What’s one of the greatest needs for fostering families? Respite care. If you and your family are not called or ready to foster, you can still be a part of this Kingdom work by providing respite care for fostering families. Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber interview Becca Browning on what it’s like being respite family. In this episode, you’ll hear the challenges and immeasurable rewards of being a respite family and the practical benefits for the foster family and the child.

Discover ways you can support foster families and their children at www.sendrelief.org.

Transcript

Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years, or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.

Tera Melber: Welcome back. When a family steps into the waters of foster care and adoption, they share about the tremendous rewards, but there are also great challenges. But something that we can do to help foster and adoptive families is to be able to provide practical, tangible help with their children.

Tera Melber: So, for many reasons, Lynette, not everyone is called to full on foster or adopt, but we certainly can do something. And one of the most generous, loving gifts that we hear from foster families all the time is how much they need respite care.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah. Respite care provides a much needed break for foster families. And it’s a wonderful way to get to know these kids, to love on them, and to encourage families at the same time. When I think of respite care, the picture that comes to mind is when the Israelites are in battle. And so as long as Moses’s arms are raised toward the Lord, God’s people advance.

Lynette Ezell: But you know that tingling, my arms are asleep feeling? So Moses, his arms would grow weary, and he couldn’t keep his arms raised, and the Lord was showing them you need support. And so, Aaron and men of God, the elders, would come and hold up Moses’s arms. And so, our point today is, we all grow weary.

Tera Melber: That’s right. And for families that want to be able to stay in the arena of foster care and keep on going, even when it’s hard, they have to have support. They need a loving community around them to help keep their arms raised.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah. And this topic brings us to our special guest today. You’re going to really be encouraged by her family’s story.

Tera Melber: I’m so excited about it.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah. Becca Browning and her family have answered the call to open their home and foster, but lately, the Lord has been using them to bless other foster families through respite care. So welcome, Becca. Thanks for being here today.

Becca Browning: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.

Tera Melber: So, Becca, we are really excited, because in the two years we’ve done this podcast, I don’t think we’ve done a podcast on respite care. We hear this from foster families all the time. So, why don’t we start by you telling us about your family, and how you first entered the world of foster care.

Becca Browning: Okay. Absolutely. Yes. So I am married to my husband Michael, and we have four children right now. They are ten, nine, six, and one, but we began our foster journey five years ago, almost, in March. So almost exactly five years ago. I had just become a stay at home mom. I had been teaching for nine years, and with my third, decided to stay home.

Becca Browning: And so the baby was just, she just turned one, and Michael and I just kind of had this calling for adoption, and we just couldn’t shake it. We knew we wanted a fourth child, but I had had some tough pregnancies, and we just didn’t feel like that was the route we were going to take as far as our fourth child. So we said, “Let’s start checking out adoption.”

Becca Browning: And we found ourselves at a two hour orientation that was actually about adoption, all kinds, international, domestic, as well as foster care. So they did an introduction to all of us and then broke us into groups with what we were interested in learning more about. And after the overview and listening about foster care, my husband and I, without talking, we looked at each other and said, “We need to go find out more about this.” So we went, and I think God was kind of pulling on both of our hearts after that two hours, and we got in the car and we were like, “Oh, shoot.”

Tera Melber: That’s the common response, every time the Lord calls us to something hard.

Becca Browning: And we truly, we really didn’t know much about foster care. We actually had one family that, which was the reason we had gone to this particular agency to find out, but we didn’t know a lot about it. And so we decided to go to another two hour orientation on foster care with a different agency, because we wanted to make sure that this was something we were really supposed to pursue.

Becca Browning: So we went to another two hour training session, and then we went to one more. So we did six hours.

Lynette Ezell: Just to make sure.

Tera Melber: That’s right.

Becca Browning: Just to make sure. Because we were scared. At this moment, I had a five year old, a four year old, a one year old. I’d just become a stay at home mom. And yeah, so we went to the third and heard some stories, and we just kind of knew. That was where God was calling us. And we knew pretty quickly that we were going to do the fostering, but we still had this heart for adoption.

Becca Browning: So we didn’t know what that was gonna look like. So we signed up with this one agency in particular we’d been very happy with, and we did the course to become approved foster families. And so, I don’t even remember the hours, but that was back in April, five years ago. And we spent the entire weekend doing the training, and from there, and I will say, at that training, when I was super scared and my one question was, how in the world are we going to love these kids and then say goodbye? How are we going to do this?

Becca Browning: And I remember asking, not out loud, thank goodness, because it was a room full of people. But the guy that was running it, and I asked him, I said, “This is my only concern. This is my fear.” And he looked at me and he was super sweet and he said, “I’m not trying to be rude, but it’s not about you.” And when he said that to me, I looked at my husband, and we just knew we were all in.

