“Zero Entry” Foster Care
For most people, foster care is “zero entry” in that very few of us have chosen to take the plunge into being foster parents. For every 1000 American households, roughly 1 will be a foster home. Meanwhile, each year, approximately 7 of every 1000 U.S. children will have a brush with the foster care system. Most would-be foster parents are repelled by fears of trauma-filled children and that their own hearts will be broken when a child leaves their home. Meanwhile, state and federal government agencies are spending over $9 billion on foster care, with a chunk of these funds going toward foster parent recruitment, and still having relatively little success.
Those who have become foster parents, most the time, do not make it very long. Half of new foster parents won’t make it through their first year. Of course, many of the best foster parents will (fortunately) adopt! Even this great outcome depletes the system of one of its best commodities — an experienced and loving set of foster parents. So while not quite “zero”, very few choose to foster.
In business, best recruitment practices always allow for an opportunity to make a minimal commitment far in advance of a major commitment. Non-profits do this as well. Recently, the local public television station offered the chance for me to give $5 a month. They know, and I now know, that if I give even at that level, I’m in. I’m on their radar, I’ll read an email or two, I’ve invested – albeit minimally — and perhaps, someday I’ll give more.
This is essentially “zero entry” foster care. To explain, let me start with the opposite, and conventional, style of foster care recruitment. Historically, foster care has been a “deep end” model. Using a simple pool analogy, imagine being told how to swim and then immediately told to jump in the deep end, without any practice. The analogy becomes scarier when you are not jumping alone but taking a child with you! This upfront, massive commitment both scares people away and leaves new foster parents gasping for air. So much so that, as stated, half don’t make it.
A “zero entry” approach points to a different pool and away from the deep end — a pool where you can take first steps, making small commitments, without being in too deep. In fact, your first step hardly puts you in the water at all. I recently saw a zero entry pool with a depth sign printed on the pool wall—“0 ft.” I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds pretty manageable, and for many would-be foster families, that’s the place to start.
“Zero Entry” foster care utilizes a gradual progression of commitment. As you metaphorically put your toe in the water, you volunteer to bring meals to foster families and do small tasks around the house – laundry or yard work. For many family helpers, doing a little is just right for their schedule. For others, stepping in to their knees make sense. They serve by transporting foster children, who for appointments frequently need drivers with background checks. These volunteers assist with childcare and begin to play the role of a mentor in the child’s life. They might find they really enjoy serving a child who previously, as a remote concept, intimidated them. These volunteers might discover they are waste deep and ready to be approved to host the child for a weekend. Or, a couple might know their commitment has brought them in chest deep and suddenly, the deep end—being fully approved foster parents—makes perfect sense! Through the preceding months, they’ve prayed, and served, and are ready to take this final step knowing others will be there to support them – just as they supported a foster family.
At Promise, we work to flood the foster care system with amazing families from churches. Practically, this happens three ways. First, we recruit new foster families, as occasionally people are ready for the full commitment right off the bat. Second, we keep existing families fostering consistently by serving them well. Finally, we convert volunteers into foster parents! When this last practice occurs, the “new” foster parents step in with hands-on experience, a strong community around them, and the strength necessary to thrive and help a child to thrive!
Some of you who read this are on the pool deck – that’s just fine! You’re watching from a comfortable deck chair or you’re encouraging, like a coach, from the side with your donations and your prayers. Your role is critical too. Ultimately, if we want to build a movement – which we do – we’ll need lots of people. Not just one foster parent for every child, but thousands of volunteers, churches, donors and prayer warriors!
“Zero entry” foster care works and a movement is underway! With more than 55 churches and 752 active volunteers, a sustainable flood of support is rising. Thanks for the role you are filling – discover more about our foster care work at www.livethepromise.org!