I’m Nat, a Rehabilitation Specialist working with youth at Family Care Network. I’ve been a mentor for about six months now, and I’d like to share about my experience because I think that mentoring foster youth makes a big difference in their lives and in our community. I met my mentee working as a Rehabilitation Specialist in our Emergency Shelter Care Program. She was in a shelter foster home for about six months, and during those months I picked her up from school almost every day, and spent the rest of the day with her.
Being located on the Central Coast of California certainly has some great perks. As we all know, we’ve got beautiful beaches, pretty perfect weather, and amazing wine and local cuisine, just to name a few. But by far, our area’s greatest perk is the strong community-spirit that pervades San Luis Obispo County. We here at FCNI see this spirit demonstrated time and time again.
I’m writing this from the table in our motorhome; the motorhome we bought two years ago when we decided we were ready to retire, sell our home and go traveling. In the past two years we have been through so much--continuing to foster teens while keeping the house clean and ready to show with only four hours notice. One thing that made me so happy was that our kids were supportive of our plan to retire and sell the house, even if it meant they would have to move on. We were happy to be part of Wraparound Foster Care which meant that there was a plan for the kids and placements were intended to be short-term. None of the kids ever complained about picking up their rooms or about heading with me out of the house so we wouldn’t be around for the showings. It took about a year and a half, but we finally sold our house and either sold, gave away or stored the majority of our belongings in order to move into the motorhome. It’s been about three weeks and I have been doing a lot of reflecting about life as a Resource Parent and about some of the kids who touched my heart over the last 22 years…
Many of us have a desire to open our lives to children in need of love and safety. It’s fun to dream of throwing open your front door to welcome an adorable foster child into the home. But becoming a Resource Parent is actually an intensive process that requires background checks, training, references, a home inspection, and what seems like an endless stack of paperwork. There are a lot of hoops to jump through before a child ends up on your doorstep. For many applicants, the most intimidating aspect of becoming a Resource Parent is the dreaded home study-- a comprehensive, written evaluation of the applicant’s strengths and issues. I know firsthand the scrutiny of inviting a stranger into my home to write about my life. Before I started writing home studies as a Social Worker, I was a foster parent! I’ve undergone five (FIVE!) home studies as a foster and adoptive parent in Indiana and California.
May is National Foster Care month, When I first became certified as a foster parent, I felt there was a negative stigma associated with foster parents and foster kids. There was regular press coverage about foster kids living in horrific situations with foster parents who loaded their houses up with kids so they could get more money. In some states, Social Workers didn’t visit homes for years because they could only respond to emergencies they knew about. I remember feeling so discouraged when another negative article would come out, because I felt that no one was telling the stories about the thousands of good, loving foster parents.
“Foster Care” has come a long way over the past couple of centuries and is yet experiencing another significant transformation. Foster care in the USA has its origins in English Poor Law, which basically allowed an abandoned or orphaned child to be forced into indentured servitude until they became of age. Kids basically became slaves for the individuals housing them. The argument in favor of this practice was that this arrangement provided children with the “basic skills they needed to survive in life.” America’s first foster child was Benjamin Eaton, age 7, in the Jamestown Colony.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” -Helen Keller
Community support can make anything possible. And Tara Brown can attest to the fact that community and family can provide one the strength and collective power to make anything possible, including adopting a child from foster care as a single mother.
When you’re involved in something as impactful as foster care and adoption, Tara has learned that people want to be a part of the process of something meaningful, inspiring and beautiful. “Some people are meant to foster or adopt, and those who can’t, can still be a support system for those who do,” Tara says. Throughout her journey, Tara discovered the beauty and strength of true community and interdependence. She found that the hardest part about entering into the world of foster care and adoption was her own resistance to asking for help. Tara quickly learned that it is okay to not be okay, to have needs, and to have moments of weakness and doubt, as these moments have taught her how to ask and receive critical help.
We work and serve in a very challenging field, and we can’t avoid acknowledging and responding to the vast injustices our foster children have experienced. However, it is far too easy to forget that these children are just children. They tell me, at the end of the day, they want and think about the same things the other kids in the neighborhood think about, the same things their peers worry about, the same things “normal” kids dream for. And while it is true that our foster kids do indeed have additional complicating factors and concerns–supervised visitation with a biological parent, separation from siblings, life away from the home they knew–they often want to be thought of for other things; things that might seem irrelevant and inconsequential to those working with these kids who know the gravity of their whole situation. To illustrate, these kids follow pop culture, they care about what’s “cool,” they have favorite foods, they laugh and joke with friends…and they also happen to be in foster care. The point, though, is they happen to also be in foster care; they aren’t just about foster care.
Over the last six months, I have been doing Emergency Shelter Foster Care for FCNI in my home, during which time about 13 girls, all but two of them teens, have lived with me. I have soothed nightmares, eased the pain of detoxing from drugs, and have listened to traumatic stories of abuse, sex trafficking, abandonment, sibling separation and loss. I have been yelled and cussed at, have deescalated impending fights and have had girls run away.
Entering into adulthood, for most, is an exciting rite of passage that bears with it opportunities to try out new levels of responsibility, safely explore increased levels of independence and individuate from supportive parents. For former foster youth, the transition into adulthood, or more accurately termed emancipation from care, is generally filled with increased risks, loss of support and financial peril, with very limited prospects for pursuing post-secondary education.