Foster Parents Talk About Their Journey
By Mali Anderson
Bringing a foster child into your home, and sharing your time with them, is a noble pursuit. Yet foster parenting although known about by many is pursued by few. Different than adoption, fostering provides children with a safe place until the birth family is able to care for the child again, if reunification is impossible, or until an adoptive family is secured.
On an average day in the United States, approximately 428,000 children are in foster care. There is a huge need for loving families. Unfortunately, the foster parents who are profiled by newspapers and television reporters are often the worst. But the truth is there are terrific parents working with professionals to provide safe and loving environments to foster children.
There are challenges as some children come from volatile environments, but it is important to remember your love is necessary, even if there is a reunion with the parents. As a foster parent, your role is to make this transition as steady as possible for the child. Sometimes this relies on her establishing a relationship with the biological parents as well.
Fostering as a Same Sex Couple
Tina Kreitlow, an executive for the YMCA, and Rebecca Neumann, a professor, were both pursuing individual foster care licenses when they began dating. But after six months, with their relationship growing long-term, they merged their individual applications into a joint application. Tina joined Rebecca’s application process since Rebecca’s was closer to being finalized.
Their advice for perspective families to approach the process with an open heart and mind. There are many possibilities, many children that need love, some will make you laugh, and others will make you cry. “The process is not for everyone,” says Tina, “It can be an emotional rollercoaster. But it is highly rewarding. And if we knew then what we know now, we would still do it all over again.”
“The goal, as we understand it, as foster parents, is to be a bridge for a child when a family needs support and other interventions,” says Rebecca. Keeping that in mind, and not having unrealistic expectations of the system, has helped their family thrive.
Working in Health Care, Then Fostering
While working in hospitals and nursing homes, Carlene Keys began looking for an experience that was more personally rewarding and became interested in foster parenting. Her husband, Carl, supported his wife in the application process, but felt she would be doing more of the childcare since he was working full time. But now, both Carl and Carlene are retired. They are both full time foster parents. Over 70 children have stayed in their home, some for a night others for a year or more. Open to emergency placement, the Keys household is licensed for up to four foster children at a time.
“We love doing it. We see such a difference in the children. One of the foster children I had called me just the other day to tell me how much he appreciated us, and he’s 26 now. We keep in touch with the children we had long term, and it’s wonderful the big family we have now,” says Carlene.
As parents, grandparents and foster parents, the Keys have learned the importance of understand the needs of the children. Some of the foster children they have had were not accustomed to being in a loving environment. But by using repetition, and consistency, the Keys are able to provide a home that is safe, nurturing and a place to learn, no matter how long they stay. The Keys say the children relax when stories are read to them, and they listen closely to what the children tell them. Eventually, the children blossom.
Advice to prospective foster parents? Carl recommends taking classes and coming into the experience unbiased. He says, “You can expect a lot of love, a lot of emotional reward. The kids appreciate it, many of the biological parents appreciate it, and you learn a lot about other people. It’s very rewarding.”
Adopting a Foster Child
Emotionally moved by stories of foster children in troubled situations, Judy DeVries became a foster parent over 20 years ago. She has since been a mother to nearly 50 children.
“When we started fostering we had three biological children of our own and wanted to provide a safe place for kids who needed a place, we never intended to adopt,” says Judy.
Yet the DeVries family did adopt the first child who was placed in their home. After the adoption they began to foster pre-adoptive newborns, babies who needed to be cared for while adoptions were finalized. Judy’s children helped to care for the babies during these years, but eventually Judy’s heart was drawn back to older children in need. There were always people who wanted the newborns; the older children have fewer options.
Judy planned to stop fostering when her adopted son graduated from high school. That was years ago. She and her husband have continued to foster parent, typically one long-term placement child at a time. Judy works outside of the home too, carrying health insurance for the family through her job. She says if she could secure insurance another way, she would gladly take more children into her home.
“This is my passion, I feel it’s a ministry God has called me to,” says Judy. “As with anything you do, there are pros and cons, yet I maintain this is the most incredible thing we’ve ever done. To make a difference in a child’s life is extremely rewarding.”
Maintaining a relationship with some of the children and their families, either biological, adoptive, or both, has helped Judy see the rewards of her fostering.
“My husband and I have a picnic at our home every summer, and we invite our former foster kids and their families to come. So we get to see them. All the families have the common bond of foster care, and we get to talk about struggles and challenges. And then I get to play with all the kids,” says Judy.
In the case of DeVries, a friend of the family helped Judy with her foster children as a babysitter. The friend ended up adopting two of the foster children placed in the DeVries home. Yet another example of the ripples of support and good endings foster care can provide.
“These are the children that will grow up and run our country. We need to give them stability, and let them know they are loved, wanted and worth the effort.” Says Judy, “I get more out of it than the kids do. It’s a lot of work, and a blessing.”
Mali Anderson is an artist and writer. She writes about culture, food, and parenting. See more of her work at malianderson.com.