How do Amish care for non-Amish foster children?

Interesting column this week from Gloria Yoder. Gloria, an Amish mother from southern Illinois, writes the Amish Cook column.

It’s not unusual to find Amish serving as foster families for non-Amish children. When I sold books in Amish communities, I would bump into these situations from time to time.

This week Gloria answers several questions on fostering among the Amish. The Yoders are foster parents in addition to having two children of their own.

Not only that, but Gloria is due to have another in February. When you sign up to be an Amish mom, you sign up for a full and frequently double-time job.

Below are a couple of the questions Gloria answers. I think these are two of the most common on this topic – on the lifestyle foster children lead while in Amish homes, and the ethnicity of the children.

First, on clothing, schooling and more (bold added):

Are the children Amish just like our other children or are their differences in the way they are dressed? And what school will they attend? Okay, while they are in our Amish home they generally do dress Amish, except for the times the visit their parents, which is usually twice a week.

As for education, if they would be old enough to go to school they would go to public school, not our Amish parochial school. The same concept applies to medical care, while we are more likely to use natural remedies for our biological children. We more quickly take our foster children to the doctor.





And what about children of different races?

Do Amish folks accept other race children into their homes? The answer will vary upon whom you ask, but our response is that there is absolutely no difference to us. Color is only skin deep. I latch onto a quote my sister introduced me: “True love is colorblind.” That captures my heart perfectly. Our adorable foster children are biracial. In my way of thinking, it just makes both of them cuter than cute!

I love playing with Rayni’s curly dark brown hair. We’ve had people commenting that her curls kind of look like Daniel’s wavy hair, and their hair color is identical as well!

You can read the rest of the column here.

Image credit: Mark Goebel/flickr

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    11 Comments

    1. Alice Mary

      I worked for many years in our local public library, a predominantly white, middle to upper middle class area. Several of our regular patrons were or are foster parents. I always admired most of them for their “big hearts” and the patience it takes to take in children who need you, many of whom are of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.

      It amazed me further to hear (over the years) about the Amish doing the same. I mean, don’t they have (for the most part) multiple children of their own? How much more can they take on, especially since so much in their lives is done manually and without many of the modern conveniences the rest of us rely on? Well, this story demonstrates that if you have enough love in your heart, you can find room in your home, in your life, to be a foster parent.

      I would find it very interesting to hear what the foster kids themselves have to say about their time spent in Amish homes—without TV, video games, the internet, etc. I would hope that the increased “one-on-one” time spent with their foster parents (and sibs) would more than make up for giving up some of those modern “conveniences.”

      Does anyone know of any organization, university,, etc., doing “studies”‘ or surveys regarding Amish foster-parenting and the experiences of all involved? This really seems like something everyone could learn a lot from.

      1. Amish foster experience

        Good points and questions Alice Mary, for me the Amish have always seemed to be great examples of “people people”, really valuing big families on the whole. Of course not every individual Amish person is like that, and you have your introverts, but my guess is that taking on this special challenge is something that more than a few are naturally open to when they are aware of the need…their community values and experience with raising children suggests they are quite well-equipped to help raise and give love to a few more.

        The one question I would raise is how do foster agencies view the Amish approach to raising children in rural environments with, I think it’s safe to say, less parental oversight than the typical suburban non-Amish child would receive – sadly we see tragic accidents happening fairly often in this rural/farm setting…a little girl died last week in Ohio, crossing the road to greet her father.

        I am not aware of any research studies but it sounds like a good topic for a JAPAS research article…there is at least one adoption newsletter published by Amish covering relevant issues at least from an adoption perspective.

        In any case can imagine it must be painful to say goodbye though when the time comes. That to me takes a strong heart.

      2. Studying Amish who provide foster care

        Hello. I am doing the study you seek! I am currently doing focus groups with Amish and other Plain communities who have provided foster care or adoption. I am also interviewing social service workers who have worked with them. My goal is to inform best practice for social services. Email me if you’d like to participate: jharder@unomaha.edu

    2. Dody Mitchell

      I am an Amish Foundling Kinder

      I was cared for by the Amish for about 6 months at the age of 7. I was considered a founding kinder, which isn’t exactly foster care, but kinda. I was found before the first snow storm. I was Christian already and praying God would give me a mamma, since mine abandoned me. God answered my prayers in the form of an Amish community of mamma”s! I was cared for by a young man and his young wife, I call my Amish mom and pa. I lived just like other Amish. An older Amish woman, the mother of my friend Jacob, that I called mamma 2, made my clothes since my own Amish mamma was in the family way. I was not allowed toys, nor to wear anything but black or white, we had no electricity, and I had to work in the garden with mamma. I also baked with mamma. I washed in a bucket and used an out house.

