In North America, the need for foster and adoptive families has never been greater, and we are committed to helping families and churches invest in the next generation.
One North American Mission Board (NAMB) employee is living this core value out in real time. Hayley Catt is a NAMB staff member and a dedicated foster parent with years of experience in the system.
We sat down with Hayley Catt to get her input on some frequently asked questions surrounding the foster care process.
Q: How did you feel God calling you to foster care?
A: I’ve felt called to care for vulnerable children for more than a decade. After my first mission trip to Uganda, I looked into international adoption but ended up supporting a little boy I had met there from afar, so that he could remain in his same village with family and maintain access to the resources he needed to succeed. Then, I moved to South Africa, where I worked with vulnerable children and AIDS orphans. After returning stateside, the Lord opened my eyes to the fact that there were children in my own city waiting to find a safe place to call home! Children who needed a safe place to stay tonight. So that’s when I really began to pursue foster care.
Q: What are some things you wish people knew?
A: Questions like “How long will he/she be with you?” are not questions that foster parents can answer. There is not much we can control, and we can’t make very many future plans. Like I always tell my kids, it’s up to God and the judge. We can just do our best to speak up, advocate for what we believe is best, prepare the child for whatever is next, and support everyone involved. Also, logistics are incredibly challenging in the foster care world. It’s not something I was prepared for, honestly. Two-to-three times a week, we are opening our home to therapists, social workers, family consultants, volunteers and more. We have to rush from one appointment to another, and we don’t get a lot of down time. Having help with transportation, house cleaning, meals, etc., helps to ease that burden.
Q: What are some hurdles that brand new foster parents can expect to face?
A: One of the best quotes I’ve found to explain the roller coaster ride that is foster care is by foster care advocate Jason Johnson, “Foster care is as much about pulling a child out of a broken story as it is being pulled into one.” As a foster parent, you get attached and you get protective. You are human, so you must constantly monitor your thoughts and feelings toward biological families to not see them as villains. Yes, there is often generational brokenness, but sometimes there’s an opportunity to come alongside those biological parents and help bring restoration and healing. That’s something I wasn’t prepared for when I stepped into foster care, and something that, honestly, I still struggle with. It’s so easy to blame and point fingers, but that will never benefit the child who loves their family deeply, despite the choices they’ve made. So, I must choose to pray for the biological family—for restoration and stability, for salvation, and for wisdom and healing.
Q: How do you navigate hard conversations with your placement about their family, situation, etc.?
A: Parenting a teen in foster care is different than when I’ve parented a younger child. Now, we can have more open and honest conversations. I ask a lot of questions and help her find her own voice and opinions. I try to talk through all sides of a situation with her, so that she doesn’t feel like anyone is trying to manipulate her and she can find her own point of view. As far as the future, foster care makes everyday planning difficult, let alone long-term planning. There are too many factors, too many opinions, and the system is too broken to know what the future holds. And she wants to know her future! I mean it’s her life, she should be able to know what to expect of it. But sometimes I just don’t have an answer—even for the smallest questions, like if she will get to play soccer next year or when she will get to see her dog again. Can you imagine living like that? Always questioning and never really receiving a solid answer? The good news is, no matter what happens, we know that God has a plan for her — to prosper and not to harm her. To give her a future and a hope.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges/struggles you’ve faced specifically now that you’ve got a teenager?
A: I think my biggest struggle as a single foster mom has been finding the right people to help us because I simply cannot do it all myself. I want her to be discipled by an older girl who loves Jesus and models the Christ-like life for her, and that’s been hard to find. I need to find a tutor who can help her with studying, homework and test anxiety, but that seems nearly impossible at this point. There’s a lot of pressure that I put on myself to do it all, but I cannot. What I can do is love her and guide her and help her heal.
Q: What are some specific ways that you advocate for children in your care?
A: Being an advocate, and giving a voice to your child, is one of the best things you can do as a foster parent. Show up at court, speak the truth in love, share needs with your social worker, bring up concerns to their therapist, email teachers and do what it takes to make sure your kiddos are getting everything they need.
Q: What are some of the most helpful ways people have supported you while on this journey?
A: I am part of a local church’s foster care ministry, and they do an incredible job of supporting us. We have a twice a month foster mom support group and a monthly Parents Night Out. They provide a meal train when a new placement arrives, and they’ve got a foster care closet full of clothes and toys and necessities that we can access at any time. They even pay for camps and sports programs and other events! Outside of that ministry, my friends and family have offered to watch her to give me a break, and so many have purchased items off of our Amazon Wish List.
Q: What do you wish you had known or that someone would’ve told you prior to becoming a foster parent?
A: Something I didn’t fully think through when I said yes to foster care was how much it would affect my family—how much they would grow to love my kiddos. They have inside jokes and FaceTime dates, celebrate major life events and make lifelong memories. They truly love these kids like their own.
They didn’t sign up for this difficult road. They didn’t ask for the hard days, and they weren’t prepared for the even harder goodbyes. As supportive and helpful as my family is, I know they are making sacrifices, too. I am grateful that they are brave enough to both celebrate and grieve with me on this roller coaster ride.
Also, one of the most heartbreaking and frustrating aspects of parenting a child who has experienced trauma is that a child will be triggered multiple times before you can ever pick up on the pattern of what’s triggering for them. Foster parents rarely know much of their child’s history. That’s why it’s so important to be educated on trauma parenting (I highly suggest Trust Based Relational Intervention) and to constantly pray for wisdom, so that you can be seeking out those patterns and working towards a solution.
Q: How do you recommend saying goodbye well once the time comes?
A: Every situation is different, but the goal for most children in foster care will probably be reunification. That means that if everyone does what they are supposed to do, the child will hopefully return to a safe, stable home with their biological family. When possible, it’s good to engage with the biological family to help make that transition home as successful as possible. During my last goodbye, I invited the family to meetings at the school, sent long emails about what I’d learned about their kid, and I guided, supported and cheered them on as much as I could. Then after she transitioned home, I stayed in contact and made it a point to visit whenever I was able. That isn’t always an option, but it does make for a more seamless transition. Ultimately, foster care is rooted in brokenness and separation. It’s unfair, and it’s messy. In a perfect world, this child and I would never even know each other. And yet, the thought that one day we could say goodbye can feel impossible. Sometimes all I can see is the scary and sad. Some days all I want to do is worry. But that is not my job. My job is to be singularly focused on the task of today—to love this child and trust the God who loves them today, tomorrow and always.
If you are interested in learning more or starting a family advocacy ministry of your own, you can reach out to us at [email protected].
Published May 4, 2022