Caring for children is deeply important to the heart of God, and adoption and foster care are important callings that connect to God’s heart for children and families. But this road isn’t always easy. It’s important that foster and adoptive parents prepare to address their children’s history of trauma, separation, and disrupted placements, which can lead to mental health, emotional, and behavioral difficulties. In this episode, we’ll talk with Jenn and Joshua Hook, about themes from their new book, Thriving Families: A Trauma-Informed Guidebook for the Foster and Adoptive Journey, and begin to unpack how this journey can shape and influence our children. This meaningful book is available now from Herald Press.
Josh Hook, Jenn Hook, Ben Wideman, Steve Thomas, Don Neufeld,
Ben Wideman 00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine. What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?
Jenn Hook 00:09
It just became very apparent to me that churches were really good at acknowledging, like it’s clearly in the Bible to care for the cause of the orphan and the fatherless. And Christians really took that to heart and churches encouraged families to foster or to adopt. But rarely the churches show up after family said yes to that journey.
Josh Hook 00:29
And churches attract people who kind of fit within where the church is going. Versus the church kind of really sitting down and thinking like, what are the needs of each of the individuals and families in our congregation? And how can we go best go about meeting those needs?
Ben Wideman 00:45
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together. Hello again, friends. Welcome to ~ing Podcast. I’m really excited today to be joined by two of our MennoMedia authors, Jenn and Josh Hook, a husband and wife who have authored this, now I think the second book that you have authored together. This one is called Thriving Families: A Trauma Informed Guidebook for the Foster and Adoptive Journey. Thank you so much for being with us here on ~ing Podcast. Jenn and Josh, I’m curious for those who don’t know you, how do you introduce yourselves?
Jenn Hook 01:32
Yeah, so I’m… My name is Jenn Hook. I am a Canadian that moved to America, went to grad school, got my Master’s in Clinical Psychology. I started working as a therapist doing trauma counseling with kids that were in foster care, and their families, and then also birth parents who are trying to reunify with their children. And that’s really where my passion came. And my eyes were really opened to the needs of our families. And so, from that experience, I started a nonprofit called “Replanted” to engage churches and communities in supporting foster and adoptive families in more intentional ways. And so we help churches and communities build support groups for parents and kids to process their journeys. And then we also host a conference. It’s really interactive, a really great space for people to just encounter Jesus, but also to become more trauma informed and just learn about all the complexities, the adoption, foster care journey, you know, open… how to have an open relationship with birth families, how to be trans racial family, sensory processing issues, all of the things that make the journey unique. And so it’s a really great empowering conference. And so yeah, that’s what we’re that’s what I’m up to at least I’ll let Josh introduce himself.
Josh Hook 02:41
Yeah. Hi. It’s great to be here. My name is Joshua Hook. And I am a Professor of Psychology. So my training was in counseling psychology, and I work at the University of North Texas, where I, I do research, I teach, I supervise graduate students. I’m also a licensed Clinical Psychologist in the state of Texas. And Jenn and I got married about five years ago. And so since that time, I’ve been also helping her with with Replanted, kind of just assisting her and helping her with writing and things like that. So it’s been fun to join her in that.
Ben Wideman 03:16
This new book that’s out now, from Herald Press is not your first book about fostering. I’m curious, before we get into what this book is all about, where did you get this passion from? What drew you to this very important work?
