Not very long ago, Morningsiders Steve and Esther Cruice sat down with Krystal Allweil, the editor of BJUtoday, and discussed their involvement with and passion for foster care. The following interview was originally published on BJUtoday and is republished here with permission.
How did you get involved with foster care?
Our being in foster care is a result of Bob Jones Academy. Certain classes gather certain supplies for community ministries. Elementary gathers one set of supplies. The junior high gathers other supplies for Miracle Hill Children's Home. And the senior high gather supplies for Shepherd’s Gate, a Miracle Hill ministry. Our daughter was in ninth grade, and her class was collecting canned goods to take out to the Children's Home. Whichever junior high class brought in the most canned goods got to have a pizza party with the kids at the Children's Home, and our daughter’s class won.
Our daughter came home from that Bob Jones trip and said, “We have to foster.” And we said, “I don’t think so. We have four kids. Maybe you didn’t notice?” Abby is the youngest of four, and there's a gap between the first three and her. We asked her, “Have you noticed that you have the oldest parents in your class?” We gave all these excuses. We’re too old, etc.
But Abby kept at us. She told us, “You guys, they have nothing. They have nothing but their bed.” And we just hadn't ever even considered foster care, really. But she stayed on us for over a year and a half.
We finally made a deal with her. The deal was if she could get a B in biology—which we didn't think was possible—we would talk to Miracle Hill about fostering. Abby kept her end of the bargain, so we had to keep our end. So really, we never even began to consider fostering until that Academy trip out to the Children's Home.
We made an appointment to talk to Miracle Hill, and one of our concerns was that Esther works full time. We were very blessed that she could be at home with our kids when they were young. But now Esther needs to work, and we had no idea how that would work out. When we called Miracle Hill and told them the situation and presented our concerns about her working full-time, the Miracle Hill worker said, “Well, that is no problem at all because we're looking for normalcy, and in most families both parents work.”
A Miracle Hill case worker came to our house within a few days. They shared with us the stories of the kids, and all we could say was, “Give us the application.”
We had to do hours of training. We also had to make modifications to our home to be in compliance with current fire codes. It was a very intensive application. The home study was like nothing we had ever experienced before.
The application asked questions we had to find the answers to about our own family members. They wanted to know how our siblings’ marriages were and went back quite a distance into our past. They had a conference with our children asking our children how we raised them, how we disciplined them. Then, we were licensed. And we weren't licensed for long before we got our first phone call.
What was your first fostering experience like?
Our first little ones were two- and three-year-old little girls that DSS was removing from a meth home. They were not able to come with any of their own personal belongings. They were taken to the emergency room before they were brought to us around 7:30 at night.
All their belongings had to be thrown away—probably burned. DSS put an outfit on them at the hospital, but they came to us smelling of the disinfectant the hospital used.
Because they were two and three years old, they couldn’t tell us their bedtime routine or what they like to eat. We knew nothing about them.
We fed the girls chicken nuggets. And we learned quickly to always keep a bag of frozen chicken nuggets and a huge bottle of ketchup on hand in the house. If we had known, we would've taken stock in Heinz a long time ago!
We had to go out and buy two car seats and clothes just to get us through the night. They were both in diapers, and we were in Walmart at 9:30 at night looking at all these diapers going, “I don't know? Does size two mean for two-year-olds?” We knew nothing—it had been so long since we had parented. Fortunately, a mom came in to buy diapers for her child. She probably thought that we were stalkers, but we asked her how old her child was and what size diapers they wore. From there, we kind of figured it out.
We went home with diapers and pajamas and baby bath. Then we washed the girls up and put them to bed. It was after ten, and we still didn’t know anything about their bedtime routine. We put them in beds in the same room, and Esther laid on the floor. (That's something we try to do with our foster kids for the first few nights: lie on the floor until they go to sleep. We don’t stay there all night. We’re too old for that!) For an hour, the girls talked back and forth.
Eventually the older one went to sleep. We couldn't understand many of the words of the two-year-old. We would just catch a word here and there. She kept calling out to her sister, but her sister was asleep (finally!). Then Esther heard the little one say, “milk.” We didn’t think about how she might be used to having a bottle of milk at night.
