As a community committed to caring for those in need, Christian families looking for ways to reach out and serve often think about foster parenting. Barna Group reports that 31 percent of Christians have seriously considered foster parenting (compared to 11 percent of non-Christians). Strikingly, only 3 percent have actually become foster parents.

Why the discrepancy between those who are interested in the opportunity and those who have actually gone on to serve in this way?

While there are many practical reasons that could prevent people from taking on foster children, negative perceptions of the foster care system—such as front-page stories of social worker neglect and the belief that most foster parents are only in it for the money—loom large in America, including among Christians.

Whether from movies, media, or word-of-mouth, people worry that they will be unable to take on the responsibility of welcoming a child into their home for foster care or will become frustrated with the demands of the system itself. The Dave Thomas Foundation, which advocates for orphan-care in the U.S., cites this negative view as the most common reason people choose not to foster.

As with most things, it helps to know the facts. We are more comfortable and more willing to commit when we are well-educated about a cause. As an attorney and advocate who has spent 14 years working for and volunteering with foster children and their families, I'd like to offer the nearly one-in-three Christians considering becoming foster parents a realistic look at the demands and benefits.

Five Truths About Fostering

1. It's hard.

Foster parenting, like all parenting, is hard. Even the "easiest" of children takes blood, sweat, and tears to raise, not to mention ceaseless prayer, late nights, and patience in the extreme. In addition to the "normal" hardships of childrearing—junior high drama, high school heartache, toddler tantrums, and the like—foster kids come with additional difficulties born of abuse, neglect, and being removed from their home of origin. Even newborns and infants are not always exempt from these "scars," having experienced things such as in utero drug exposure or witnessing scenes of extreme domestic violence.

2. You have to build a relationship from the ground up.

Foster parents lack the bond of carrying a child in utero, birthing the child, and raising the child from day one (although prospective parents can request placement of newborns and infants). Yet, foster parents still create and sustain special connections with their children, often resulting in a long-term relationship up to and including adoption. Bonding techniques vary depending on age of the child, but the two constants are to be wholly accepting and loving, and to let the child take things at his or her own pace. Remember: Even when children are removed from the worst of homes, that home is all they have ever known, and most would not have chosen to be removed. The hard truth is that while you have chosen to open your home to a child, they have not asked to be there.

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3. You will have to work with the biological parents.

Some children will never visit or be reunified with their parents. Most, though, enter care with the ultimate goal of family reunification. Foster parents are sometimes responsible for facilitating visits between the child and biological parent, and this can be difficult. The more horrific the abuse or neglect, the more difficult it is. It's easy to feel anger and even disgust at the perpetrator; it's much harder to be open to forgiveness and allow for the possibility of change. As hard as it may be, helping a child and parent repair their relationship and watching the parent become the person God knows he or she can is often one of the greatest blessings of all.

4. You will have to do some running around and paperwork.

Like with all children, foster kids will have sports, doctor's appointments, play dates, as well as events specific to kids in the system, like court hearings. It may be up to you to get them there. With the barrage of typical school forms, medical forms, and sports waivers, some additional paperwork may be necessary for foster children. Social workers and attorneys do all they can to make this part "easy," but know that fostering will indeed require some chauffeuring, paper-shuffling, and signing.

5. Foster children have "special needs."

It's a sad reality that foster children have suffered in ways no child ever should, and the concomitant impacts are often (though not always) behavioral issues, learning disabilities (sometimes from in utero drug/alcohol exposure), and even long-term health problems. Services are available to support both the child and the foster parents as they navigate these special needs. Couples considering fostering older children, children headed down the road of non-reunification, or those who have suffered severe levels of abuse will need to give this factor special thought and prayer and be prepared for the extra work and love it will take.

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Five Myths About Fostering

1. It's simply too much work.

Fostering can be front-loaded with tasks including eligibility paperwork and home studies, but after the initial hustle and bustle (similar to welcoming a newborn child), foster families settle into a routine and are provided with support services, and even respite care, that non-foster families do not receive.

2. Foster parenting is expensive.

Foster parents are given stipends for expenses, and the children are provided health insurance either through the biological parents or the state. Certainly some foster parents choose to spend their own funds on certain things, but the social services agency does provide a clothing and school supply allowance, as well as cover basic necessities. Foster children do not need separate bedrooms, though foster parents are required to provide a bed in an age-appropriate setting (such as separate rooms for boys and girls of a certain age).

3. I'm too old/too young/too poor to foster parent.

A foster parent must be 21 or older. There is benefit in the energy of youth as well as in the wisdom and patience that tends to comes with age. It's not necessary to be wealthy or a homeowner, and it's fine to work full time while raising a foster child. The main requirements are to be responsible, loving, and committed to caring for a child, and the home need not be fancy, just stable, safe, and well-suited for children.

4. Being a foster parent is dangerous.

There is a common misconception that older foster children are "delinquents." Children enter the system due to an action or non-action on the part of the parent or guardian, not because they are "bad." Similarly, biological parents usually appreciate the loving home provided by foster parents, and the two often have a good rapport. Foster parents are not required to provide placement for children they are uncomfortable with. If teens are beyond the potential parents' comfort zone, they can request younger children. If they are worried about a child's specific type of past abuse or family of origin, they simply let the placement worker know.

5. I will have my heart broken.

Indeed you may. This is nonetheless a "myth," because helping a child reunite with a birth family, or find a forever home, will fill you with indescribable joy. Knowing that you have provided love, safety, prayers and care for a child as he or she navigates what to us may be unimaginable is one of life's greatest rewards, and one that will provide a healing balm to the hurt of saying goodbye.

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In James 1:27 we find that, "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Does that mean all of us must foster or adopt? Certainly not. But don't let misconceptions keep you from pursuing what might be one of the greatest experiences of your life, as well as one of the most important in the life of a hurting child.

Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a writer and attorney who first began working with foster children and their families in 1997. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter, or visit her at her blog.