Every foster parent is different, obviously, and what brings them to this line of care is different too. But, surprisingly, a lot of our parents have one striking similarity. In every story we hear from a foster parent about why they do what they do, there is a similar vein of, “I just wanted to try it, to see if I liked it. And here I am, years later, still doing it; still loving it.” People who foster parent well, don’t really know why or how; they just know that their hearts get called to do it. Below, we’re sharing a recent interview with one of our longtime foster parents, Frances. Within her words, you’ll learn what a strong and giving person and parent she is; but you’ll also learn that she has no magic formula--no secret weapon at her disposal for serving our kids. For Frances, like many others, being a foster parent is just who she is and what she does--love led her here and keeps her here.
Jessica: How long have you been a foster parent, and how did you get started?
Frances: I’ve been doing foster care with Family Care Network for 13-14 years now. While visiting my sister in the area during the holidays one year [over 14 years ago!], I saw a few newspaper ads for foster parents. I was intrigued and called one of the ads, and the guy talked with me but never followed up. I saw another ad and became even more interested. I called the Family Care Network. At the time, the foster parent recruiter at Family Care Network was named Harry, and he told me to come in to do an initial interview, and I did. I interviewed with Ann Ward, Harry, and a few others. When we all agreed that foster parenting would be a good fit for me to try out, I remember Ann telling me that they would like a one-year commitment. And here I am today, still loving it and still committed!
Jessica: What did you do before you became a foster parent?
Frances: Prior to being a foster parent, I was a kindergarten teacher for many years and then became a school administrator. I’ve always had a knack with kids. After many years in my career, I went back to school and started a degree in Administration of Justice, but then life took me in a different direction with foster care. Being a teacher for over thirty years and then delving into the world of foster care has shown me that I just love kids. I love the opportunity to give kids a second chance when they’ve never had it, and providing grace, love and comfort. There are so many things I love about foster care. I love joking with the kids, I love cooking for the kids, baking, and going out and doing things. I used to take kids to Dodger games, visit Chinatown, and take them different places because they often had never been out of the county. I love getting them to enjoy themselves, kick back, and try to have a more traditional childhood. I truly enjoy experiencing life with these kids.
Jessica: Tell me about the two different programs you’ve worked in.
Frances: When I started out providing foster care, I was involved with what was then called the “Crisis-Stabilization Foster Care” (CFC) program [this program has since been combined with another program to make Wraparound Foster Care]. I worked with kids who had been through a lot and showed a lot of intense behaviors at times. I would get the files on them, and I would read through their Dangerous Propensities, preparing for what I might expect. But to be honest, sometimes I never saw any of these behaviors in my home. The CFC program brought kids into my home to stay three to four months at a time so they could receive intensive services to help them learn skills and so they could stabilize their behaviors. The goal of the program was to reunify the kids with their parents or sometimes to get them setup in the Wraparound program. Sometimes, they got to stay with me even longer--around eleven months to a year. The purpose was to get them into a lower level of care. Most of the time, they learned new skills and made it, but occasionally they didn’t. Unfortunately, the ones who couldn’t make it often went into group homes.
For several years now I have been providing Emergency Shelter Care, which is a lot of fun. Usually, the kids come to my home when they are in transition and they are supposed to live with me up to thirty days until a longer term placement is found for them, but often they get to stay longer. I have fun with the kids, and I’ve often had them return to my home multiple times so I have the opportunity to build a strong relationship with them. Sometimes, they tell me that they hope that they can come back to my home. I joke with them that they, “Better not give me a hard time.” I’m surprised, though, because often the kids who do give me a hard time are the ones who want to come back the most. One time, I had two teen-aged boys who were really hard to have in my home, but when the time came for them to be moved to a long-term placement, they hugged me when they said goodbye and thanked me. I think it means a lot to these kids to have a safe place to stay where they are truly cared for and comforted when they’ve been going through a lot.
Jessica: What is one of your favorite things about being a foster mom?
