The Starfish Story

The difference foster parents can make in the life of a child

Megan Hilton June 05, 2014
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Have you ever heard the starfish story? There are several versions that have circulated over the years, particularly on the internet. I have heard it retold with slight variations. As far as I can tell, these variations are all adapted from “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley. Perhaps  you will recognize the basic storyline. A young man was observed on a beach, rescuing starfish one by one at low tide. The observer questions the young man’s efforts, commenting on the hopelessness of the situation and the endless number of starfish. He tells the young man that his efforts cannot make much of a difference. The young man throws another starfish back into the ocean and replies that, to that starfish, it must have made a difference.

I have pondered the starfish story often this week while vacationing in Southern California. The one thing my children have asked me to bring back to Arizona for them is a starfish.  I’ve had a hard time explaining to them that I cannot simply find a starfish in the ocean, pick it up and bring it home for them. My young children have difficulty understanding that.

While on my trip, I have visited with numerous old friends and acquaintances from my childhood, as well as family. Many of them ask for an update on our foster son’s situation. Unfortunately, all we can report right now is more waiting for permanence in his future. One question has been asked multiple times, even today. Everyone wants to know if I think I will be able to foster again following our current placement.

This is where the starfish story comes into my mind, and I have to tell those inquiring that I am not sure what our future holds, but that I think I will likely continue to foster in the future because there is such a great need. I think of those starfish, like the children, helplessly seeking a safe place. I think about how it undeniably makes a difference to each one to be cared for and loved, even on a short-term basis.

I once received a call in the middle of the night from Child Protective Services asking if we would take one of two sisters sleeping on the floor of the CPS office that night. The girls were among 12 children spending the night in that particular office because placements could not be found. I was awestruck that the need could truly be so great and I felt my heart ache for these young sisters. I have never stopped thinking about the seemingly hopeless situation some children face. Each time I learn of a child or sibling group in need, I feel a familiar tug in my heart. I wish my resources were not so limited. I wish I could wrap my arms around them all and bring them home. For now, just as the young man on the beach, I will make a difference one child at a time.

Think of the difference we could make together.

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Megan Hilton

Megan Hilton is an adoptive and foster mom of four beautiful children. Her oldest three children were adopted as infants through domestic adoption and her youngest joined the family through foster care. She lives with her family in Arizona.


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