Jenn Hook 03:29
As I was working as a trauma therapist, in the foster care system, it just became very apparent to me that churches were really good at acknowledging like it’s clearly in the Bible to care for the cause of the orphan and the fatherless, and Christians really took that to heart and churches encouraged families to foster or to adopt. But rarely did churches show up after family said yes to that journey. And what I was seeing there’s a lot of families, we’re really struggling, you know, kids are coming into their home with significant trauma histories, even at birth, a child separated from their birth family, you know, from their birth mom after they’ve had the in utero experiences, and they know her heartbeat and her voice and her smells. These are traumatic experiences for kids and trauma manifests says a lot of emotional behavioral challenges. And so I saw a lot of parents walking alongside loving their children and just, you know, feeling so overwhelmed and ill equipped to step into their trauma and I saw churches sometimes actually being more hurtful than helpful. And so I just felt like you know, we’ve got to we’ve got to go beyond if the church is going to encourage families to foster adopt, we have to show up in those really challenging times those difficult times. To say like we love you just as much as Jesus does, and we’re gonna support you every step of the way, even when it’s really really hard and really messy. You know, do you think about a child in foster care you know, they they come into a stranger’s home sometimes, you know, maybe their mother Are as addicted to substances, they don’t know if they’re going home or not. They’ve had traumatic experiences. That’s not just, I’m going to come into someone’s home and everything’s good with my life. Now, you know, there’s a lot of feelings, there’s a lot going on for kids. And so parents as well, navigating that with children is hard, you know, and so in my eyes are just really opened to that reality. What I was seeing happening was a lot of families had good intentions, especially in foster care. And then realize, like, this is so hard, I don’t have the support I need. And then what I was seeing happening was kids were then being removed and bounced from home to home to home, you know, which is more trauma for kids, more abandonment. And so I was just like, goodness the church can do, we’re equipped to do something about this. And so our first book really stepped into like, here’s what you need to know to go in eyes wide open as a foster adoptive parent, but hey, support systems, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, the church like this is what you need to know, to be able to support families well.
Ben Wideman 06:01
We’ve, we’ve touched on this a couple of times on the podcast and in different spaces. But I think the church often thinks it is a home for all. And unfortunately, in many churches, there is this old idea that you kind of have to clean yourself up or present your best self when you get to church. When you say it’s a home for all, and yet if you don’t fit a certain mold, sometimes there’s not space for you. Is that what you’re getting at here? When you talk about churches kind of failing? foster families? When when they when they do show up?
Jenn Hook 06:36
Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, I have a lot of stories from people that have heard from their churches, or their Sunday school program. Like, “hey, we we can’t meet the needs of your child’s challenging behaviors, they can’t come to Sunday school, they’re not welcome at youth group, or you have to be there with them.” Right. And I’m kinda like, goodness, like the church, like, become trauma informed, like show these families, we love you so much. We’re going to do what it takes to meet the needs of your family. To say yes to you because you’ve said yes to a child. To step into those stories, to support kids well, to to be able to empathize with the complexity of what they’re going through… Who is my birth family? Why isn’t my mom getting sober to get me back? Why did these things happen to me? You know… and so I think our families have felt like, slowly, they stop getting invited to birthday parties, or they’re not welcome at certain things. And so that only further isolates them, and the kids to experience that, right? Like, “Oh, I’m the problem child,” you know? “My trauma is a problem for people.” And so they start to feel and receive that message, like, I can’t be loved through this, right? And so, we’ve seen the church again, you know, there’s churches that do do a great job, but there’s churches that just don’t know. Yeah, they’re kind of naive to the, the challenges and the uniqueness of the journey, and then instead of being helpful end up, you know, unintentionally being really hurtful.
Josh Hook 08:00
I think sometimes churches are, are, are well intentioned, but, but churches have their kind of programs and their priorities and things like that. And, and so a lot of times it works that way, like they attract churches attract people who kind of fit within where the church is going, versus the church kind of really sitting down and thinking like, “what are the needs of each of the individuals and families in our congregation? And how can we go best go about meeting those needs?” And so I think that’s, that’s something that’s is sometimes challenging for, for families who are adopting or fostering is, you know, maybe their their child doesn’t quite fit the the mold of what the church is equipped to offer. And maybe the church isn’t flexible enough to, to change or shift or, or get informed in a way that can help meet that family’s needs.
