Child Welfare Information Gateway describes foster care as a “temporary service provided by States for children who cannot live with their own families.” Foster parents provide a safe, caring environment when children cannot safely reside in their own homes due to abandonment, neglect, or abuse. Drug abuse and/or health issues may also be cause for a child to be removed from their home. Foster care is offered through state Health and Welfare agencies throughout the United States. Foster care is a temporary placement with the intent of reunification with parents and child. Sometimes, the child will be adopted if being reunited is not in the best interest of the child and a judge terminates parental rights.
States require personal and medical references, background checks, and the completion of pre-service training. However, nothing can prepare you for the rollercoaster ride of foster care. Nothing tells you that your heart will open for each of the children who come into your home, or that your heart will break when they leave. Even if it is just overnight, a part of your heart walks out the door with them. They may not remember you, but they will never be forgotten. For one small moment, you got to love them.
My heart ached for another child. Although we had four children, somehow the house still felt empty. Our oldest daughter had gone to college and our second daughter was in high school. We had two young boys, ages 7 and 8, who kept me very busy. The thought of more children was, at times, overwhelming. But when I closed my eyes at night, I saw the faces of children from every corner of the world. Every color and nationality stared back at me with hopeful eyes. I could not ignore the strong feelings I had. My husband was a bit more reluctant but soon caught the vision.
Our journey began with a sibling group of five. In hopes of adopting them, we eagerly took on the challenge. It was a long, arduous road that eventually led to heartache when they were adopted into another family. Thankfully, they remained close by and we were able to maintain contact. Four years later, we adopted a 2 ½-year-old girl through the foster/adopt program offered in our state.
For four years, we would anxiously wait for the phone to ring. This was before cell phones, so every time I left the house I would wonder if I was missing a call. As soon as I walked into the house, I would run to the answering machine. If there was a message about a placement , I would quickly return the call hoping that I was not too late. If I was fortunate to make it in time, the adventure would begin. First, I would call my husband and prepare him for whatever or whoever might be at home when he got there. Second, I would prepare the house for that particular placement so it would feel like home for them. Then we would either drive to the Health and Welfare office or wait for them to arrive at our front door. Once they arrived, our lives were never the same. We came to love 34 children over those four years who were placed in our home either for respite care or long-term placements.
Recently, my daughter and son-in-law became foster parents. This was not planned but became a necessity due to extended family circumstances. My daughter and son-in-law were approached by the grandmother to be the boys’ foster parents. They have three children of their own and knew it would require some adjustments in their home life. But out of love for the children (whom they barely knew), they agreed to it. The children were placed in their home in a short two days. When it is a kinship placement, meaning that it is a family member, the process can be quickly expedited in the best interest of the child. There have been obstacles but they are learning to function as a family. I often reflect on the days when my boys were young and I would welcome strangers into our home. I know there were struggles along the way, but I hope I taught them to love unconditionally and to care for others in their time of need.
As I watched my daughter go through this process in fast motion, many emotions came back to me. When we decided to become foster parents, it had been a choice that we thought long and hard about. This was thrown on them with a very short amount of time to prepare. I remembered the anxiety of wondering if I would be good enough if they would like me, would I do it right? The campaign for recruiting foster parents at the time was “you don’t have to be perfect to be a foster parent. ”That was a comfort to me. No two foster families are going to be the same. Sometimes placements are made that just don’t work. When that happens, the state works quickly to find another family. Protecting the child is the state’s top priority.
As quoted by Jeremy L. on Quora.com, “As a foster parent, it is the most taxing yet rewarding, painful but fun thing one can do . . . I wouldn’t trade the time, lessons, and memories for any job or paycheck that could be offered. We can do our part and be the best foster parents we can be. That will go a long way to making the lives we touch a bit better in the end.”
“Family is not about blood. It is about who is willing to hold your hand when you need it the most” (author unknown). Being a foster parent allowed me to hold hands of all sizes and colors during the most difficult time in their young lives. I will never forget those tiny hands in mine.