One Friday in 1957, just before school was out for the year, my Mom scooped my sister and me up from school unexpectedly. Our Dodge Sierra station wagon--you know the kind with the small fins and turquoise panels--was packed full of stuff; lots of stuff. She said we were off on an adventure; wow, this sounded exciting!
Tag: National Foster Care Month
One of the most frequent concerns I hear from parents who are considering foster care or adoption is, “Will it be too hard on my kids?” There is certainly a fear of the unknown of how bringing a foster or adopted child into your lives will impact your current family. It is safe to say that adding a new family member to any family will change its current dynamics. This change is true if you add a new biological sibling, have a grandparent move in, remarry after divorce, or open your home to a foster or adoptive child.
Families are not static; they change frequently regardless of how much we wish we could keep them the same.
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.
Over the course of the past month, I have given extra thought to the concepts and reality of “foster care”, primarily because May is National Foster Care month. As I thought about “what” foster care really is and includes, I quickly became overwhelmed. Broken down into small parts such as foster children, foster parents, Foster Family Agency, social worker, therapist, Community Care Licensing, etc. and “foster care” can be understood and managed in my small mind. However, “foster care” in its entirety is a complex and complicated system. As I struggled with the question of “What is foster care, really?” my simple mind would soon turn to thoughts of Disneyland. Now, those of you who have been or are currently in foster care or may have a daily connection to “foster care”, are probably thinking: “This guy has lost all connection to reality,” because foster care and Disneyland may seem like complete opposites.
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 past 26 years that I have been a part of the Family Care Network’s Circle of Serving as a Resource Parent, I have gotten to know many, many other Resource Parents. Before I learned about the diversity of kids needing foster care I had a picture in my mind of what a foster child looks like and what a foster family looked like. My picture included infants or toddlers needing families composed of young couples with or without their own kids. Back when I started foster parenting in 1990, I was surprised to learn that there were teens in need of homes and that Resource Parents came in all ages, and were both couples or singles. After all these years, I can truly say that there is no standard demographic for a Resource Parent.
For the better part of five decades, I have worked with Foster Parents (now re-branded as Resource Parents). This group of extraordinary, unique individuals have certainly left an indelible, positive imprint on my life. I am not sure I have the skills to craft an appropriate expression of gratitude I have for those who have turned their homes and lives into sanctuaries, hospitals, safe havens, classrooms and sometimes even battlefields for our children and youth (and not without costs)... but here I go.
There are parents, and then there are Parents. There are plenty of folks who do an outstanding job of nurturing, protecting and guiding their children to become healthy, successful adults. For these people, excellent parenting is a high priority in their constellation of life consuming activities. But, then there are those unique individuals where parenting is not just an important responsibility, but rather, it is their Vocation.