Ben Wideman 08:54
Well, that I guess, brings us to your new book out thriving families a trauma informed guide book for the foster and adoptive journey. The subtitle makes me think that this is specifically for those who are either experiencing, fostering or have gone through it or thinking about it. Is that too narrow of an audience? Are you hoping that that say a church pastor might pick this book up as a way to understand folks who are going through this process?
Jenn Hook 09:26
Yeah, I think it’s definitely written for parents, but it’s also written for a broader audience. I think what is most hurtful for our families is when support systems stop being a support system. And a lot of times that happens because they they don’t understand what’s happening with the children. Right. And so our families are experiencing comments like well just give the children back are you signed up for this? You know, and people are just feeling like I don’t you know, you have a child that’s having an hour long meltdown. And they’re not used to that right and they’re not understanding what This is a trauma response. How do I step in? Right? And so it is yes, written for parents, but it’s written just as much for support systems. So a grandparent can say, “hey, my my grandchildren that came to our family through adoption, I know how to love them well, I understand their experiences a lot more. And I can be a better grandparent to them now as a result.” And same with church pastors, you know, I understand the needs of the children that are impacted by adoption and foster care in my congregation. And we can be intentional about the training we give our volunteers like the ways that we support families in this, you know, honestly been like, when I first started working as a trauma therapist in foster care, I was probably like, on that naive end as well, like, Oh, these kids are in a safe home now. Everything’s great, you know, foster parents are doing this noble thing. And I was just so naive to like, this is so much more complicated than I could have ever imagined. And these kids are hurting in a lot of ways. They fall in love with their foster parents, you know, a lot of times they really want to go home as well. And they’re living this limbo life. You know, I’ve had kids that weren’t able to reunify and they got adopted from foster care. And for them, it was the saddest day of their life, because that was the the definitive like, I will never be able to go home to my birth parents, and why didn’t they do what they needed to do to get me back. And so we talked in the book about like, felt safety, right? Just because a child now is out of a threatening environment doesn’t mean… they might know they’re safe, but they don’t always feel like they’re safe, right? And those two don’t match. And so I think that’s where like support systems or churches are like, “Well, why is why are these children’s struggling so much?” But they’re not understanding how trauma impacts the brain and behavior and you know, the sensory processing difficulties kids can experience and all of it so the book is really this eyes wide open. Like let’s have some really frank hard conversations, things to ponder as we support families. Yeah. So that’s, that’s why we we did a essentially like a part two, with the book.
Ben Wideman 12:00
Yeah, well and trauma awareness… that strikes me is so important for all of us. I think we all carry trauma in some ways right now, none of us have lived trauma free existences and, and having an awareness for that in ourselves and in others, I think provides us with so much more empathy or should. Yeah. Yeah, especially in faith communities, where there is that facade that you have to sort of, at least present the right appearance. Being far more aware of all of our collective trauma, I think is so so valuable to be to be continually reminded of, even if we’re not actively a part of the the foster care system. I imagine that a big part of of this work is the challenge of the way that our culture has set up its systems, both the legal systems, and the court systems. And you know, like, you talked about these, these children who feel sadness when they are no longer able to go back to those birth parents or, or vice versa, if they fall in love with a foster parent and have to have to say goodbye to them either by them.
Jenn Hook 13:15
Ben Wideman 13:16
Can you tell us a little tell us a little bit about what it is meant for you to navigate these systems with a more trauma based awareness?
