Disclaimer: This post is about faith and the role it may or may not play in a family’s journey towards reunification. It does not espouse any particular faith, nor is there any intent to suggest that any expression of faith is necessary for reunification. Finally, please do not get caught up in names (“God”) or pronouns and miss sight of the bigger point.
Last fall, I was reading an FSRP report that was describing what took place at various visits. On this particular visit, the family (biological parent and children) sat down to dinner, and the parent encouraged one of the children to say grace. The child obediently bowed his head and prayed. But then he added that whatever happened (with regard to the case) was “Your [God’s] will.” I immediately sat straight up and thought, “No, no, no, no!”
Tearing children from their parents is never God’s will and teaching a child that everything that happens is “God’s will” can be harmful. It begs the question—“If God loved me, why would He do this to me?” and it gives the child one more “person” to target with his/her anger. At the time of this child’s prayer, the family was hurtling towards TPR (termination of parental rights) because parents were not engaging in services; services they desperately needed, including substance abuse treatment, mental health therapy, and domestic violence intervention. Suggesting that TPR is “God’s will” suggests that the parents bear no responsibility for the outcome. Because even if God’s vision is for the family to be healed and reunified, it’s not going to happen if parents aren’t doing the work necessary to make that happen. And it’s not ok to just shrug and say, “Oh, well. I guess it wasn’t God’s will that we were able to reunify.”
Faith—and faith communities—can be a tremendous support for families. One of the greatest dangers in falling prey to a substance use disorder is social isolation. Faith communities can protect against this by building relationships and connections, and providing a safe space for families to land. They can often provide tangible supports, such as financial assistance, transportation, or other types of ministries (clothing closets, food pantries, etc.).
Faith communities and belief can also be protective. One client once told her worker that she would never commit suicide because she believed it to be a sin. Whether you believe that to be true or not, her belief in the truth of that statement helped keep her alive.
And belief in something bigger than yourself has been proven to contribute to happiness. Faith communities can help provide coping strategies and act as a support system for prosocial behaviors.
Of course, faith communities are not the only ones that can provide these kinds of supports. But they are something people are familiar with, there are churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship in most communities, and they serve all ages and (if they’re doing it right) all kinds of people.
However, there are some potential problems as well. The “God’s will” statement is just one. The potential for judgment and/or exclusion is another, though I would say that if this is an issue, don’t quit church altogether; just find a different one. Additionally, churches are not always well-versed in trauma informed care, so may not be prepared to manage or address some of the issues CINA families may be dealing with. Of course, just showing up for services will not have as great an impact as becoming actively involved in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque. People cannot help and support you if they don’t know you need their help and support.
But please, parents—do notteach your children that everything that happens is “God’s will.” It will push kids farther away from God when things don’t go well (instead of faith being a support) and it also teaches them that they have no control over their life, which is not true. Whether parents are a follower of a particular spiritual faith or not, they still have to do the work.