The plight of refugees from the Afghan war touched the hearts of many in Utah, including Gov. Spencer Cox, who sent a letter to the president telling him Utah stood ready to welcome displaced Afghans.

The Afghan refugees who come to Utah are just a small portion of the refugees from all over the world, some of whom eventually make it to Utah.

Catholic Community Services reports of the world’s 26 million refugees, nearly half are youths under the age of 18. Some of these youth have been separated from their families or orphaned. They leave their homes to escape war, persecution, military recruitment, abuse, or trafficking.

Surviving all odds, they are resettled to the United States without their own families. Catholic Community Services is one of fewer than 20 programs in the United States that resettle unaccompanied refugee minors and is the only one in Utah.

Perhaps you’ve considered fostering children in your home, but you’re hesitant to take the next steps. If so, one Utah couple hopes to shed some light on why fostering refugee children might be the best decision you ever make. 

Starting the road to fostering

Until a few years ago, Jennie and Warren Lloyd of Salt Lake City had never thought about foster care. With their youngest son in high school and their two older children out of the house, they could’ve easily considered their child-rearing days to be behind them. But when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Relief Society announced the “I Was a Stranger” program to aid refugees in 2016, Jennie felt a nudge to do something.

A week after the announcement, she read an article in the Deseret News about how nonprofits had been inundated with people wanting to help refugees. When Jennie read that Catholic Community Services (CCS) needed refugee foster parents for unaccompanied youths in its foster care program, she got a “head-to-toe feeling” that this was what she needed to do.

“I had never even thought about foster care before like it was just completely out of the blue for me,” she said. “And it was a time [when] we were really busy and it just didn’t really make sense. But I guess we’re always busy again. That’s how life goes, right?”

The next day, during the Church’s semi-annual General Conference, Jennie heard a talk from Elder Patrick Kearon of the Quorum of the Seventy, issuing a call-to-action for members to help refugees any way they could. That solidified things in Jennie’s mind.

“[Elder Kearon] gave this incredible talk and we just started talking about it right then and everybody was fully on board. So then we reached out to CCS,” she said. 

Soon after, Jennie and Warren began their training to become refugee foster parents.

‘The happiest weeks ever’

The Lloyds would ultimately go on to foster two refugee youths, Maryan and Muhammad (whose names have been changed). For a short period, they also took in Muhammad’s two older brothers. And while they admit that their first experience was “a little rocky,” they describe the first weeks with Maryan (and later Muhammad) as “two of the happiest weeks ever.”

“It’s like having a newborn in your home in a way,” said Jennie. “That sweet, sweet, loving feeling and knowing that you were filling a void that they had felt and that they craved. They craved a mom, they craved a dad. … You don’t completely fill that void but you help out a little bit.” 

Whether it was sharing a 3 a.m. breakfast on their first night at home or seeing their faces light up when they picked them up from school, the Lloyds recalled plenty of happy moments as refugee foster parents. But it wasn’t always easy. One thing they quickly learned was that they couldn’t control everything — but they could create a loving environment for their foster children. 

And while the experience came with plenty of highs and lows, the Lloyds are happy to report that they still have a great relationship with Maryan and Muhammad who have now grown up and moved away. It’s a “huge paycheck” to see Maryan now with a child of her own, and Muhammad plans on joining them for Christmas. 

Advice for anyone considering refugee foster care

Becoming a refugee foster parent is a big decision, but Warren has some advice for anyone who’s considering it.

“What I wish I knew or what I can realize now is that you have to be able to enjoy the moment,” he said.  “[When] your foster care child is with you, you kind of feel like this is never going to end. But it goes so fast.”

He adds that the only way to know if fostering is right for you is to “jump in” and do it.

“Do the trainings, prepare yourselves, and I think you’ll be amazed with the experiences that are there for you,” he said.

Jennie also encourages anyone to do it if they have the desire.

“We saw a lot of little miracles and life-affirming experiences,” she said. “I think it’s really sweet. I definitely feel like our family has grown in love and perspective, and your heart grows when you do this.”

Become a refugee foster parent

Utah will always need more foster parents for refugee children. There are currently less than 20 programs nationwide that resettle unaccompanied refugee minors, and Catholic Community Services is the only one in Utah. These youth deserve a loving environment and a chance to succeed. They need families who are willing to open up their hearts and homes and take them in.

If you’re interested in fostering, or if you’d like more information, visit the Catholic Community Services website.