By Heather Jones Skaggs
Photos by Lauren Winter

Ed and Sallie Lawrence and Paul and Jen Batson have lived two different stories of foster parenting, but the need they both fill is great, with more than 6,000 children in the foster care system in Alabama. Here’s what they had to say about it all in their own words.

Meet the Batsons

Paul and Jen Batson’s journey into being a foster family started out by just coming alongside foster families that they knew to help them. Seven years later, the Batsons, who live in Hoover, have welcomed 12 foster children through their own home at different times from an overnight stay to a year.



Tell us a little bit about your family.

We have a big family! We have two daughters, Halle and Katie, who are grown. Marignima and Joshua are siblings from West Africa who came here as teenagers whom we sponsored and became their guardians. Our youngest is Jacob, who we adopted, and he is 6.

When and why did you consider fostering?

We are designed to be in a community with each other. Every child deserves a home and a community. I feel like most people would do that. As human beings, we are supposed to take care of other human beings. We are also Biblically called to care for orphans. That is going to look different to each individual person, but it is a calling for all of us in some way. Someone can sponsor a child in a different country, give to charities, provide meals, or even help a foster family with diapers, clothes, etc. How did we do it? We first came alongside foster parents to help. Our daughter Katie was the first one to come up to us and say, “Can we foster?”

We really locked in during the beginning of our journey that foster care is about the reunification of the children with their biological parent(s) or family, providing it is a safe situation to return. This is not always possible but it is the goal. We have always been an open-door house. We have always had an extra room for those who needed it. To open our home to a child that needs a place where they are safe, loved and cared for even for a short time is the best thing that we can do.

We started out as respite help for other foster families and then became one ourselves. Our first placement, a baby, was here until just after his first birthday. He is doing wonderful, and we went to his fifth birthday last year.

Tell us about the impact of fostering not only for your family but children in the foster care system in Alabama.

The impact on our family has been immeasurable. It is not just our family but our extended family and friends. It is far-reaching not only for us but also for the kids. We have the opportunity to love unconditionally a stranger (at first), and to see our kids and friends follow that example and love is very impactful. It is a full circle because you do experience grief and sadness when a foster leaves, but it is so worth it to give that child the love, respect and worth that all people should have.

What is the biggest challenge that foster children face?

It can depend on the age and situation. For younger kids, it is often not knowing or understanding why they are going to another family. Those are big emotions for kids to work through and process. Foster care is tough but it is necessary and needed.

What do you think is the biggest fear or reservation people have to not get involved in foster care?

I think some feel foster care is too hard. There are a lot of questions that go through their minds like how it will affect their kids. “Will I be bringing someone into our home that makes my kids feel unsafe or not feel ‘first?’” you might think. There is also a mix of not understanding that you are going to get a lot of support from the foster care community.

What would be your advice and first steps for anyone interested in becoming a foster family?

First, make sure what your motives are. If your goal is reunification, you have the understanding that you are providing a temporary place for a child to be loved and loved well, then that is the best place to start.

I would give warning to anyone who is entering just to adopt kids or find a child to adopt. We were told many stories about families who could not have children, and they entered into foster care for the option of adopting and that can just be very painful. There are beautiful stories of adoption; ours is one of them. But I also know that it is not what foster care is designed to do. Secondly, make sure they have a community and a support system: grandparents, friends, neighbors, etc. There are lots of places you can go and volunteer like the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Ministries. Our small group at church goes and helps families with meals, change tires and brakes, etc. Some churches have foster care support groups as well and they are great to work with.

Meet the Lawrences

Just a few years ago, Ed and Sallie Lawrence and their two children Hunter, 21, and Brantley, 19, had no idea the overwhelming need for families to provide love and support for teenagers. Since November 2019, though, they have been foster parents to four teenage girls and learned a lot about opening their hearts and home to this demographic along the way.

Tell us a little bit about your family.