Esther went downstairs, and we didn’t have bottles, but we had sippy cups because we knew to get sippy cups. She put some milk in a sippy cup, warmed it up and brought that to her, and two minutes later the little one was asleep. Foster care is really a lot of trial and error until you can figure things out.
We have to take our foster children to the doctor within twenty-four hours of bringing the children into your care. When we took them to the doctor, the staff were able to pull up immunization records, and the girls were way behind.
Those poor girls. The youngest one left with three shots down each leg to try to catch her up. Here we’re trying to build trust with the girls, and all of a sudden, we’re allowing these people to stick needles into them. We asked the doctor’s staff if we could step out of the room so that we were not associated with the pain. Then we were able to go back in and do the comforting part as soon as the shots were over. We were hoping that would mean to the girls, “We didn't give the shots. We’re coming to rescue you from the shots.” That was our first experience.
We don't know that we would foster without knowing that we felt called to do it. It's not easy. It's a 24/7 job. And these kids show behaviors that none of our kids ever showed.
We have felt like our job, our calling, is to take these children into our home and be a bridge to prepare them to either go back to their biological home or into an adoptive home. Life is rough, but within a year, they're different kids. Then when these prospective families come in and meet with you and the children, these children are now adoptable. These children are now respectful and loving and kind, and the families are eager to adopt them. But then, they’ll ask what they were like when they first came. We begin to tell them, and the family states that they probably wouldn’t have adopted the kids at that point. So, we get to prepare these children for their future families.
Not too long ago, we gave up a little girl for adoption. When we look at the eleven months that we had her, though, we realize we were what she needed. She needed very one-on-one attention. She was two and a half and autistic. Her speech tested at four months, both expressive and receptive. If we said, “Can you bring me the remote?” she didn’t have a clue what we were saying. If we said, “Here, put your cup on the table,” there was no response. She would step on our dog—she didn't even notice that there was a dog. She was completely unaware of the world around her.
This little girl tested at four months in March. The doctors retested six months later, and she tested at two years and four months. She was around adults that didn't accept “Eh. Eh.” We would say, “Cup? You want cup?” Once she got down cup, “Cup of milk? Or cup of juice?” And she would say, “Cup of milk.” She was surrounded by adults that were constantly loving her to pieces but working with her weakness. We were constant therapy. We were constantly working on things, and when this potential family came, they were eager to adopt her. Again, we were what she needed for those eleven months. But then the next step was she needed that family with the five-year-old sister that she could be even more normal with.
What is the hardest part of foster care?
Giving them up. That is the hardest part. Because we parent them as though they’re our kids. So, he's Daddy, I’m Mommy. You could have them for a year—you coach their sports, you take them to the doctor's, you stay up with them all night when they're sick, you do everything a parent does. You love them, and they need us to love them. They don't need us to hold back. They need us to love them like a parent loves their own child. When they leave, one moment you're their mommy and daddy, and five minutes later you're not.
It is hard to adjust. More times than we like to think, all of us, the whole family, have stood in our driveway sobbing—really ugly sobbing. After the first two little girls left, we fell apart, and our daughter summed it up pretty well: “Why did they have to be so stinking cute?!”
We will be honest. There are moments of relief where you realize you can take all the safety plugs out of the outlets. We can put the dishwasher soap next to the dishwasher now without it having to be in a high cabinet in another room. We can go out, just the two of us, and have conversation. And we always take a little bit of time after one group leaves (we do sibling groups, so we usually have two. Right now we have three) just to catch back up.
Once, we just had one child because she was autistic. That one was probably our hardest child to see go because she didn't have anyone. Usually with siblings have each other, and she was younger so she didn’t understand what was happening. That was really hard.
But she went into a wonderful situation. We were thrilled that it is a Christian home. They are adopting her, and the mom is wonderful about sending reports and pictures. We can't see her yet because she's still going through the bonding time with her family—which is extremely important—but just getting updates means more than anything. It's good to know that they're doing well.
