By Brianna Roberts, Itasca County Health & Human Services
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT THAT YOU HAVE MORE TO GIVE?
HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE TO GIVE BACK TO OTHERS
IN A WAY THAT WOULD PROFOUNDLY AFFECT THE REST OF THEIR LIFE, AND YOURS?
Great news! There's a way forward. A way that will likely challenge you. A way that will expose you and your family to situations that have never been part of your daily life. There will be situations that you think to yourself only exist on TV or online, or surely other states or countries. There will be things that you hear that make you cry and question humanity in general...
Then there will be two little eyes, looking to you for answers. There will be hearts that are breaking and waiting for someone to make it okay. There will be questions that the little person in your home will be wondering about and you will have to answer in a way that is honest, but not scary. In a manner that lets them know that it's going to be okay and that at this moment they are safe. There will be siblings that come to your home - maybe the eldest has always looked out for the little ones and now they are in a role that is unfamiliar to them. They are questioning if you are able to keep them safe. They may be angry, sad, worried, scared, relieved, or tired.
Being a foster parent is one role that most people do not venture to take- whether it be due to a lack of knowledge and need or the difficulty perceived. The role of a foster parent comes with great sacrifice as well as tremendous reward. Being a foster parent is an opportunity for you to give in a way that you never thought possible. The goal of every foster parent is to provide a safe, nurturing home to any child that has been removed from their home. Then the goal is to work with the social worker on reunifying the child with their caregiver. This is oftentimes a very rocky road. You will see that child at their most vulnerable states. You will wonder if their little hearts will ever heal. You will hear positive things and you will hear worrying things. You will wonder if this is the right thing. You will wonder if the social worker knows what they are doing. You will wonder if humanity has let you down...
Then... you will see glimmers of hope. You will see that child start to bloom again. You will see things that make you understand the true depth of despair that parents can sometimes reach. You will understand unwavering love. You will watch people go through emotions that are sometimes gut wrenching. You will grow attached to the little ones in your home. You will question if the home they are returning to is going to keep them safe. You will want to ensure that it is... Then the child will go home and you will think of them often. You will send all of your well wishes their way, you will grieve for them, and then be grateful that their parents or forever family get to experience all the wonderful things that you did with them. You will feel proud of your involvement in their life. You will be forever changed by your role as foster parent to that child.
And then the call will come again, that another little one needs you. That another one has been through a situation that some nightmares are made of. That they are on their way, potentially with nothing but the clothes on their back. You will rush around your home seeing what you have and what you need. You will make a midnight run to the store to get formula and diapers. You will put on your best smile as you welcome the next little life into your arms and your home. You will see that they need you in a way that only a person who has looked into the eyes of a child just removed from the only people they know could see, and (right or wrong) you'll love them. You will have the greatest opportunity of your life to open your heart to someone else's child and treat them like your own. Knowing that you will be working with the very person who put the child in this situation in the first place. Your heart will break and swell all at the same time.
Being a foster parent can be extremely difficult, but ultimately rewarding. There is not a "typical" situation, but one thing is for certain: you will have the greatest opportunity of your life. You will embark on the biggest and most humbling quest - to provide love and care to children when they are most vulnerable. You will be able to make a difference. You will form relationships with kids from all walks of life. You will be forever changed. This is a privilege and an honor. We want to welcome you to the world of foster care.
THE PERSONAL SIDE OF FOSTERING
by Jessica Colter
When my husband and I first started the journey to become foster care providers it was actually not for the sole purpose of fostering children. We knew very early on in our marriage that we would never be able to have children on our own. So after a year or so of coming to terms with this reality we realized that it wasn't so much that we needed/wanted a biological child of our own, as much as that we really just wanted to be parents. It was the realization that those two events are not necessarily synonymous, that led us down the path to explore foster care and adoption.
We worked with a private, local organization that facilitated both domestic and international adoptions. After waiting long periods of time between each potential match, we learned of the possibility to foster children through our local social service organization. We let a social worker friend of ours know that we were interested in a placement that would potentially lead to permanency. It was a gamble with our hearts, but we weren't getting any younger and knew this was where we could make the most change.
After several years of waiting, and six months into a long awaited pregnancy made possible by the marvels of modern medicine, we were placed with a beautiful little boy. He was 8 months old, but due to severe malnutrition and neglect, looked to be a child much younger. He didn't make eye contact, couldn't sit, crawl, or do most things that a child his age could. When he came "home" that Thursday my husband said it was respite only, just the weekend. He said that the only way we would keep him was if the agency could tell us that in their professional opinion there was 95% certainty he would remain with us permanently.