Becca Browning: So we finished that course. We did all of … I want to say, I can’t remember the exact timing of it all, but I know it was toward the end of April. And then we did the home studies, which was three visits to our home. We did all the medical background checks, all of that stuff, got our home ready and filled out paperwork, and we were approved toward the end of July, and five days later we got our first call for a placement.

Lynette Ezell: Wow.

Becca Browning: Yes. And so we got a little girl, a little two year old girl. At night, after we had tucked our kids in, I had kissed my little son, my oldest, and said goodnight, and put him in bed, because he was going to start kindergarten for the first time the next day.

Announcer: So of course you get a placement that night.

Becca Browning: We got a placement. We were painting our living room, so we were mid, we were literally painting the room and had to … We answered the call. They told us we had five minutes to make a decision and cleaned all of the paint and said “Yes, bring her here.” My son went off to kindergarten, not realizing he had a foster sister that had moved in while he was asleep.

Lynette Ezell: Oh my goodness. It really wasn’t about you, was it?

Tera Melber: Right.

Becca Browning: There was nothing about me. So we had that little girl, and long story short, we also got her two sisters two months later, and we had them for a total of about 17 months. And so, we had six kids under six with a lot of trauma and issues to work through and deal with. And it was a crazy hard experience. But something … In doing that, we realized that no matter where we were with foster care, we would have some part in it.

Becca Browning: And I can tell you I did not know anything about respite. I didn’t know what it meant until we became a foster family. And there is no way we would’ve been able to keep those girls, or take a placement three weeks after they moved out, had it not been for the respite care and the community care team that was placed around us during that time.

Lynette Ezell: Wow. That’s amazing. Because we really need people to keep our arms up and we don’t need to feel alone in this. And I think that’s a tactic of the enemy. So you had the girls, what, 17 months?

Becca Browning: We had them 17 months, and we definitely, we were lucky, we’re in a church group that they have an amazing fostering program. So they put a community care team around us and we were blessed with the most amazing respite family. And that family took on those girls as like an aunt and uncle. And so if we needed breaks or if we had certain things coming up with family, then they would take those girls. And it was great for the girls too, because they had more family to love on them. So.

Tera Melber: Right. Well, and I think when talking about that in this community of care from your church that came around you, that it really is vital, but the beauty of the respite family that was coming alongside you is that it was a constant in the girls’ lives. So it wasn’t rocking their world if you had to leave the state to go visit family and drop the girls off at their house, it was just, “Oh, we get to go see our friends.” So it wasn’t tacking on more traumatic situations for them to have to go to another family that they didn’t even know.

Becca Browning: Right. It’s almost like a vacation. They would go get to see their cousins, and they had their stuff there, and so, and we would try, and I know with our agency, they try to have the respite family at least see the kids once a month to keep that relationship.

Tera Melber: That’s smart.

Becca Browning: So it was just amazing. And birthday parties, that family would come too, and it just felt like more family.

Tera Melber: That sounds like it was done really, really well.

Becca Browning: It really was.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah. Just really made the transition much smoother, I’m sure. So, for a while there, you had six kids, six and under. But you shared with me that you just didn’t feel called to adoption.

Becca Browning: Okay. So, yes. And this situation, these children were actually, unfortunately, the parental rights were terminated, and so they became available for adoption. And typically, in foster care, the family that has had them becomes the family they ask first. And that was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had.

Lynette Ezell: Oh, I’m sure.

Becca Browning: It was definitely one of the hardest decisions, but we knew that God did not … They were not meant to be ours forever. We also just felt very strongly that this was our first placement, and that we were called to foster. And so we decided that we were not going to adopt, and God worked out, in all of these amazing ways, and we actually know the family that adopted them, and we are the girls’ godparents.

Lynette Ezell: Oh, that’s just beautiful. I love that. I’m glad you shared that. I love that part of your story.

Becca Browning: It’s amazing. It’s amazing. That was actually six years of work, because it’s just a really cool story, and the girls are doing so well, and they are in their forever, perfect family for them. So it was a great ending to a very tough story.

Lynette Ezell: Well, Becca, I really appreciate your transparency in saying, “We feel called to foster,” because we have families tell us that, and that’s a calling. Absolutely. And so, I know one of your posts, you’d mentioned it earlier, but one of your posts, you said, “I didn’t even know what respite meant when we begin this journey.” And so, kind of, what kind of training, or, let’s back up. What do respite families, how do they support foster families?

Becca Browning: Okay, so, and yeah, the training, I’m not quite sure, because it’s different in every state, but for us, and in Georgia, the state of Georgia, you have to, to be a respite family, you go through all of the training and the entire approval and licensed process as an actual foster family.

Lynette Ezell: Oh, okay.