Ed is originally from Tallassee, Alabama, and I (Sallie) am originally from Milton, Florida. We both attended Troy University and marched in the Sound of the South Marching Band, which is where we met. We have been married 25 years and have lived in Hoover our entire married life.

When and why did you consider fostering?

Our family has many friends who have adopted and fostered children over the years. It has been a part of our life through our family friendships. For years, our daughter Brantley had been asking if we would consider fostering, but as parents, we kept making excuses. One night we were walking through Riverchase Galleria and walked past a Heart Gallery Alabama display that highlighted foster children in Alabama.

We prayed about it and sought out wisdom from friends and family who were either involved in fostering or had adopted and a friend that worked with Alabama Baptist Children’s Home. After a few months of thinking and praying about it, we shared what we had learned about fostering and asked the kids if they were in favor of us pursuing this as a family. They instantly said yes, and that began our family’s journey into foster care. We started the classes with Alabama Baptist Children’s Home in August 2019.

Brantley said she wanted her family to foster because there are so many kids abandoned and not given love, and she knew that our family could show love and give a child a place to call home.

Tell us about the impact of fostering not only for your family but children in the foster care system in Alabama.

Fostering impacted our family in a way that is difficult to put into words. It opened our eyes and hearts to the needs of children that our family didn’t know existed.

In each situation, the young ladies challenged our family to show them a love they had never experienced. One of the things that resonated with us was that in all of the cases, the girls had never been in a home where there was a husband and a wife present. Over and over, they would comment about our family structure and how they had never experienced that.

Our family was deeply impacted. We watched them walk into our home with literally a single bag–sometimes just a garbage bag–that contained their life. Everything they owned was in that bag.

We knew the one thing we could offer them was love and stability. We could offer them life lessons, like cooking, setting up banking accounts, getting established in school and establishing short-term goals. The hardships were many, but the reward of knowing that for a period we were able to show them unconditional love far outweighs the challenges.

Do you still have contact with any of your foster placements?

One of our foster girls, “J” still keeps in contact with our family. She checks in with us on a regular basis so that we know she is safe and okay. She still faces so many challenges in her life. She recently shared via a text that she is thankful for our relationship because it is a secure feeling she has never had before. She is thankful that we are still here and a safe place for her to come when she needs it.

What have you learned about the need for foster parents in our area?

The need for foster homes open to teenagers is overwhelming. We were certified to be a licensed foster home by 5 p.m. one day and got a call the next morning at 10 a.m. asking if we would accept a placement. As soon as each child left, we would get a call within 24 hours for the next placement.

What else has been an important part of your journey in fostering?

We had many of our friends and family come alongside us providing gift cards, meals, items our girls needed such as school supplies and clothing, as well as the emotional support and prayers we needed to navigate this journey. These opportunities allowed our friends and family to join in being a part of loving on these girls.

We are thankful for all of the resources and support that Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes offered us. From the physical items needed including clothing and supplies to the counseling for our foster kiddos as well as for our family, they met each and every need we had.

What is foster care?

Foster care is the broad term used to define a service for children who, for a variety of reasons, have been identified as a child in need of a safe and stable environment and have been placed in a state-licensed temporary home, according to the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes website. In Alabama, the overseeing agency of child welfare is The Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR). When DHR does not have enough foster homes for children in need, placement can be sought within other licensed agencies such as Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes.

How You Can Help

Volunteers are a vital part of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes. Individuals, churches, small groups, schools, business groups and others, who are interested in partnering with them in their mission to help children and families across Alabama can visit alabamachild.org/volunteer to see how they can serve.

There are a variety of specific needs at locations all across the state like those listed below. For a full list of items, visit alabamachild.org/needslist.

  • Foster Care List:
  • Wipes
  • Sizes 4 and 5 diapers
  • New clothing: newborn to size 8 for boys and girls
  • Children’s water bottles
  • Bottles
  • Pacifiers
  • Convertible car seats
  • Children’s shampoo and body wash