Jenn Hook 13:24
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think it’s easy to villainize birth parents, it’s really easy to align yourself with a child and their experience and what they’ve gone through. And then even for the foster or adoptive families. And I think becoming trauma informed. I’ve just seen the ways generational trauma has played a role in where families are at and the kind of their journeys and whether that’s led them to their kids being in foster care or not. I think becoming trauma informed has created a greater empathy for everyone involved in the triad. So whether it’s birth families, kids, or foster adoptive parents, I think, I think too, when we think about the cause of the fatherless a lot of times as Christians, we think, like, oh, God’s kind of calling us and mandating us to support or bring children into our home through foster care and adoption. And I really think God’s calling us to something even bigger. And that even means supporting family preservation, family reunification, like what would it look like, you know, for Jesus to say to a birth family whose kids are in foster care, like, I love you, I’m cheering for you. I want you to experience healing and redemption, you know, and get your kids back. Right? And I think we as Christians don’t always model that right. Like sometimes we become very pro adoption or pro the kids staying with us. And so I think just becoming more trauma informed and having so many kids sharing their personal experiences and stories with me really shifted my perspective in what you know, I think God really is wanting for families. Like God never intended for any families to be broken. You know, and so the fact that like kids, adoption plans are made and kids are going into different homes or foster care, like that’s, that is a hurting experience. And that hurts God’s heart as well. And so I think, you know, we talk a lot in our book about even language, being mindful of the language we use to communicate with our kids about that. We talk a lot about to, you know, you’ll see, social media is very popular, right. And so you see a lot of times videos of like, kids, you know, I spent 462 days in Foster Care, and today I am getting adopted, and you see these kids, this announcement happened, and these kids start crying. And for me as an insider, you know, yes, it could be tears of joy. They’re very happy. But it could also be tears of sorrow. And it could be both, and we don’t always entertain that side of the equation. And so I think, yeah, just becoming more trauma informed to understanding the impact of trauma on the brain and behavior, also, you know, takes us into a journey of like, all of this as well, you know, and what our kids have been through an end birth families having more empathy for them as well.
Josh Hook 16:15
It is sometimes challenging for families to navigate legal systems and things like that. And, you know, there’s a lot of amazing workers in the foster care system. And the reality is that a lot of foster care workers in caseworkers are overworked, underpaid, and so there’s a lot of challenges. And I think, you know, part of, you know, when we talk with parents, a lot of it is, you know, empathizing with, with the struggles, providing support, providing a listening ear, and, and just walking with folks through the journey wherever it wherever it goes, even if it’s frustrating, even if it’s aggravating or disappointing. Because there’s a lot of that wrapped up in the journey.
Ben Wideman 17:27
Josh, this question may be specifically for you as an educator, but how do we do a better job of of teaching about, about foster care, the trauma involved in it? How do we, how do we get that story out in a in a helpful and productive way?
Josh Hook 17:42
You know, this is tough, because it this, this part of it maybe isn’t as glamorous as, you know, the message of you know, there’s a bunch of orphans we need to adopt. Kind of like this Savior thing that, that sometimes you see in churches. But yeah, I mean, I would encourage churches and pastors, I mean, I mean, part of it is getting involved with people who are doing the work with foster families, and listening to them, hearing their experiences, hearing their needs. And so some of that is developing those relationships and really listening. But but there’s a lot of opportunities. I mean, even through replanted, you know, we offer a yearly conference that can be simulcast for wherever you are, where you where we bring about experts on trauma and attachment and foster care, parenting. There’s books that, you know, there’s speakers, there’s, there’s a lot of ways you can educate yourself for, for what is is really happening in the context of foster and adoptive parenting. Yeah, so I mean, I think that education is there. I think we just need to be motivated to seek it. But yeah, yeah, bring in, bring in experts to your church, have a trauma training at your church, you know, have some of those opportunities for your, your child care workers and things like that? I mean, all that is really helpful.
