Based on statistics from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, more than 900 children in the Daviess County area are currently in a foster home. Children without their families, exposed to abuse and neglect are likely to remain in the system until they turn 18. For the past 17 years, more than 230,000 young adults have left foster care system without a support system. Without caring parents invested in their academic success, only 42% of those children will complete high school or earn a GED. More than 20% of those children will become homeless. 25% will be jailed within five years of turning 18.
These statistics are heart-wrenching and unsettling…to think that given a different opportunity or support system, those same children might have a positive and hopeful future.
People like Jodi Tanner and Jeremy and Angela Hatfield are giving these children a better chance, a happier ending, and surrogate love and support in the absence of biological parents. Jodi is a Foster Care and Independent Living Specialist for Sunrise Children’s Services, the largest child caring and child placing agency in Kentucky. She says that, “my main job is to love on kids who have been abused and neglected, and that is what our foster parents get to do daily. What a blessing! It is definitely a mission field.”
Jeremy and Angela Hatfield have fostered many children since 2007, ranging from age four to sixteen. Three of those children now have a permanent home with the Hatfields, and three more are in the process of being adopted by them, in addition to the Hatfields’ three biological children. Their original motivation for becoming foster parents was to add to their family of five by bringing another son into the family. The issue first sparked their interest through a flyer sent home from school with one of their children, which stated the dire need for foster parents and included details for an informational meeting.
The Hatfields agree that the process of foster parenting has certainly been a continuous journey that has helped them see the world through a different lens. Jeremy, who is also the Executive Pastor at Pleasant Valley Community Church, shared that the call to foster parenting is a beautiful, God-honoring picture of James 1:27, which calls believers to “visit orphans… in their affliction” (Holy Bible, English Standard Version).
Jeremy and Angela have fostered children for a variety of time periods, ranging from as short as a weekend to as long as 18 months. It was inevitable that they would become attached to and invested in their foster children, especially because of the length of time some of their children stayed. Sometimes, the biological parents would regain custody and the children would be taken back to their original homes, which was extremely difficult for the Hatfield family.
Jeremy says that over the years, he and his wife adopted the attitude to “love them and serve them, as long as God saw fit to leave them with us…We just do our best as long as we can…I’ve had people say to me, ‘I could never do that!’ because of how attached [to the kids] they would get, and I say to them, you’re exactly the kind of people that need to be engaged in foster parenting. If not someone who loves them and gets attached to them, then who? Is it hard? Yes…it’s the most gut-wrenchingly difficult, and yet, the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
Jeremy believes that the role of a foster parent is a unique arena in which an earthly father is given to a child that may have never experienced the love and leadership of a dad. Sometimes, through the opportunity to be an earthly father, the child gains a heavenly Father too, by finding faith in Christ.
Angela expands on that idea by sharing that “not everyone can go on the mission field overseas. We have literally brought the mission field into our house.”
Spiritually, Angela says that “the Lord is helping me to see other people, namely foster kids and their parents, as Jesus saw me – He loved me when I wasn’t together. The Lord just helps us to love more like He loves us.”
The Hatfields want to express to families who might be fearful of foster parenting due to the impact on their home life that the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Some of the highlights they celebrate are an exposure to a diversity of ethnicities and socioeconomic classes, and the opportunity to give children a healthy perspective about various types of people.
Jeremy said that in the midst of some of the difficulties of foster parenting it can be easy to get short-sighted, but he tries to remind himself that the impact that foster parents have on their foster children is part of a generational change. But, “most people don’t want to be inconvenienced. It’s a life you’re signing up to have, you’re saying, ‘disrupt me!’”
Loving a child as a foster parent is an incredible gift with a lifetime impact…for those who might be considering foster parenting, Jodi encourages you to contact Sunrise at 270-685-3322 or at their website sunrise.org. They can connect you with training and resources here in Owensboro and around the state. If you are intimidated or unsure that foster parenting is for you, the Hatfields encourage you to speak to current foster parents and make use of the abundance of resources here in Owensboro (including therapists, doctors, etc.). For more details on Jeremy and Angela’s foster parenting adventure, check out Angela’s book about fostering, called The Life and Death in Adoption:
How Dying to Self Can Mean Life to Many, available at amazon.com.
Maybe you are interested in supporting foster children but aren’t sure that being a foster parent is for you. Jodi lists several other ways to help out: be a mentor for a foster child, hire foster children in your business, invite a speaker or foster family to your church, business, or civic group, or donate money/resources to foster children transitioning to adulthood.
While the Hatfields’ fostering journey began as a means of expanding their family, their hearts began to change as they fell in love with the incredible children who entered their home. As Angela put it, they began to live with the mindset of, “Who can we rescue?”
This article was originally published in the September/October 2016 issue of Owensboro Parent Magazine.