Frances: My favorite thing about having a lot of kids in my home is that it gives me the chance to do a lot of baking. The kids are always asking me (especially the ones who return) to make my chocolate cake. They love the chocolate cake. If they meet up with other kids who have been placed with me, it’s always, “Ask Frances to make this,” or “Ask Frances to make that.” I do a lot of baking for the kids, which is nice because it’s comforting for them.
Jessica: To keep it real, what is the hardest part about foster care?
Frances: The hardest thing for me with foster care is when young kids show aggressive behavior and it feels like there is nothing you can do to help them. At a young age, kids often don’t know how to control their anger or aggressiveness, so they end up taking it out on me or others, and that’s really sad. The older kids just cuss me out when they’re hurting or angry, but that’s not a big deal. They can cuss me out all they want; I try to just brush it off. It’s the younger kids who are usually aggressive which is just sad, because they don’t know any better, but we do everything we can to teach them the skills they need to handle their anger in better ways.
Jessica: What is your favorite “intervention” for the kids when things are hard?
Frances: When things get rough, my favorite intervention is giving myself a time-out. I tell the kids, “I’m going to take a time-out. I’ll be gone for about 10 minutes. Don’t knock on my door unless there’s an emergency.” I take some deep breaths and space [in my room] so I can bounce back. Sometimes, I play music because music lowers stress for me.
Jessica: How do you practice self-care to keep yourself going?
Frances: I love to go out and walk my dog, Lucy, every morning, and take some time to think through the day and brainstorm better ways to handle situations that may come up. I get regular “date nights” when staff come and supervise the kids for me so that I can go out and do something for myself. I like to get my hair done but often I just go grocery shopping, which is actually very therapeutic for me. I love to grocery shop by myself without kids, to look for bargain sales, not worrying about the kids, knowing that they’re in good hands with the Rehabilitation Specialist (RS) staff.
Jessica: What does a typical day look like for you?
Frances: A typical day in my life usually starts with waking the kids up for school. I wake up whoever has to leave for school first and let them get ready, then wake up the next kiddo. I make sure that they have something to eat, make sure that they have all of their stuff together, and then I take one of them to school while an RS usually takes the other to school. Usually how it works out is that I take the kids to school if their normal school is in town, and if it’s farther away RS staff usually transport them. After the kids are off to school, I take Lucy for a walk, run errands, do laundry, do organizational tasks, and get supplies for dinner. I usually prepare dinner prior to the kids coming home from school, so that all I need to do is pop the food in the oven or do finishing touches. I never know what space the kids will be in when they get home from school, so I like everything to be ready. Often, when they come home from school the kids want a snack, and soon after we have dinner. At night sometimes kids have RS staff supporting them with their routine for the evening. I usually do dishes, watch some tv, make sure the kids have done their homework, and then they’re typically in bed by 10. In the Emergency Shelter Program, I typically have one or two meetings a week in my home with social workers, and they spend some time with the kids checking in with them. On the weekends, the kids do their chores, clean their rooms, do their laundry and make sure that everything is ready for the next week. Occasionally we go out for dinners or special activities.
Jessica: What advice would you give to anyone thinking about becoming a foster parent?
Frances: I would say that you need have patience to work through hard stuff with kids who have been through a lot of rough things. Try to turn things around and make things fun for them as much as possible. Yes, I am structured, but I love to joke with the kids. I want them to relax and just be themselves without having me or anyone else hounding them. I give them space when they need it, and always try to give them a second chance when they are hard to deal with. When you read through their charts, don’t be intimidated, give them a chance. Give them comfort. Don’t be too on top of them. Instead, try to relax, and let them be at ease in your home because what they really need is some peace and calm. Let go of the small stuff, pick your battles, and choose to move on quickly rather than letting things get to you. You can do it!
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent like Frances, we have Foster Parent Recruitment staff available to talk with you and answer any of your questions! Please contact us at FCNI.org, or call us at 805-781-3535.