Jenn Hook 19:09
And it’s, it’s really almost we’re at a point where we, it’s almost like, we this has to happen now. You know, at our conference, like between in person and simulcasting, we have almost 1000 parents participating. And one of their things is like my, my support system needs to hear this right, like they’re feeling so you know, they’re living the daily trauma with their kids and the daily journey. And then they have to also advocate in the school system that’s not trauma informed, and they have to advocate with their, their family and various things, and they’re feeling really worn down and tired. You know, and at our conference, one of the biggest themes that we communicate is you are not alone. There’s other people that understand what you’re going through. But I think the education piece unless it directly applies to you and your life is being impacted significantly. It’s easy not to get educated, right? So we see a lot of the parents getting educated, and then they also have to be the advocates for their family and for their kids. And so I would love to see the church and people being proactive, you know, saying like, hey, my, my daughter wants to adopt, like, I’m going to, I’m gonna get these resources. I’m going to attend trauma trainings like hope for the journey is a really great trauma informed conference that simulcast we simulcast ours as well. You know, there’s a lot of opportunities for people to show love to a family in that way by getting educated.
Ben Wideman 20:33
I like that. I’m thinking a little bit about how politicized birth and family systems have become in this country, with the Left and the Right, kind of arguing for their politics, for better for worse. Do you feel some of that in the foster care world as well? that there are sort of lines that are drawn? And if you believe this, then you have to be on this side… And the sort of polarization that so many different spaces are experiencing?
Jenn Hook 21:01
Yes, I would say there. I mean, I think there’s polarization and everything. And so I don’t know how political I… We should go here. I’m not quite sure. But I think what can be really hard is with the politics, or especially with the Supreme Court ruling with Roe vs. Wade, and that being overturned, right, so many churches, and people are like, Okay, let’s get ready for an influx of adoptions and for us on the adoption and foster care, world living it and offering support or being involved in very, very tangible ways. You know, adoption isn’t a substitution for abortion, and I think birth parents do make adoption plans. Absolutely. But, you know, for us, we’re like, we, the church needs to get even further upstream with this, where we’re empowering women and families to be able to care for their children. And and I think that’s where sometimes there is this political isolation happening, where we’re trying to shift the narrative. And that’s something you know, even 20 years ago, this is kind of why we’re in the space for and 20 years ago, the churches were like, they’re hurting orphans, you know, we need to go rescue all these kids. And so churches and families are like, all right, yes, we’re bringing kids into our home. And now 20 years later, we’re seeing you know, this was almost want to say hurtful, but we’re just seeing the consequences of some of that, where 80% of children and international orphanages have living family 60% have a living parent, it’s a poverty issue. But because people were quick to fund orphanages, they kids were able to get food and education and the resources they needed. And so parents were saying that’s better for my kids. But we know family is better for kids, not orphanages. And so we’re realizing some of the consequences of these decisions. And we’re trying to change the narrative and kind of shift it. And that takes a lot of work, you know. But yeah, I think there are times where there there can be areas or roads that we go down where we’re like, oh, that, you know, in hindsight, that wasn’t the best choice. And now we’ve created an additional issue that we need to counteract, we know family is better for kids. So now you’re seeing a huge movement of organizations trying to transition orphanages and reintegration centers to get kids back home.
Ben Wideman 23:27
Like so many things, I guess, when we think we know the answer without actually asking people what the problem is, you know, the church gets into trouble in those spaces where we just act like a bulldozer. Here’s here’s our solution we’re handing to you. I think you both have said along the way here, you know, hear the stories understand the trauma that is a part of this. That seems to slow, it should slow us down enough to pause before we just do something. Yeah,
Jenn Hook 23:56
Yeah. And I think too, that comes with education, right? Like, I’ll see a lot of posts about people like oh, you know, we’re gonna be adopting a child or you know, that this child is no longer to reunify with their families. And like people, the support systems are all like, Yeah, that’s awesome. You know, and they’re almost praying that that happens, and not realizing that significant loss and grief a child’s been through now, that might be the outcome that needs to happen. That’s okay. But I think if we only have one lens where we’re focused on like, you know, yes, we get to keep the kids or they get to stay in our family. And we don’t honor the other side of that coin of what kids have been through. That’s where we get into trouble. That’s where the church needs to do a better job of like helping shift that narrative so that it is holding all the complexities of the journey, you know, your kids, for parents and for birth parents, that we’re all worthy of being loved. We all have human dignity and should be treated in that way.