      Eventually the authorities did come and try to convince me to leave my Amish parents. “Don’t you want toys. Don’t you miss cartoons?” I told them having good parents was worth more than toys or cartoons. I was never cold, hungry, or afraid. They never struck me and they didn’t raise their voices in anger. My Pa would delight in my mischievous ways. Girls did not behave as I did, climbing trees, putting muddy tracks in the house, tromping through the ponds. He said God gave him a daughter with the heart of a son…and said that mamma would tame it soon enough. She taught me to hand sew. We cooked on a wood stove. To this day I have a big Amish woodstove I cook on… Eventually they went before the elders to give me a good Christian name. We settled on Dorthea since my name was Dody and it was an equivalent. None of this was done by the courts, just the little Amish settlement there.

      Then papa bought me books. I was to go to school in the fall. He bought me boots too and that took most of his income for that week. I felt bad, but I was excited to go to school and have such pretty boots. They are riding boots.

      The authorities notified my step grandparents where I was and they came to visit. They told me they would take care of me. They said they could not force me to come with them, but they felt I belonged with family. My Amish mamma agreed, but my Amish papa did not. He seemed concerned I would be abandoned again. He said this in their language not English. My Amish mamma told him to trust in God and he told me in English, that I should sleep on it and decide. I did. I wanted to know my mother, so I left.

      I have regretted it ever since.

      My life has been nothing but heart ache since. I miss my Amish parents and want to thank them because now I use their example as who I should strive to be as a mother. If I could contact them, I would say, “Thank you for taking me in as a little girl and treating me like your own child.”

      1. Sandra Kathleen

        The Blessings of a Loving Family

        Dory- The blessings of a loving family will always give you peace and joy, if only to point he way to a goal. You are blessed to have received this gift — and most especially blessed to understand what you had. God continue to bless you.

      2. Dody, would this be a true story? 🙂

        1. Dody

          Yes?

          I am not making it up. I gain nothing from making such a thing up. When I share my story most people doubt me either because it is unusual or because they didn’t know the Amish do that. There was one other founding kinder in the community I was in. He was 50ish. They said they take them in because the children never do well if they don’t. They didn’t go into specifics.

    3. OldKat

      Bi-racial adoption or foster?

      This past summer at Horse Progress Days in Leola, PA my wife and I were walking into the property when a wagon load of girls that were just inside the event grounds went by us. This was not an Amish or Mennonite wagon, it was like any of several owned by English that brought their big farm / parade wagons and teams of draft horses or mules to serve as people haulers to move folks from the far reaches of the parking lots up to the road near the entrance to the event. I suppose this was to save people from walking so far.

      Regardless, this wagon was actually inside of the property that was hosting the event. There were probably 8 to 10 girls sitting in the bed of this wagon, 4 or 5 on each side. I presume they were sitting on bales of hay; I didn’t look. At first I thought that they were all probably sisters, before realizing that each was about 14 years old, so that ruled out being sisters. I also noticed that one of them was a black girl. They were all dressed in what appeared to be Old Order Mennonite clothing, including the black girl.

      It was encouraging that they were all laughing and sharing a joke, a funny story or whatever and this certainly included the black girl. I didn’t want to stare, but it was hard not to look. The other girls had clearly accepted her as one of their own and she was clearly accepting of them. I thought to myself; friendship really SHOULD be colorblind. These girls, all of them, really were living leadership in racial relations. Wouldn’t be wonderful if their example were the rule rather than the exception?

      As the wagon went by I briefly wondered if the black girl was adopted, a foster child or similar. Then I concluded that she looked extremely happy, content and right at home … so what difference did it make why she was there?

      1. JB

        This day in age

        I guess there are few black Mennonites but I wish in this day in age the world was more progressed towards total equality and acceptance. Its kind of strange its such a big deal to witness the scene described. I’ve read some amish are racist. Unfortunately many people are still racist but I am glad some certainly are not!

    4. I'd Like to Learn More

      I will attempt to contact Jeanette Harder and see if she will share her research on Amish adoptions.
      I would think that that the older the age of the English children, the more difficult the transition.

    5. Reference earlier 2019 post from Jeanette Harder

      For any reader who wants more information from Jeanette Harder about Amish adoptions, I think it would be wise to read the statement from Dove’s Nest where Dr. Harder used to be on the board. Harder is no longer affiliated with Dove’s Nest, per a post they made December 22, 2022. This appears to be the result of survivor advocates being critical of Dr. Harder and “asking her to stop speaking with authority about the abuse in their communities,” specifically, the advocates said Dr. Harder’s book, “For the Sake of a Child,” was a “deeply problematic book.”