Some people still don’t understand why Alabama couple Chris and Jess Gordon have become respite foster parents.

“I get people saying things to me like, ‘Oh, I could never have a child come into my life and have them ripped away; I’m just too sensitive of a person.’ But what they don’t seem to realize is that foster parents are very sensitive, too,” Jess said. “It is a really hard thing to do, but it’s worth it being able to love on those kids as long as we have them.”

For many people, the thought of becoming a foster family is somewhat overwhelming. Foster parents invite children into their lives and homes, pour into them with care and love, and usually must say goodbye — rather abruptly at times. But for all of the emotional challenges of foster care, the reward is more than worth it.

Today, there are about 445 kids in the Madison County foster care system. Across Alabama, over 6,000 children are in foster care. While many people are unaware, there are choices out there to support foster kids beyond just choosing between full-time foster care or not.

Yet another pivotal part of healthy foster families and kids is respite foster care.

Respite care provides much-needed support for foster families. Many times, restrictions may be in place that limit things like a foster child’s schedule and transportation. Respite care addresses these needs by providing foster families with licensed respite-care families to care for their foster kids on a short-term basis as needed. It also gives foster families the chance to attend rejuvenating family retreats, required continuing education and training.

The Gordons are among a growing group of foster care supporters who have decided to become respite foster parents.

Chris and Jess first learned about the need for foster support through foster families at their home church, Mount Zion Baptist Church. They prayed about becoming foster parents but still lacked a clear peace or clear answer to their prayers. When Jess learned about respite care, something resonated.

“Respite care can make the difference between a foster family burning out or staying healthy,” Jess said.

After talking to Chris, she realized they were on the same page: They would open their home and hearts to provide support to foster families. They took a class at Mount Zion to become licensed foster parents, receiving training and instruction on what their new roles would bring.

The Gordons take the responsibility of respite care very seriously, and the whole family pitches in to help when they have a foster child living with them. Nine-year-old Julia has become like a little mother and caretaker, while 12-year-old Gabe helps with chores around the house.

“It really is a way for our family to serve others as a group,” Jess said.

Some of the greatest joys of respite care are clear. “Just to see firsthand the change in the kids from having delays and emotional issues to finding healing is incredible,” Jess said. “Even though we can’t help every child in care, it is a great joy to know that we can help some.”

Still, the process does come with its challenges.

“It can be a very emotional process,” Jess said. “It’s really sad and heart-wrenching to see what hard backgrounds these kids often come from.”

Since opening their home to foster children, Jess has seen over and over again how faithful God is. “I’ve learned that I have to surrender all control to Him. Obviously, in any situation, you should do that, but especially in foster care, there are just so many elements that are unknown,” Jess said. “It takes so much prayer and trust, day after day.”

To those considering foster or respite care, Jess would say, “This really requires everyone in the community helping. Answer the call — there’s a huge need.”

Whether you come alongside foster families in prayer, help with tutoring, cook meals, or babysitting, there are countless ways to provide support. And if God is leading you to foster or adopt, take a step out in faith. As more families like the Gordons commit to respite care, you can take heart in knowing that you would not be alone.