We have tried to always say that we will keep our foster kids until they're placed in a permanent situation. When adoption comes up, we're not allowed to say anything about finding a Christian home. We have been blessed that most of our kids have gone to Christian homes. But we don't know until we meet the family if they’re Christian.
With the little autistic girl we had, the parents came in and met her. We sat and talked for hours because they wanted to know what this child is like. When they said they had been praying about this for months, we were so excited because we had been praying, too! That family posted not too long ago that their five-year-old daughter has accepted Christ, and it is wonderful to know they’re going to lead her in the Lord.
The rest of our kids all come and visit. We get to go to their baptisms, and that's where closure comes. Once you see them again, then you're ok. All of a sudden, you're ok.
What are the biggest challenges to foster care?
The biggest challenges are keeping up with the training, saying goodbye, and not having really any input as to where they will be placed after they leave our care. You also deal with behaviors you've never dealt with before, and you don't know where they're coming from. DSS doesn’t give you the child’s history.
One of biggest things that fostering has taught me is to trust God and trust His sovereign plan—which includes His plan for those children. We had a situation with the twin girls. We really wanted Esther’s brother and his wife to adopt them. But her brother lived out of state, and the adoption fell through. A different family adopted the girls, but we found out a year later that they were un-adopted. Esther really struggled with that. Why was God doing this? We have a better plan. If Esther’s brother and his wife could have adopted them, it would've been better. Ultimately, we had to realize that God is sovereign.
Later, the pastor’s family that had adopted the girls' younger sister adopted our girls which brought the sisters together. God just had this beautiful plan that was better than our plan.
We’ve had to really lean into God’s sovereignty even when we didn't understand it and thought we knew better. God still loves these kids. These are still His children, and He has a plan. That’s hard for us because we like to be in control. But in foster care you have no control. It is hard that you don't know what the future holds for these kids.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being foster parents?
Seeing the children get saved. We get to lead them to Christ. And these are kids that, if they go back to their biological parents, may never again be in a place where they can hear about Christ.
We had sibling brothers once. They were sitting at the counter waiting for their new family to pick them up. The older brother had gotten saved, and Steve was encouraging him to remember that God would go with him wherever he was. God is his heavenly Father. And then Steve challenged him to be a testimony and a witness to his younger brother who had not accepted Christ yet. The younger brother was sitting there listening and said, “But I want to get saved now!” He got saved an hour before he left.
The three girls that we have now, two have gotten saved in the last two weeks. The one got saved on her own really. She had a tract that they give out in Sunday school or church time. She read it at home and was saved. The second one just got saved at VBS. Another of our boys got saved after the Christmas cantata at Morningside.
The autistic girl we had wasn’t able to understand. But she’s now at the point that when she hears the Gospel she’ll be able to understand it. If we weren't in that picture, or if no one stepped into her life, or she ended up in a group home, she would not have been at that point. She would have still been in her own little world, and no one would’ve been able to communicate with her.
As a foster parent, you have an opportunity to really show the children genuine Christian love. They don't even know what love looks like, generally speaking. But when you shower them with godly love, they just thrive. They soak it up and become different people.
The average is thirteen months that you'll have a child. Our long-term placements have been about a year. The impact a foster parent can have is astounding.
Why do you view foster care as a ministry?
Obviously, you can't read Scripture and not see that caring for orphans is one of God’s heartbeats. Throughout the Old Testament there are passages about the fatherless and how God’s going to stand up for the fatherless. Jesus, of course, said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me” (Mark 10:14) and “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
These children are image bearers of Christ. They’re souls. What's different about them, for the most part, than other people who struggle is that they’re in that position for no fault of their own. There are exceptions to that, obviously, but generally speaking, they're not responsible for their circumstances. We spend a lot of time counseling people because of bad decisions they’ve made. But these kids haven’t made the bad decisions, and they're helpless. God holds people responsible when they don’t help the widower and the orphan.