The weekend came and went, and this little boy, who at first didn't seem to understand the world around him, began to bond with my husband. He who wouldn't let anyone hold him or his bottle, snuggled in tight at bedtime and searched for my husband when he awoke with night terrors those first nights.
So, the following Monday morning when we brought him in to the County offices - under the impression we were returning him to his family's care - we broke down and my husband said that what we had experienced over the weekend completely changed his viewpoint. We now were willing to give our hearts to this child even if there was only a 5% chance he could stay with us forever. That day changed our lives...
Foster care is hard; it's demanding; it's heart-wrenching. Whether the child stays or leaves you will experience highs and lows that cannot fully be put into words. In our experience, there is no better reward in life than to give a child love and care that they so desperately need.
We went on to adopt that beautiful baby boy, gave birth to another son, AND were placed with and eventually adopted the full biological baby sister to our oldest son.
Whether one chooses to begin fostering as a method to grow a family or a way to give back to children and families in our community - without a doubt... the need is great, but the rewards are far greater.
MYTH VS FACT
- MYTH: TO BE FOSTER PARENTS WE NEED TO HAVE PARENTING EXPERIENCE
FACT: Many foster parents never had children of their own. If you are a responsible person willing to commit to providing a safe and loving environment, you're a perfect fit. Not having children of your own doesn't take away from your ability to be responsible and provide a loving environment to a child who needs it most.
MYTH: WE CAN'T BE FOSTER PARENTS AND WORK FULL-TIME
FACT: You don't have to be stay-at-home parents to foster. If the child does require day care, you may have to cover that cost, but there are programs that can help cover expenses depending on the state you live in. Becoming foster parents won't take away from your work hours.
MYTH: BEING FOSTER PARENTS IS TOO EXPENSIVE
FACT: While there is some cost for foster care, many states or programs will reimburse expenses and/or provide a monthly stipend.  Being able to provide a safe and loving environment for someone who needs it most is priceless.
MYTH: FOSTER CHILDREN ARE HARDENED, DIFFICULT, AND UNRULY
FACT: Many children in the state child welfare system have endured trauma in their lives. Because of this, they need you the most. You can provide a loving, stable, nurturing home for them to heal, learn, and grow. Many programs, as well as Rawhide, provide training on the dynamics of abuse and neglect to help you understand the foster child's situation and be able to adapt to their needs.
MYTH: CHILDREN ARE PLACED IN FOSTER CARE BECAUSE OF A CRIMINAL BACKGROUND
FACT: Many children enter foster care because of neglect, abandonment, or abuse. These children are looking for a loving, safe environment that nurtures and encourages them.
MYTH: FOSTER CARE IS A PUNISHMENT
FACT: Very similar to the misconception below. Not all children in foster care are delinquents and the courts don't use foster care as a punishment. Foster care is to help the children find a safe, loving environment, not to punish.
MYTH: CHILDRENPLACED IN FOSTER CARE ARE ORPHANED
FACT: While some foster children are orphans, the vast majorities come from difficult home situations. Foster care is intended to protect those children.
MYTH: FOSTER CHILDREN HAVE BEEN IN AND OUT OF DOZENS OF OTHER FOSTER HOMES
FACT: The idea of foster care is to create permanence in the lives of the children. Many children are placed with foster parents and remain with those parents for a long time regardless of adoption eligibility. When they do go from home to home it is usually because of reunification attempts.
MYTH: I'M TOO OLD TO BE A FOSTER PARENT
FACT: The only age requirement is that you must be at least 21 years old to be a foster parent. Many empty-nesters have found foster parenting to be a rewarding experience. As long as you're able to bring passion and a heart full of unconditional love, you're never too old to be a foster parent.
Your local Health & Human Services is searching for people in your community who have the wish to open their hearts and homes to kids that range in age from newborn babies, to kids nearing adulthood. Communities everywhere are looking for adults who are able to keep kids safe and adults that these kids can count on.
You'd also be amazed that the majority of kids that are taken into foster care do not have travel bags. Researchers have found that one of the major trauma triggers for kids that have had a placement is that their belongings often travel with them in trash bags. Kids that have discussed this with researchers have talked about their entire lives being traipsed around in nothing but a plastic bag that most people use for their garbage. You can imagine the psychological harm that comes with this correlation.
For more information on how to become involved or information on needed donation items, contact your local Health & Human Services office. For local Itasca County information, contact Jessica Colter at Itasca County Health & Human Services at
1209 SE 2nd Ave., Grand Rapids, MN 55744 or by phone at 218-327-5571.