Becca Browning: So we were a national … And you have to keep up your license, or your approval, each year. So there’s requirements each year. So you’ve got to resubmit some paperwork. It’s not as much as when you start in the beginning, and you have to keep up some training hours. So we do that. We are completely approved as a full time foster family.

Lynette Ezell: Well, I know with three kids in your home, your days are super busy, because I’ve been talking with you.

Tera Melber: Well, they’ve got four, now. Because they got that baby.

Lynette Ezell: Well, you have four, now, yeah. That’s right.

Becca Browning: Oh, yeah, and somewhere in all of that, a fourth baby came.

Lynette Ezell: I think that happened to me somewhere in all of that. I ended up with six kids. Yeah. But how much time does it take to help a foster family organically, on Monday morning, or on a weekend? What does it look like?

Becca Browning: So, it’s different depending, but we typically have found, so now we’ve been doing respite for probably two and a half years. And so, the thing that’s good about respite is there is flexibility to it. So you can say no, if it doesn’t work for your schedule, but we typically have found that respite is needed for weekends or holidays.

Lynette Ezell: Oh, yeah.

Becca Browning: So, I don’t know that a lot of people know this, but first of all, I personally think every foster family needs to take a vacation without their foster children. They need that break. Sometimes they need that break with just their family, with their biological kids, to give them that time. Because often, these kids coming in are requiring a lot of attention. They have a lot of needs, they have a lot of therapies and just appointments. So I think that’s so important.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah. And you saying that, just everyone listen, just take the guilt away, because you do need time.

Becca Browning: You have to take the guilt away.

Lynette Ezell: You do.

Becca Browning: Just a quick, this is a little side note, but we had had a trip to Disney planned when we had the girls, and it was not going to work for us to take a two and three-year-old and another two-year-old to Disney World. And so, we left the three little ones, and we took one of the foster children, and are our two older ones.

Becca Browning: But a lot of people don’t know that just because they’re in the foster home, the foster parents don’t have the ability to just take those kids with them across state lines. So you have to have the approval of defects and you have to have the approval of the biological parents because they still have their rights. And, sadly, oftentimes, the biological parents will not give permission for the kids to go on a trip or a vacation with their foster family.

Becca Browning: So either the foster family has to cancel the vacation or they have to find respite for those kids. So we come in, and we fill that and help them so that they can go on those trips. And so I would say we get called frequently, I think, because we say yes so often. I also think because I have flexibility, and being available during school days and stuff, but a lot of times, we are doing respite on holidays or weekends or long weekends.

Tera Melber: And that’s a sacrifice in itself.

Lynette Ezell: It is.

Lynette Ezell: So, which is an incredible gift to a foster family. But to say, “Thanksgiving week, I’m going to add three extra kids to my mix.”

Becca Browning: Yes. I know, and honestly, I think we’ve had foster kids with us the past three, no, maybe five Thanksgivings.

Lynette Ezell: Wow.

Becca Browning: Maybe one we didn’t. But yes, we did respite this Thanksgiving for two little kiddos, because again, they didn’t have permission to travel with their foster family, and we just know, yes, it’s crazy, but it’s one week of our lives, and we just know how important it is, and we know we have this fun, great family environment where my husband’s home that week with me, and we can just love on them, and give them a happy, the happiest Thanksgiving break that they can so they can just enjoy it and be kids and not worry about things.

Lynette Ezell: Well, and it really, it teaches your kids that just, you just love … One of your posts, you said, one that caught my eye, and the way you and I met was, I read, you had posted, “We are going to love.” You made the decision as a family. “We are going to love all children the Lord brings into our home.” And you were talking about doing respite care. Because you don’t know who they are until they get there sometimes. But you have trained your children to love others.

Tera Melber: And I have to tell you, from a personal note, one of our children who lived in an orphanage overseas was always at Christmas and Thanksgiving. They always had to go to a foster family, or it was really respite, for those holidays. And those were some of our child’s most fond memories of a really stinky, hard part of their life.

Tera Melber: Not that it was all stinky, but it was just, it was really like a reprieve and a vacation and something really fun to look forward to. And our child went to the same foster family every time and still has these amazing memories, like, “You’ll never believe what I got to do,” which was so outside of the norm.

Tera Melber: And so, from personal experience, I know that it’s a difference maker. And so I think it’s really neat that you’re doing that. It not only blesses the foster family to not have that worry, but the children will have memories, and you’ll have impact on them that they’ll take into adulthood.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah. And Becca, Tera’s right. One of our children also came from overseas and got to go to a family and see Christmas and be a part of their Christmas, and he still, at 20 years old, talks about that, and he was young when that started, was introduced to his life, and it just means the world to him. So we encourage you. Yeah.

