I want to introduce myself by providing a little bit of background on me: I grew up in a supportive, middle class, nuclear family in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. We were close to our extended family, and had neighbors who were as close as family as well. I was never even spanked as a child, let alone abused or neglected.
Family has always been important to me. When I went to college, I intentionally chose a career in nursing, not only to help others, but also because of the flexibility the career allowed in spending time with my family. After several years working in hospitals and a clinic, I eventually pursued a career as a school nurse.
My first year as a school nurse was incredibly eye-opening. I worked in an extremely impoverished community. Seventy-five percent of the student population qualified as low-income. Every student received free breakfast and lunch. It was there that I first encountered homeless families. We had students with parents who were incarcerated or students who had a parent “leave” in the middle of the night. And I had my first experience with making a call to the child welfare hotline. It was nerve wracking to do but I felt moved to action.
There was one distinct situation I recalled. There was a child welfare investigation for “lack of supervision” for a family with three students at my school. The kids had a single dad who was unemployed and worked odd jobs. He was doing his best he could for his kids but it just wasn’t enough. One day, I was talking to my sister about this situation. I told her how heartbroken I was to see this happening. I loved that family and I loved those kids. She posed the question to me, “If DCFS has to remove the kids, would you consider taking them as foster kids?” I knew I would, but, I knew it didn’t feel right that this dad could potentially lose his kids despite trying hard to provide for them.
Picture for a moment what situations you might think brings families into crisis. Homelessness, incarceration, job loss, drug abuse, hospitalization…. Picture the children needing a safe place. I once heard a foster parent and psychologist say something that really affected me. She said, “These are not the system’s kids. These are not the government’s kids or the state’s kids, these are GOD’s kids….and that makes them OUR kids.” The responsibility lies within each of us to help these kids and these families when they need it the most. And, it’s not just about taking in kids in times of need. It is about helping one another, whether we are helping those who have fallen into times of crisis, or helping those families who are hosting kids. We can’t do this alone. Romans 12:4-5 says, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” God has not created us to be able to solve the world’s problems single handedly. He tells us we must work together using our gifts to help and serve others. Not everyone is called to be a host family or foster parent, but there are things everyone can do to help these struggling families.
One thing I didn’t share when describing my childhood, was that my family had experienced crisis. About a week after graduating high school, my family home had a fire. Not a small kitchen fire. A whole house fire that destroyed everything we owned. We not only had to stay with my aunt and uncle, but I also spent several weeks at a hotel, and a week sleeping in a friend’s basement before we could get more stable housing while waiting to rebuild our home. Sometimes I think about how lucky I had been. I imagine, what if we hadn’t had close family to offer us to stay with them? Or what if we had missed our insurance payment that month? Had circumstances been only slightly different, we may not have been able to pay for that long hotel stay, or the costs to replace our belongings, and I truly couldn’t tell you how different my life would be right now. Life can change quickly, and can happen to any of us.
A little over two years ago, I heard about Safe Families for Children. Being an “extended family” to those who have none just made sense. I knew this was something I was meant to do. I kept thinking, if the dad of my students a few months prior had been able to turn to Safe Families in his time of need, he wouldn’t have had to leave his kids at home alone. I talked it over with my husband, and he was on board, too. He grew up in a home with six children, and for a time, his uncle and cousins lived with him as well. A few “extras” at home was nothing new to him.
We went to an information session, training, and completed our home study. We had our first hosting with two boys, and that hosting changed us in ways I can’t fully describe. It was difficult, it was trying, it was downright terrifying. It was also one of the most amazing and incredible experiences I’ve ever had. I could never have imagined how much I would learn to rely on God, rely on my church family, and rely on my friends to help me through this. We had friends bring us boxes of books and toys. We had other host families provide respite care when we had to travel out of town for a funeral. Without even asking, we received Christmas donations for the three kids we hosted (the oldest who was in awe and said “I’ve never had a Christmas like this in my life!”). We have met people from around the state and around the country who have been on this same mission of helping vulnerable children and families in crisis.
Every week there are children in need of hosting and families looking desperately for help. I know we could not have hosted children without all of the support we received. The need is so, so great, and we as a church have to come together to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but none of us can do this alone.
by Amanda P.
Amanda and her husband serve as a Host Family in the Chicagoland area.
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