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Foster Fridays: Meet Noelle

Today we have a truly insightful interview with our board member Noelle Owen. She has some excellent thoughts on how individuals and churches can support people in crisis and foster families.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Noelle Owen.  I have two children, ages six and four. My husband is a pastor, and we love our church family and enjoy life in the Shenandoah Valley.  We recently became certified as foster parents and are currently awaiting our first placement.    

Professionally, I’ve worked with families and children in various capacities for about 15 years.  I have a Masters in Science in Mental Health Counseling from Mercer University and a Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology.  Currently, I’m working as a hospice chaplain.  I also volunteer in the community leading parenting classes or support groups. 

2. What made you want to get involved with foster care?

I’ve been interested in working with families and children since I was a child.  My first introduction to the concept of foster care was when I was a young child and watching Bewitched reruns.  One particular episode (( featured the main characters hosting a child for Christmas.  This show was the first time I remember being introduced to the idea of children not having parents or families.  I remember asking my parents if we could have foster children in our home.  

Fast forward almost three decades later. I’ve certainly learned a lot more about foster care, adoption, and parenting. As a society our approach to foster care has changed greatly from the 1964 depiction in Bewitched. I’ve had the opportunity to know families personally and professionally who are involved in the foster care system (both biological families and foster/adoptive families).

Foster care should be community work - it’s not just about you or me or that family - it’s about all of us.  Working together to create stronger families is vital for the future of our children and community.

3. What is something you have learned through working with people in crisis? 

When a person is experiencing a crisis, that person’s choices, behavior, and emotions may be unpredictable, unhealthy, and hurtful to themselves or those around them. Focus on safety first. Give presence and patience. Understand that a person’s behavior patterns and emotions can be profoundly affected by long-term period of crisis and stress. Even something that may not be seen as a big deal to others can be a trigger for someone else, particularly someone who has experienced trauma and loss. When a person has lived in crisis for a long time, it takes even longer for them to feel safe, trust others, and develop relationships.

4. Do you have any thoughts on how the church should be involved in foster care?

In Scripture, Jesus reminds us that the greatest commandments are to “love our neighbors as ourself and love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.”

The families and children affected by foster care are our neighbors.  They are each made in the image of God.  Loving God means loving people in crisis even when it’s hard. 

The Church is especially positioned to be a place that uplifts and strengthens families.  Here are a few ideas for churches who are looking to answer this call to love their neighbors through supporting families in crisis and foster families:

·  Offer trauma-informed children’s programs:

o Train adult leaders to have a basic understanding children development and the impacts of trauma and its effects on children.

o Design spaces and activities that are sensitive to children with different and special needs.  For example, offer a safe, “cozy” space for children to be quiet and calm if they need to take time away from a loud or noisy activity.

o Offer a mix of activities that fit various learning styles, abilities, and developmental stages.

· Provide support and opportunities for parents/caregivers:

o Host regular small groups opportunities (with childcare provided) where adults can connect to other adults and openly discuss.

o Help facilitate “mentor/”grandparent” relationship between older adults and families.

o Offer occasional “parent night out” opportunities.

· Partner with existing foster families and groups:

o Include and support foster families in their calling to foster children in their home.  For example, do a meal train or “welcome” basket for foster families who receive a new placement. Offer childcare, mowing a lawn, or a cup of coffee.

o Become a First Responder Church with Foster Love Ministries.

o Develop a team specifically designed to support foster/adoptive families in the church and develop partnerships with community. 

o Allow foster care agencies to recruit in your church.  Consider focusing a particular Sunday on foster care or hosting a mission event.

· Be a support and advocate for families in crisis:

o Maintain a list of community resources for needy families who contact church.

o Provide financial or material assistance to families who are in crisis. 

· Share church space.  Offer space for non-profits and community groups to use building for support group meetings, trainings, material storage, etc.

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