Spotlight on Foster Care: Andy and Jennifer Brown
May is Foster Care Awareness Month. Nationwide, there are 400,000-plus children in foster care, with at least 100,000 of them waiting for that forever home.
According to the Alabama Department of Human Resources website, there are 6,000 youngsters across the state in foster care. Some will only be there for a matter of days; others will require long term care before they can be reunited with their biological families, or possibly find a new permanent home through adoption.
Andy and Jennifer Brown of Greenville are caring for two of Alabama’s 6,000 foster children, and it just might be the “toughest job they have ever loved.”
Andy, an English teacher at Greenville High School and Jennifer, an ER nurse at Regional Medical Center of Central Alabama, were already mom and dad to their adopted daughter, a little live-wire named Olivia, when they decided to become foster parents.
The Browns, who have had their fostering license for approximately two years, say that experiences working with orphanages overseas in Kazakhstan a few years ago served as the catalyst for their decision.
“That’s when I believe God helped open our eyes to the need, and to know there was a similar need here at home to help children who, through no fault of their own, were in less than desirable situations,” Jennifer says.
The certainty fostering was the right decision for the couple was not equally shared in the early days.
“To be perfectly honest, Jen is the reason we became foster parents,” Andy admits. “I just didn’t believe I could do it. I always hid behind the idea that I would get too attached to the children. That was really just an excuse and selfishness though. Of course, a family is going to get attached to the foster children who come into their home. But that’s not a good reason not to do it; that’s a reason to do it.”
“As an individual, I had to get over the fear of loss, that even though I might experience great loss over getting attached and loving these kids—well, what they gain, and what I also gain in the process, that’s worth so much more than any loss I will deal with,” she says.
“I know the One who is in control of all, and who has His perfect plan in place and who provides comfort during times of loss.”
Andy says that, realistically, any foster parent who can do it without becoming attached to the child “probably isn’t doing it very well.”
“What it all boils down to, is the cost for us doesn’t compare to what the kids gain. They are worth whatever it may cost us,” he adds.
Because Andy was working on his completing his master’s degree at the time, the couple starting out just doing respite foster care—that is, short term cases.
“I just didn’t think I had the capacity to truly add to our family while I was still in school,” Andy says.
Their youngest daughter has been with them a little over a year now, and their son for just over three months.
With a five-year-old, three-year-old and one-year-old now in the Brown household, there is rarely a dull moment these days—and Andy and Jennifer agree that has been one of their greatest hurdles as a couple in their foster parent journey.
“Just trying to find time for us is probably the biggest challenge. We stay pretty busy. Somebody always needs something,” Andy says.
“By the time we get everybody down to bed, we are ready to sleep ourselves. But we also recognize the need to spend time together. We’ve tried to make that a priority.”
Even after dealing with lack of sleep, dirty diapers, spilled juice and other issues needing their attention, the Browns say there is great satisfaction in serving as fosters.
“We know we can’t help everyone, but we can provide a safe haven for these kids who need it at the time; we can be used to restore families,” Jennifer says.
“Just providing a home where these kids feel safe and loved is my greatest satisfaction,” adds Andy.
Someone else had to make a big adjustment as they grew their family—eldest daughter, Olivia, described by her dad as “a rock star.”
“In less than one year, she’s gone from being an only child to the eldest of three young kids, from getting our undivided attention to a third of it, or even less depending on what the little ones need,” Andy explains.
“And she has never complained. Not once. She has loved those little ones fiercely and she’s helped out with everything she could to care for them—except for the dirty diapers. That’s where she draws the line.”
Jennifer agrees Olivia is a super big sister.
“I think this whole process has helped her learn a greater, more selfless love—which, surprisingly, seems to come to her much easier than I expected,” her mom admits.
“We’ve had only one child who was with us only a night, so she really hasn’t had to experience much loss yet. She has certainly been awesome in welcoming two new babies into her life. She helps out and loves them so well.”
And what are the ideal qualities of a good foster parent?
“Someone who is willing and able to see the needs of these kids and their families as more important than any fear of loss in their life,” says Jennifer.
Andy says he isn’t sure there is such a thing as an “ideal” foster.
“I think all of us who foster have some kind of issues we are dealing with. Sometimes people get this idea that those of us who foster are somehow special. I had that misconception at one time,” he admits.
“The truth is, foster parents aren’t special; a good foster parent is simply someone who will welcome kids into their home and love them.”
For anyone considering becoming a foster parent, Andy and Jennifer Brown have this advice:
“The first step is to pray . . . if there is interest there, it’s probably something God is doing. Then, reach out to DHR and find out when a licensing class will be held. These classes will answer a lot of questions for you. Taking the class does not commit you to fostering; it does give both you and DHR the chance to see if you would be a good fit as a foster,” the Browns say.
“I am thankful that Jen was persistent in pursuing her passion for foster care,” Andy says. “I probably wouldn’t have taken the leap on my own, even though I recognized the need. However, now I can’t imagine us not doing this.”
Requirements for Foster Parents in Alabama
Anyone wishing to serve as a foster parent in the State of Alabama must be at least 19 years of age. While being married is not required, any prospective foster parent who is married must have been so for a minimum of one year.
Any spouse or children must also be willing to provide a child with a home—their own. Everyone must be in good overall health and all adults in the household ages 19 or older must undergo a background check, including any criminal history and the State Central Registry for Child Abuse and Neglect.
Character references for potential foster parents are also required. In addition, prospective foster parents must complete a 30-hour preparation course.
Additional resources suggested by the Browns include the book, “Reframing Foster Care” by Jason Johnson ( “Does a great job of reminding us God can make something beautiful out of our brokenness”), and the podcast “Forgotten Initiative” (“This podcast addresses all sorts of issues that foster families face”).