We get to teach our kids a Christian worldview. During the time that they're with us we can bring Christ into everything. This is completely foreign to them. We have to teach them that you work for what you have, and then we have to teach them that you can be thankful for what you have. Even teaching them to reach out and to help other people is important. You get to introduce Christ into every part of their life and change their whole worldview. And we have an opportunity to maybe break the cycle so that their children don't end up in foster care.
These kids come in, and the word “dad” is a bad word. Dad is who put them in a dryer. He's who cut off their mom's ear. Dad is who beats people up. Dad is who is in jail. When you start to introduce God our loving heavenly Father, they don’t want a God who is a father. But then you introduce them to what a real father is. They go to church, and they see men that are kind to their children. It changes their whole life. It changes their whole perspective.
We are your typical family, but they also see we don’t throw things at each other, we don’t scream at each other. We don’t hit each other. Instead, we love each other. They take it in and soak it in. It teaches them how a loving family works.
We put them to bed every night with a Bible story. We pray with them. Even if they're young and not able to comprehend the Gospel, we’re still getting them to a point that they’ll be more receptive.
Last night, we did the Bible story on Psalm 23. We were able to teach the girls, now that they are Christians, they can always know that they have Christ in their hearts. He is with them everywhere they go, and He wants to be a part of every decision they make and everything they do. They shouldn’t be kind to others just so that they'll be kind back. They need to love them and be kind because that's what God wants them to do. That's what God has done for them. This really changes everything for those girls. Everything.
We had an opportunity with one of our boys. The principal at his school called us and said that he was talking horribly about girls at the lunch table. We had the opportunity to talk to him about respecting women. We got to have that opportunity to influence some of his thinking that may protect a woman down the road.
These kids come in, and they're afraid of policemen because a policeman removed them. Social workers are there, and their reports are responsible for removing the children, but the social workers need a policeman to remove the children. Unfortunately, that teaches the kids that policemen are awful. Even though their home might be awful, that's all they know. So, when a policeman comes and takes them away, it's horrible.
We get to teach our kids that the policemen are our friends and if they’re ever in trouble they can go to the police. When we ride in the car, they’ll say, “Mommy, Mommy! There's a policeman in the car next to us!” And Esther will reply, “Oh! How wonderful that he is out here protecting us today.” We bake cookies and take them to policeman. We always take cookies to the fire station and thank the firemen.
Again, we try to break some of that cycle. Just last night we were chatting with the girls we have now. There's a possibility that they're going to see their biological mom who they’ve not seen in four years and they don't want to see her. They're angry, and their memories are horrible. We told them, “You know what, girls? You know how you feel and how you were treated? One day, you're going to be moms, and we want you to remember this so that you never treat your children like this. Instead, we want you to love your children and to be kind to them.”
Why should Christians be involved in foster care?
We feel Christians should be doing foster care because foster parents have the opportunity to point these kids to the Lord at an age when most Christians accept Christ. Steve recently spoke at our church and asked who in the congregation had been saved before eight years old. An overwhelming majority of the hands went up. So here is this group of kids who for the most part have no clue what love really looks like and are the age that kids commonly get saved.
This is an opportunity to show these kids Christ. An unsaved foster home is not going to point them to Christ. There are unsaved foster homes that are two women or two men. You're taking these kids and putting them into a homosexual family that is now going to teach them that homosexuality is what's right. Now, this doesn’t mean those families don’t love the kids or care about them. But we would sure like to teach them what is right.
Foster parents get to teach about Christ and His plan. Our current foster kids asked why we were going to vote for a certain candidate. This was a teachable moment. We told them one of the reasons that we choose to vote for somebody is if they are against abortion. Here came the next question: What is abortion? We told them abortion is when the doctor ends the life of a child growing in its mommy's tummy. We believe that the baby in its mommy's tummy is a life that God has allowed and He has a plan for that child. That baby is alive and should be born. So, we got to have that conversation about abortion. They might give that explanation to a teacher at school who may disapprove, but too bad. We got to weigh in on that.
Why let the world be bringing them up? Let’s us as Christians be bringing them up. It used to be the church that took care of orphans. But now it's the world. Let’s let Christians do it and have an opportunity to completely change these kids’ lives. It's just another way to love your neighbor.
