Fixing Foster Care and Refrigerators in Unexpected Ways

A couple of years ago, our fridge went out. Meat was thawing, ice was dripping, and worst of all, the leftover ice cream cake in the freezer was in great peril. The very kind repairman showed up that afternoon and, after doing his thing for like three minutes, came back and told me the heater needed to be replaced. I’m no rocket scientist (or refrigerator repairman) but his diagnosis did give me brief pause.

I’m thinking “my stuff is melting and you’d like to fix that problem by installing a heater in my freezer.”

Once he explained why refrigerators need heaters I can’t honestly say that I understood 100%, but I understood enough to give the man my money so that he could save my ice cream cake.

One foster care leader who had helped to build church-based foster care movements in more than one state shared with me once that when you go into a new context — a new state, a new county, a new church — things are not always what you think they will be. Our brains tell us to do what makes sense…what we’ve done in the past. However, wisdom tells us that when we go into a new context that our first move should be to just listen. Listen to what the needs are, listen to what those on the inside say about the issues that need to be addressed. Once you’ve listened, you are in a much better place to help make things better.

And sometimes the solutions are much different than you would think:
1.  Do we really need to do “more, better, faster” recruiting right now, or do we need to fix the foster parent training process first so that recruited families make it all the way through to placement?

2.  Do we need to focus all of our church’s energy on adopting kids out of foster care or should we be giving some time to helping preserve and reunify biological families?

3.  Do we just simply need to spend more time beating the bushes for potential foster families, or do we also need to help our churches wrap around existing foster families so that those families have the capacity to stick with it through more than one difficult case.  After all, keeping the foster families you have is just as important as recruiting new ones.

Ultimately, fixing foster care is about laying down assumptions, listening carefully, and looking for solutions in unexpected places. Yes, that can be uncomfortable…but it can also save your ice cream cake.

A version of this post previously appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We keep it short and sweet and fill it with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care.  To sign up, go to