Foster parenting can be a great blessing to a child in need of loving parents. Children in foster care long for the security of a permanent home, but in some cases there is no legal opportunity for the child to be adopted. It doesn’t have to end in adoption to be effective. If foster parents give love and care to a child who needs a home, whether it’s temporary or permanent, their influence can change the child’s life. I’m going to share a couple of cases with you to show how this works.

Two little foster siblings

Our cute 10-year-old Navajo foster son

Our cute 10-year-old foster son

Dennis with our family. We couldn't get him to smile, but he did as soon as the photographer was done.

Dennis with our family. We couldn’t get him to smile, but he did as soon as the photographer was done.

Dennis in his Boy Scout uniform with me.

Dennis in his Boy Scout uniform with me.

13-year-old Dennis with a friend before going home for the summer.

13-year-old Dennis with a friend before going home for the summer.

First: My cousin, Janice, and her husband gave foster care to a little brother and sister, 3 and 7 years old, whose lives had been shattered. In talking to Meridian Magazine, she said, “I guess we must have still been feeling an empty spot in our hearts from the death of our newborn son when a woman came to our door one morning asking if we would be willing to take two little children into our home who had just witnessed their father shooting and killing their mother (her sister). We didn’t hesitate; who would? We asked if this would be a temporary or a permanent arrangement, and she felt sure it would be permanent. [They] were beautiful children who were obviously traumatized.

“Our parental instincts instantly kicked in, and they were soon part of our family. We and our four young children did all we could during the next year to help them heal and be happy again, and they made great strides.” They tried to officially adopt them during that year, but due to a state law, they had to have permission from the imprisoned father. No matter how hard their pleadings, he refused to sign off for an adoption. They were devastated.

At one point her own father became critically ill, and they moved out of state to be with him. The law would not allow them to take the children across state lines. She said they had no choice but to return them to their aunt. “It was a heart-wrenching task as the children clung to us (and we to them) and cried. We never heard anything about them after that day in 1970, in spite of our frequent inquiries and requests. We had been naïve in believing we could adopt so easily. One thing we definitely learned during this year: We had room in our hearts to invite others into our family circle.”

Janice said they have never regretted being foster parents to these two children. I personally believe that these children were helped immensely during that year by having a stable and loving home environment. Those memories most likely were a great comfort to these children through the years that followed. If nothing else, they saw how to be a loving parent and will be better equipped as parents themselves as a result.

Our own experience

Second: This one happened to our family when we were living in California. My husband, Gary, and I had the opportunity to invite a Navajo boy into our home. It was through a foster parenting program our church sponsored to help Native American children have the best possible opportunity to learn how to improve their quality of life as adults. Their parents were willing participants, wanting better educational opportunities for their children. It had to be a brave and difficult decision for some of these parents to allow their child to leave home and live with strangers in a distant city during the school year.

Dennis came to live with us when he was 9 years old, just one year older than our son Michael. They would share a bedroom. I remember that first evening after bringing this quiet, sullen little boy into our home. Michael took him to his bedroom where we had bunk beds for them. We let Michael take the lead as he introduced Dennis to his new room. He said, “Here’s our dresser. You get to choose which drawers you want. I get two and you get two.” Dennis pointed to the two he wanted and Michael helped him put his clothes away. Then he said, “Which bunk would you like, Dennis?” Without hesitation Dennis pointed to the top bunk. Boys seem to like top bunks, but Michael let Dennis have it.

That night we peeked in to see how the boys were doing, and we saw Michael kneeling by his bed with Dennis by his side, teaching him how to say his prayers. It touched our hearts. Then they crawled into bed. We went in to tuck them in and say goodnight. As we did, Gary said, “Would you like the railing on your bunk bed, Dennis? It will make it safer.” Dennis said, “No railing.”  He wanted nothing to do with it.

About an hour later we heard a loud thud. Yep, he had fallen out of bed. Fortunately, the only thing hurt was his dignity. All he said was, “I want the railing.” Like most kids, he had to learn the hard way.

It took only about a week for Dennis to feel at home. Then he began to laugh and play with the kids and seemed to fit in just fine.

We talked with his mother periodically. She was a good woman who loved her son. She told us the reason she wanted her son in this foster program was because his father had been killed in a drunken brawl. She said, “I don’t want him to grow up drinking and ending up dead like his father. Too many of our relatives are drunks.” She knew we didn’t drink and felt a lot of security in that.

It was always hard for us to send him home at the end of the school year. We feared he would not return. After two years, our fears were realized. He didn’t want to come back. His mother called us and begged us to come to the reservation and get him. So we loaded up our family and drove to Arizona. When we got to his house he hid under the covers in his bed and would not come out. It was as though he didn’t dare see our faces or his mind would change. His mother said, “Just pick him up and make him go.” Gary said, “We can’t force him. He needs to choose.” Finally, after much begging from his mother and us, he finally looked at us. That’s when he slipped out of his bed, slowly walked to our car and climbed in.

As we drove away he had the saddest looking face. We think it was for effect because as soon as we rounded the bend, out of sight of his mother, he smiled and started to have fun with the kids. It was an immediate transformation.

The things we taught our kids

We taught him how important it was to do well in school. We talked about what it takes to have a good family. My husband explained, and was the living example, that men work hard to provide for their families. That men are faithful to their wives. That good men don’t get drunk and hurt others. Together we taught him, right along with our own kids, the values that matter in life.

His mother had promised him that if he stayed until he was fourteen, he could choose to no longer be in the program. That’s the year he chose to stay home with her on the reservation. We were so sad to not have him back.

We tried to keep in touch with him and his mother, but after a time he no longer responded, and we lost touch. About six years later we received a phone call. “Hi, this is Dennis. Do you remember me?” He said, “I just called to tell you I turned out OK.” He then explained that he had attended a technical school and was now a qualified union worker with a good job. We were so proud of him.

Dennis married and has five children. He comes to visit us occasionally. On one visit, as he was ready to leave with his family, he said, “Thank you for all you did for me. I never forgot what you taught me. My life is so much better than it ever would have been.”  That brought tears to our eyes.

It’s worth it all

The impression foster parents make on the children who come into their homes is worth everything it takes to make their life better. And believe me, their lives will be better because you cared enough to lift them up.