Ben Wideman 24:59
For the two of you to be doing this really challenging work, where do you find glimmers of hope? What does hope look like for you in this this space,
Josh Hook 25:09
You know, sometimes we talk with families, and they are really, really struggling and are overwhelmed. And kind of really struggling with the behaviors of their kids or don’t know what to do. And so when they, you know, when they’re, like, for example, at our conference, when they’re able to connect with other families who get it and, and experience support, and experience some hope that, okay, I’m learning some skills, I’m gonna go apply. And that can hopefully make a difference in my kids lives and my own lives. And there’s a little bit more life and energy that comes into the parents that you can see. That’s, that’s what gives gives me hope, you know, I think, I think there’s a lot, you know, we don’t get a, you don’t get a manual, when you become a parent before, for how to do it, you know, it’s one of those things, that’s really important, but we don’t have a lot of training that’s required. And so and, and with the adoption of foster care journey, there’s, there’s additional challenges and additional information and training and skills that that I think are important to develop. So yeah, a lot of that just doesn’t get disseminated. And so, I think when I when you do see that information get disseminated, and parents started to become more encouraged and more supported. And, and, and they’re, and they’re doing okay, they’re doing better. They’re, they’re seeing, you know, changes in their kids. You know, I love that.
Jenn Hook 26:41
Yeah, I would echo that, I think. My hope… God really placed it on my heart to start Replanted. And so that’s been a big passion area. But it was because of the kids that I walked alongside in the counseling room who shared their stories and their experiences and their feelings and their struggles with me. And I think my hope comes in seeing everyone recognizing like families need to be supported. And, you know, for even for us with our groups, like it’s, it’s not just for parents, this is not a group for struggling parents, it’s just as much for the kids, we have very intentional programming for kids, because kids need to be with other kids who understand what it’s like to be adopted, or to be living the life of limbo and foster care and wondering if they’re going home or not. And they need to be able to share that. And I think, you know, one of the most powerful things we do at the conferences, everyone gets a “same here” paddle. And we have parents and people sharing their stories. And when you resonate with what somebody’s saying, you raise your paddle, you know, so it could be this journey is harder than I thought it would ever be. And people all over the room, raise their paddles, right? And you look around and you realize I’m not alone. There’s other people that understand what I’m going through. And so I think my hope is, I feel like since we started 10 years ago, I’m seeing a shift in the support and people recognizing how important it is I’m seeing a shift in the narrative around adoption and foster care, which gives me hope. There’s so much work to be done still. But I think our greatest hope is like God’s got this and like the the grace and love that He gives us that we get to give to others. We can’t do this without him. And so I think, you know, to be able to create spaces where people can encounter Jesus and just feel encouraged and renewed again, you know, I think that gives me really great hope
Ben Wideman 28:33
Well, friends, I hope you found this conversation as meaningful as I have if you are in the foster care world. If you’re considering it, please check out ReplantedMinistry.org. And please check out this new book. This is published now from MennoMedia as Herald Press. Again, it’s called thriving families a trauma informed guidebook for the foster and adoptive journey. Josh, Jenn, thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us.
Jenn Hook 29:02
Josh Hook 29:02
Thanks for having us.
Ben Wideman 29:05
Next week on a podcast we’ll be sitting down with Steve Thomas and Don Neufeld, authors of the new book, Living That Matters: Honest Conversations for Men of Faith.
Don Neufeld 29:14
We can’t expect women or minority groups to do the work for us. We need to do the work
Steve Thomas 29:20
They break the silence over say the pain, shame or burden or struggle but they bear and open up to each other with vulnerability and creating a safe space for deep and honest conversations…
Don Neufeld 29:34
Challenging men to do the work of considering how best we can be healthy men in different roles in our lives.
Ben Wideman 29:44
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.