Remember earlier in the week when I mentioned how a fellow foster parent and friend I've never met reminded me it's National Foster Care Awareness Month? Well, I've enlisted her help for today's post!
Her name is Amanda T, and she hails from the great state of Kentucky- pretty far from my own little Texas town.
One evening several-ish months ago- after I shared one of my posts, she sent me a Google message to tell me how much she enjoyed reading my blog.
Even more encouraging: she's been doing this job much longer than I have- and she is still going strong! Over the past 3 years, she's provided a home for 13 children. And she is amazing.
I've been so inspired by her commitment to fostering, and I think you will be, too!
Here are her thoughts on her journey thus far:
About three and a half years ago, I felt called to become a foster parent. Honestly, I was hoping I was imagining things, because at the time, that didn't seem like anything I wanted to do. I prayed about it, and I basically told God that I wasn't interested, but thanked Him for thinking of me. He had other plans. The next Sunday was, not coincidentally, "Orphan Sunday" at church. I remember thinking that that was ironic, but I knew better than to shrug it off.
That week, I called a social worker at DCBS to ask about what was involved in becoming a foster parent. I found out that I would need to go through 10 weeks of classes (MAPP), complete a profile, go through a background check, and complete two home visits. After that, if approved, I would be ready for children in my home.
After learning about the process, I began to tell some women in my Bible study group about my thoughts regarding fostering. Another lady in my group told me that she had considered fostering, and may be interested in going to the classes with me. I remember thinking that if she was going to go, I would too. If she backed out, that was my sign that I wasn't supposed to do it, because I didn't want to go alone. Funny story...a day or two before classes were to start, she told me she wasn't going. Perfect! Now surely that was the sign I had been looking for. Too bad that literally minutes later, I received a call from my friend who worked at DCBS telling me that the person who was supposed to teach my class wasn't going to be able to, so she would be. Well, now I knew for sure that it was meant to be.
Don't get me wrong, I knew that I was fully capable of fostering. I love children, I understand the needs of children who come from hard places, I had the extra room, and knew that I could financially make it work. Basically, I had no reason to say no. I think I was just scared of the unknown. I was scared of the birth parents, scared of the behaviors that I may be dealing with, and scared of getting attached. I was just scared, but I decided to trust God, and take this leap.
I began MAPP classes on April 19th, 2012. The classes were very informational, and I actually looked forward to going each week. My last class was June 28th. After turning in a bunch of paperwork and having two home visits, I was approved in July. Then, I just became attached to my phone...waiting for my first call. Every time an unfamiliar number popped up, my heart began to pound.
On August 9th, I received my first placement. Oh, what a nervous couple of hours I had while waiting for two little girls to show up on my doorstep. (Thanks to some friends and a nearby toilet, I was able to pull myself together before they came.)
Now, almost three years later, I have been blessed to provide a home for thirteen children (mostly infants). Sometimes I feel like I have a revolving door to my house, as most of my placements have been short. But, when I stop and think about it, I am so grateful for any amount of time that I was able to provide a safe and loving home for a child when they needed it most.
Fostering has been a journey of ups and downs. Seeing a happy baby grow and learn is awesome. Having to hand a baby over in the parking lot of DCBS is rough. There are days of laughter, and there are days of grieving. There are days when I think I have this whole parenting thing down, and days when I feel like a complete failure. There are days when I feel like I have a great support system, and days when I feel all alone. I am honest in saying that fostering is so hard, but so worth it.
I think one of the things that has surprised me the most while fostering has been the public perception of what fostering is, and how things work. I would be lying if I said I didn't have the same thoughts and questions as other people before I started. I think when a topic or cause is close to your heart, you want everyone to become educated and involved.
The general public thinks that foster parenting is like a job where you earn a paycheck. That's simply not true. The state does pay for the child's needs, but that money is to be spent on the child. The $22.70 p/day doesn't cover everything. So, most likely, foster parents spend their own money as well. Clothing, diapers, wipes, childcare, formula, food, and everything else adds up quickly. The state does allow the children to be placed on WIC, and while that is so helpful, it is not enough for the entire month. Daycare assistance is also available, but again, there is always an overage to be paid. Most foster parents don't receive baby/kid showers, so everything comes from their pockets in preparation for a placement. Preparing for different ages, genders, and clothing seasons really adds up. (This is why foster parents are so grateful for hand me downs and donations.)
Another misconception is that there is a chance to "keep" every child who comes into a foster home. The main goal of foster care is to reunite the children with their parents when mom/dad has made the necessary changes and is ready to parent. These birth parents (or at least the ones I've worked with) are not terrible people. They are people who lack positive role models, have grown up in similar situations, or simply don't know how to parent appropriately. They are fully deserving of an opportunity to get themselves together in an effort to get their child back. While many people foster with the intent of adopting, this can be a long process as time is given to the birth parents to make progress. Before asking a foster parent if they are going to get to "keep" a child, remember that they probably don't know the answer. Foster parents do what we do knowing that things could change at any time. We are all pretty good at living in a state of uncertainty.
A third misconception is one I hear almost every time I mention that I'm a foster parent. Someone looks at me and says, "Oh, I could never do that! I'd get too attached. You are awesome!" Um, no. Have you met me? I'm far from awesome. If I'm being completely honest, this can sometimes sting a little when I hear it. I'm sure I've said this to people in the past, and I completely get it. I appreciate the compliment. Let me say that we DO get attached. We care for these children like they are our own, and we love them deeply. Foster parents are not robots who take care of children and then hand them back without any feeling. We are not superheroes who are trying to save the world. We are people who are passionate about helping children, and are willing to put our own emotions on the line to do what we can for them. Please know that if it's something you are interested in, and feel is right for you, you can do it.
I personally want to take time this month to say thank you to the people who have supported me along this journey. I have friends and family who pray for me and for the babies. There are people who have been willing to photograph my babies for free, or at a discounted rate. Some people are willing to babysit. Clothes have been donated by people when their children outgrew them. I have friends and family who create bonds with the babies, and love them like I do. I have friends who are there to celebrate the milestones, and friends who listen through my tears. Foster parenting is something I chose, but I cannot do it all alone. Please know that your support and generosity are greatly appreciated.
Due to confidentiality, I cannot post pictures or information about the children I have, but know that the sweet babies who have come through my door are amazing and beautiful. I commit to advocating for these children. I will continue to share posts about fostering on Facebook. I will continue to try to recruit other foster parents. I will continue to do my small part.
If you've ever considered fostering or want to help a foster parent or child in some way, this is the perfect time to make a move. Feel free to ask any questions you have. I would love to walk down this road with you. There's a child who needs you. Do you have a reason to say no?