Last week was bittersweet for my family. On Friday, our two little girls left us to live with another family. This is not the tragedy it may first appear to be, nor are we incapable of caring for kids, it was actually a scheduled event. My wife & I are foster parents.
At first, the term may conjure up a Hollywood stereotype of a family who packs their house with kids and provide the barest essentials, all for the meager stipend the state pays to take care of them. Hardly. The other foster families I’ve met represent a broad cross-section of Delaware. Many are professionals. Many are blue collar. Some are nurses, some are corrections officers. They are people of all ages. But all of us love children and feel a calling to help those kids whose own families cannot, for whatever reason, properly care for them.
When a child enters the foster care system, the preliminary goal is almost always reunification with their birth family. Their parents meet with social workers who help them develop a plan to overcome whatever challenges have led them to this point. Classes are taught in parenting (which foster parents are also required to take), and assistance is provided in social services such as job training. A Family Court judge is assigned to each foster child or sibling group. This judge periodically gathers the birth family, foster family, and all of the associated care professionals to review the progress of the case. Only after the birth family has been given multiple tools for life, opportunity, and ample time without showing significant progress will their parental rights be terminated. At that point, the child becomes available for adoption.
In the year-and-a-half since my wife & I passed all of our classes, inspections, and background checks, we have had 9 children live in our home. Some stayed for a few days, some for a few weeks, only these last two stayed for an extended time (about 16 months). Naturally, it was difficult letting go of Julie & Rebecca (not their real names) after so much time with them, but we know that they are going to a great home. We are fortunate that their new “forever family” wants us to stay a part of their lives, but not every foster family is so lucky.
More than that, we are blessed to have had them for this time. I’m not terribly religious, but that is the only word I’ve found which comes close to describing our feelings about these two little girls and our time with them. While we weren’t there for their first words or their first steps, we helped open their lives to the wide world, and they became our kids. We took them for their first boat ride. They went with us on vacation to the Outer Banks & saw wild horses running on the beach. We watched Julie grow from timid to confident. And we watched Rebecca learn that she can forget about grown up problems like poverty and just be a kid. We watched them learn that too much pizza will give you a belly ache. And we heard giggling. Our home was filled with giggling.
Most parents will recognize something in this story which will remind them of their own experiences with their own kids. The difference here is that foster kids have faced more challenges than is fair for their young ages. Many come from homes with challenged by substance abuse or mental illness. Many of their parents were once foster children themselves back in the not so good old days. I know that through simply loving and caring, my wife & I have had a bigger impact on the lives of these girls than we probably ever will with our own kids. And that is why we continue to do it.
But today, there are too many foster kids and not enough foster parents. Right now, there are over 700 children in the foster care system in Delaware. If you have some room in your home and some room in your heart, I urge you to consider becoming a foster parent, too. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but if it’s for you, the opportunity to change the course of a child’s life is a reward beyond compare.
To get started, please visit http://kids.delaware.gov/fs/fostercare.shtml or http://cffde.org/