphan. He is not blind to their pain and brokenness the same way he is not blind to ours, and he calls us to seek them out and care for both their physical and emotional needs.
How can our church family support and pray for you as a foster parent? As a family? These (potential) foster children in our midst?
Eugenio: The early days with a new placement are overwhelming—sending a meal, offering to babysit the other kids during a doctor appointment, or helping in any way that can take a little off the foster parents’ plate would be a practical way of offering support during those first few crazy weeks. Once things settle, it can be lonely. We don’t know any other foster families outside of our agency. A text or email checking in goes a long way. Anything that makes us feel “seen” is energizing to us. Our church did such a beautiful job welcoming and including our foster daughter when she was with us. Even though these children may only be with us for a short time, I think it’s important for the church to invest in getting to know them and building relationships with them. And, of course, we all need prayer—for the child’s family situation, for healing, for relationships, for us to parent and love well, for spiritual strength and renewal, and for this all to bear fruit.
McIlhargey: I think the biggest way you can support us as a parent and a family is through prayer, for wisdom, grace and endurance. While we haven’t actually started parenting these children, we know that it will be hard. I also think that asking questions is a great way to support us. As this is foreign to a lot of people I know we’d feel loved if people showed a desire to understand us and the kiddos we bring into our home. I also imagine a time will come when we need tangible things like diapers, or hand me downs, but we’re not there yet.
Cowgill: We are still very early in the process and are needing to have some remodeling work done on our house before we can get licensed as a foster family. We would love prayer for that to come together soon!
Anything else you would want us to know?
Eugenio: Being a foster parent is incredibly humbling and sanctifying, and being involved in the foster care system is a daily reminder of our broken world and need for a Savior. Beyond caring for the children, the opportunity to build relationships with biological families and share God’s love, grace, and forgiveness with them is also really challenging and a reason why we do this.
McIlhargey: I think just that walking the path of choosing to see the darkest parts of humanity and engaging them can be so lonely. I know this from my work as a therapist for foster kids. I think to pursue, know, and not shy away from this issue and the issues it will inevitably stir in the hearts of our congregation is integral. I also think that it could be valuable to know that the kids that are placed with us will not necessarily be Christians, or know who God is and that welcoming them into our body is a great way to show them that they are loved and cherished not only by us as people but by He who has overcome the world.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.