What Foster and Adoptive Parents Need to Thrive
Interview with Jenn and Josh Hook on resilience for adoptive and foster parents.
Posted April 12, 2019
Over the past few months, I’ve been sharing a series of interviews with experts on how resilience—one of the major themes of my book, A Walking Disaster: What Surviving Katrina and Cancer Taught Me About Faith and Resilience—connects to their area of study. One of the major themes that have emerged is how understanding the challenges a specific group faces can help us support them in moving toward resilience.
A new book by my friends and colleagues Jenn Ranter Hook and Josh Hook (who previously shared about his academic research on humility), with coauthor Mike Berry—Replanted: Faith-Based Support for Adoptive and Foster Families (Templeton Press)—has a lot to say about resilience for foster and adoptive families in the context of the church. This book outlines the ministry model that Jenn developed—as founding director of Replanted, and drawing from her background as a therapist for children in the foster care system—to help churches come alongside and support foster and adoptive families. I asked them to share more about their book, including what resilience looks like for foster and adoptive parents, and how faith communities and loved ones can better support these parents and children to help them thrive.
JA: How did you first get involved in foster and adoptive ministry?
Jenn: I was working as a therapist for kids in the foster care system, and the families I was working with were just feeling so alone and not supported. I kept wondering—where is the church in this? Churches were great at encouraging their congregants to foster or adopt, but when the parents were doing the hard work of caring for vulnerable children and struggling, churches weren’t really coming through with post-placement support. There is a uniqueness to the foster and adoptive journey that many people don’t understand. Children who have been impacted by adoption or foster care often have experienced trauma that influences their emotions and behavior. The church was missing an important opportunity to come alongside our parents and children in that healing process. So, I started Replanted to help meet that need.
JA: What is the Replanted model? What makes it different from other foster and adoptive ministries?
Josh: The Replanted model involves three key aspects of support, which we outline in the book through the metaphor of what a plant needs to grow and thrive. First, there is emotional support (i.e., good soil). Families need to be in a relationship with other people who really get it, who can say “me too,” and who can offer grace without judgment. Second, there is informational support (i.e., the sunlight). Families who are parenting children from hard places need to develop skills for how to parent children with trauma histories and attachment difficulties. Third, there is tangible support (i.e., the water). Families need help with the basics (e.g., money, supplies, respite care) if they are going to not only survive but thrive.
JA: What does resilience look like for foster and adoptive parents? Why is it important?
Jenn: Traditional definitions of resilience talk about “bouncing back.” But for many adoptive and foster parents, their journey with their child might be long, and there can be a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes it’s not as helpful to have an idea in your mind for what an “optimal outcome” will look like. Certainly, we hope that kiddos who have experienced trauma will eventually experience healing and growth, and parents will often be right alongside their children as they go through that process. There’s often a sturdiness and flexibility in adoptive and foster parents that I really admire. There can be so much uncertainty in the process, and adoptive and foster parents are called to stand strong and love their child through all of it.
JA: What can foster and adoptive parents do to cultivate resilience?
Jenn: I think support is key, which is why Replanted focuses on helping to support adoptive and foster families. You can’t do this journey alone. You need a team of people who can come alongside you and support you when the going gets tough. We encourage parents to get involved with support even before they become adoptive and foster parents, as they are discerning where God wants them to go. I think releasing expectations can be really helpful as well. Sometimes we have this idea of what it looks like to be a “successful” kid or a “good Christian family.” Then when our family doesn’t line up to our expectations, that can be really hard. It’s better to be open to whatever God is doing with our family. We’re here to love and support our kiddos, wherever they are at right now. A third thing I will mention is to develop a healthy appreciation for limits and boundaries. Some families get really energized and probably take on more than they are able to, which can lead to problems down the road. Better to start small with your support system in place, and see how things go.
JA: How can churches and support systems help cultivate resilience in foster and adoptive families?
Josh: This is something we are really passionate about because I don’t think everyone is necessarily called to adopt or foster. But I definitely believe that everyone can do something to support vulnerable children and the families who care for them. So, the first thing I would say is to get involved and be willing to help. Even something simple like cooking a meal or babysitting once in a while can make a huge difference to families that are struggling. So, if you want to help adoptive and foster families, develop a relationship and then have an honest conversation about how you can help. Be honest about your limitations—if taking care of a child for a weekend feels too stressful, that’s okay, maybe a few hours one evening a month would be more doable. Also, make sure you commit to consistent helping. So many adoptive and foster families have a lot of help and support right when they bring a child home, but it tends to disappear a few months later when the reality of the situation sets in. Consistency is key. Finally, one of the most loving things you can do to support a foster or adoptive family is to become trauma-informed. Many times, kiddos get labeled as bad, misbehaved, or deregulated kids. And when we don’t understand how trauma has impacted them, we can miss seeing how precious they are or feel ill-equipped to meet their needs. There are trauma training all over the world for foster and adoptive families and support systems. Find one and attend it. (For example, we host a great conference in Naperville, IL on October 25-26, 2019. Learn more at www.replantedconference.org).
JA: Anything else you’d like to share?
Jenn & Josh: We just released a book called Replanted: Faith-Based Support for Adoptive and Foster Families that goes into detail about the types of support that adoptive and foster families need, and how to get it. It also has important information for support systems about how to help effectively without hurting families. Get your copy at www.replantedministry.org/book, Amazon or wherever books are sold! You can also follow us on Facebook & Instagram, or sign up for our newsletter!
About the Authors
Jenn Ranter Hook, MA, is the Founder and Executive Director of Replanted – a ministry that helps empower the church to support adoptive and foster families by providing emotional, tangible, and informational support. She received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Wheaton College. She previously worked as a trauma therapist for children and adolescents in foster care. She speaks frequently on topics related to adoption and fosters care support, mental health, and trauma. She is the author of Replanted: Faith-Based Support for Foster and Adoptive Families and lives in Dallas, TX with her husband Josh.
Joshua Hook, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Texas and is a licensed clinical psychologist. His research interests include humility, religion/spirituality, and multicultural counseling. He is the author of five books, including Cultural humility: Engaging diverse identities in therapy, and Replanted. He also blogs regularly about psychology and faith at www.JoshuaNHook.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Jenn.