Tera Melber: That’s really, really neat. What are some of the challenges that you face? Because when you were talking about your three that you had in your home and that they had a lot of challenges due to trauma, when you have kids that have complex developmental trauma, and then they come into your home, and maybe they don’t know you very well, do they have behavioral issues that you’re dealing with, or challenges where, sometimes, your kids don’t really want them there? I don’t know. I’m just asking. What are some of the challenges that you face?

Becca Browning: Absolutely. And so, and honestly, so, a lot of ours are the weekends. So it’s so short enough, it’s almost like that honeymoon stage.

Tera Melber: That’s good.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah, I’m up for that.

Becca Browning: So, typically, we don’t experience that. And now, we also, we’ve had the same kids over and over, so they’re pretty comfortable, and the fighting is more like sibling fighting.

Tera Melber: That’s good and bad.

Becca Browning: Yeah. And my kids are so used to this now. They are just, they give up their toys, their beds. They just, it’s just part of their lives. So that’s been fine. I think some of it, I think the challenges, sometimes, are that we, if they are coming in with behavioral issues, which we’ve never ever had an issue. If there’s something that we know, like, the foster families are always very good about telling us what to look out for.

Lynette Ezell: Oh, that’s a good point. Yeah.

Becca Browning: We just did respite for a biter. He is a biter, and we have a 20-month-old, and so we just, it was busy. We had to keep an eye on him, but we just, we were aware to watch it so that we were able to keep anything from happening. But I think the challenging part is that we don’t know the whole story, often. So we don’t necessarily know what’s going to set the child off and go have a total meltdown.

Becca Browning: So we just try to do the best we can to just love on them through that. So that, I think, is challenging, because you do, they come in and they just grab your heart and you love, you know a little bit about them, but you also know how hard it is. And so, you don’t. You don’t necessarily know how to comfort them, or if they’re screaming, crying, and kicking, and throwing, it’s not like I have any experience with that child and how to handle it.

Becca Browning: So we just try and do the best we can and we do. We keep up with trainings. So I do think the trainings are important, and that if you know that you are going to be welcoming children into your home with behavioral issues, or certain stuff, that you try and keep up with training to learn about how to handle the situations.

Becca Browning: I think some of the other challenges, too, with the respite, not to say that we’re like the super fun family, but because we are a break, sometimes, from when they’re home and having all these hard issues and then they get to come to us for two or three days, and it’s fun, and exciting, because everything’s new. I think it’s kind of challenging sometimes when they go home, because it’s just, they just have a vacation.

Becca Browning: So we also try to not make it just fun vacation, but we try to keep … I always talk with the foster mom or dad before they come to make sure that we know their rules and that we are trying to follow with whatever guidelines and routines they’ve set up for them to make it so that they’re not just coming here and saying, “Oh, I eat cookies for dinner,” and I’m like, “Okay, whatever.”

Tera Melber: And stayed at till 12 o’clock.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah, exactly.

Becca Browning: Yeah. So we try to, if, for instance, in the last respite situation, the mom had been dealing with some issues with the little girl and about her jeans, and so I made sure, little girl wanted to wear all of our leggings, and we said, “No, so and so, your foster mom and I,” we don’t call her that, but, “We’re friends, and we talked to make sure that we’re looking out for the best, and we want to make sure that you’re following the rules,” and all this stuff. So we try and do that often.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah, that’s a great point, to just … Because I know, even as a grandparent, I can come in and my husband and I can get all of our grandkids wild and then we leave, and that doesn’t help my daughters at all. So same kind of concept. But I love that, to keep kind of the rules parallel, kind of keep them the same as much as you can. And that really, you don’t want to send home little monsters after you’ve had them for a while.

Becca Browning: No, no. They are having to learn how to … The transitions for them, typically, are hard anyways. So all of that is, yeah, and I don’t know if this is gonna lead me into something else, but that’s what I love so much about the respite, is these families that are fostering, that have now come into our lives, and we’ve met, and they have become like family to us, too.

Lynette Ezell: Oh, I love it.

Becca Browning: So, I adore all of them, and so we’ve built new relationships with people that we otherwise would never have met.

Lynette Ezell: Well, if you want, I’m just going to share with everyone, if you want to follow Becca, it’s @beccabrownliving on Instagram, and your posts are so sweet, and you’re just very real. And I love that about you. And just, I think you would say the most rewarding thing about respite care are the relationships, what you just shared.

Becca Browning: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Lynette Ezell: Well, if your family is not ready to foster or adopt, just prayerfully consider providing respite care to foster families. Maybe in your church, and in your community.

Tera Melber: And really, always keep in mind that opening your life and home to a foster family is building community and family, which is a picture of the body of Christ.

Lynette Ezell: Absolutely. The joys and rewards, as Becca shared, it has its challenges, but the rewards are immeasurable. So Becca, thanks for sharing with us today.

Becca Browning: Thank you so much for having me.

Announcer: You have been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources, visit sendrelief.org.

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