Our church has played a large part in our fostering. These kids hear the Gospel in junior church and their Sunday school classes. Once, we had these adorable but wild little boys. We only had them for five days, but we took them to church on Sunday. Esther went with them since they didn't want her to leave. You could tell they had never sat in a Sunday school class before. One even leaned over to Esther and said, “This is boring!” But a day later, when Esther dropped the boys off at daycare, they were singing “My God is so Big, so Strong and so Mighty.” They had remembered the Sunday school song. We were able to tell that teacher the next Sunday. Children's workers may think they have nothing to do with our foster kids. But they play a part in these kids’ lives, too.
We have thanked Kids for Truth workers. We have thanked Sunday school teachers. They’re part of this. They’re part of the children coming to Christ because they are planting or watering the seed.
Pastor Huffman in our church has always been there for us for the six years that we have fostered. He always makes sure he knows when we get new foster kids. He comes straight up to us wanting to meet these kids. When they leave he always gives them a New Testament, takes them into his office, and prays with them. All those little things just add up. That’s why the local church needs to be involved.
The kids get to experience love from the local church so that when they leave they have a memory that there was a church that loved them. That’s important to us. This is often these kids’ first experience with a church. To have the pastor every Sunday come up to the two boys we had, seek them out, give them a fist bump—that is their first memory of a pastor. We don't know what their life will hold in the future. But if they have that memory and they hit a hard time in life, maybe they will remember that there was a pastor who loved them and sought them out and will go seek out a pastor for help.
We have heard horror stories. We've had a few bad experiences ourselves, though very few. Most of the time the people at church love our kids. But if these kids are going to a church that loves them when they’re used to being unloved—that impacts these kids’ lives.
Foster care isn’t for everybody, but everyone can get involved. That's why it should be a local church thing. Maybe you can’t see yourself being foster parents, which is fine, but there are other areas you could be involved in that might seem small but are huge to foster parents.
Some people do respite which gives the foster parents a break. Several years ago, we wanted to go up to Iowa for Christmas to see our kids and grandkids. At that time, we were not allowed to take foster kids out of the state, and we wanted our foster girls to be able to stay in our home so their Christmas would be as normal and fun as possible. But Miracle Hill couldn’t find anybody to stay with the girls. Esther remembered a girl at church saying that she would love to be a foster parent, but she was a grad student at BJU and couldn't. Esther asked if she would be willing to be licensed to watch the girls in our home. She was over the moon excited. She met our need, but we also met her need of wanting to help.
Some churches have a foster ministry that provides meals for the first four nights after a family receives new foster kids, which is a huge blessing. Most of these kids are coming in without any clothing. Often, DSS doesn't call you until an hour before the kids arrive. You’re not even ready really. Those first four days, you're buying clothing, you're registering them for school, you're going to the doctor's office. The first four days are total upheaval. To know that there's a meal coming at the end of the day is a blessing.
Providing diapers or clothing or shoes—there are many aspects people can help with. When we found out we were getting the girls we have now, we did what we've never done before. We posted on Facebook if anybody had girls size fourteen clothes and size four shoes to let us know because we were getting the girls in an instant. We had always had younger children, but we were getting three older girls all at once. One lady from our church called and said, “I want to do something. I'm going to get some shoes for these girls, and I'm going to take my girls with me.” That woman got to be a blessing to us in a huge way, but she also got to have a teachable moment with her girls.
What advice do you have for those considering foster care?
1. Find a foster agency—preferably a Christian one.
We strongly recommend that those interested in fostering look into a Christian organization. Every state is different, but DSS typically uses other organizations to recruit and train foster parents. That’s what Miracle Hill does. Miracle Hill licensed us to be foster parents, but the children that come to us are not Miracle Hill children. They’re DSS children. DSS will call Miracle Hill or others agencies when they have children to place, and then each of those agencies will call their foster parents.
Miracle Hill is faithfully in our home, keeping us accountable and giving us support and encouragement. When the kids get saved, our case workers rejoice with us. DSS workers wouldn’t unless they’re Christian. You can go through DSS, but we would go with a Christian group before DSS.
There are so many rules. There are a lot of regulations, but the foster agency takes you through all of them step by step. Every two years we’re relicensed, and we have to do fourteen hours of training a year. For every time we're relicensed, we have to show 28 hours of continual training.
We have to have our home inspected by the fire marshal every year. Our windows have to be a certain size. We need a certain number of smoke alarms in the house, and they all have to be interconnected. The kitchen has to have a fire extinguisher. We have to clearly post emergency exit plans around the house.
We chose the types of children we can and cannot accept. Because we had a twenty-one-year old son living in our home, we marked off that we did not feel comfortable taking in children that had been sexually abused because they could act out. We didn’t want to expose our son to that. We also chose what age and gender children we want. And when the agency calls, they tell you the situations of the children they need to place and ask if you can take them. You’re free to say either yes or no. If a placement gets unbearable, DSS can remove the kids.
We did say no, once, to two boys. Their situation was horrendous, and working through it, we realized they needed someone with them around the clock. We knew we couldn’t do it and had to say no. We really struggled through that one.
2. Don’t let money worries stop you.
For those people who say, “I can't afford to do it. Our family can't afford to bring children in,” DSS does pay for the foster children’s care. We're not making big bucks off of it, but it's enough to cover their food. It's enough to cover their clothing, their necessities of life. Nobody should worry about having enough money. Homes don't need to be big and fancy. Moms can be working moms. The system works with you to enable you to do this.
3. Strengthen your marriage.
As is true any home, the key to successful foster care is the marriage in the foster home. We always tell people who ask us about considering foster care that they better have a good marriage, because this is a struggle. Also, you will be an example to these kids of a godly marriage. They don't know what marriage of any kind looks like, typically, and if they do, it’s often horrendous.
4. Include your kids in the decision to foster.
Another thing we recommend is using wisdom in your approach to foster care if you have younger children in your home. You have to be very careful with that. Every situation is different, but it's hard when you have little ones and you bring a foster kid in, we think. Some families have done it and have had amazing, beautiful, wonderful experiences with it. But then we’ve talked to some that it's just turned into a huge power struggle between their kids and the adopted or foster kids.
And you're not allowed to spank them. So if you're spanking your own kids, and they see you’re not spanking the foster kids, the foster kids are getting away with things in your kids’ minds.
In our home foster care has been a family thing. It’s got to be a team effort. We've talked to our children—even this time before we brought these three girls in—“What do you think? Are you ready for this? What are your opinions on this?” And it was our two kids that were still living at home that said, “This house needs kids again. It's been too long without kids.”
Those are the things we throw out to families: make sure you have a good marriage and being careful which children you do bring in if you have little ones.
5. Don’t let singleness stop you.
There is a place for single parents in this as well. Some of these girls that come into foster care that have been horribly abused by a man can’t be placed in a home that has a man in it. These girls need to be with a woman because they are terrified of men.
We have met amazing single mom foster parents that are raising these children in the Lord. We were in training with a single dad who is taking in teen boys and being a mentor and a role model to them. He had been a parent and raised his own children, but he was in a position where he could take in teenage boys that maybe couldn't be in a home with a woman because they were a threat to women.
If a single person wants to foster parent, though, they need a support group—family, parents—because there’s something about the male presence. There just is. If a single foster mom has a dad or a brother, someone that can help by being the male voice, it’s helpful. Not that you can't do it without that, it’s just harder.
The single foster parent needs to be aware that they could miss work if the child becomes sick. This is another reason the single foster parent needs a support team.
6. Remember: love and structure.
The two key things are love and structure. They thrive on love and structure. At the same time, we have found they flourish when we treat them like kids and not as traumatized victims. There's a balance there. We understand the trauma, for sure, but we just find when we treat them like normal kids, they respond to that.
DSS knows who the good foster parents are and who are not. It’s like going into a job. As a Christian, you should be one of the best employees, right? Same thing here. As more Christians get involved, DSS sees the genuine love. It has an impact on the world. Like dropping a pebble in the water, that impact just keeps rippling.