May is National Foster Care Month
National figures state that on any given day, about 400,000 children and youth in the United States are in the foster care system. Sonoma County Family Youth and Children’s Services (CPS) is looking for homes for 50-75 youth daily.
Numbers can leave a strong impression but can also create emotional distance. Infants, children, teens, and young adults in the foster care system are real people. They are in our communities, attending our schools, and living with our neighbors.
When I tell people I work in foster care the response is typically, “Wow, that’s gotta be a tough job! I could never do that.” Then the conversation quickly shifts to something else. For those who have no connection to foster care, it can seem too intense to even discuss. But it must be discussed. That’s what national awareness campaigns aim to do: Shed light on an important issue.
National Foster Care Month’s theme for 2017 is “Empowering Caregivers: Strengthening Families”
I love the theme because of the focus on foster parents. Foster parents are at the heart of the foster care system. If it wasn’t for these heroes, many of the children in need would get lost in the system. Foster parents often don’t get a lot of press. When the media does highlight a story about foster parents, it’s usually an extreme case of a bad apple. Those stories are important to expose the flaws in the system in the hopes of improving it. However, the everyday, hard and heartfelt work of the foster parents in our community needs more recognition.
Foster parents come from all walks of life
I’ve worked with retired couples, newlyweds, single parents, and gay parents. I’ve worked with Latino families and the socioeconomic spectrum from upper-middle to lower-middle class families. There are those who became foster parents to help a family member and those who have been foster parents to countless individuals spanning several decades. Some families have biological children in the home and other parents count on their adult children to help care for foster kids. What unites these individuals is their dedication, passion, and how they give their heart and home to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
To these heroes I say:
I see you and am honored to work beside you.
I see you juggling your own personal hardships as you tend to the needs of kids in your care. How you graciously open up your home to social workers, lawyers, therapists, and other service providers, in addition to the children. You accept that your home will be inspected over and over again by many people and even offer a warm meal in the process.
I notice how you advocate tirelessly for the needs of a child, despite having minimal say in deciding what happens to her in the end. How you listen dutifully to the professional about how to handle a child she sees for only a few hours, when you live with him 24/7.
I see you sharing in a child’s excitement as he gets ready for a family visit, helping him draw a picture for his mom. And I see you comforting that tearful child when his parent does not show. The late night hours you spend listening to that teenager in the hopes he’ll learn to trust. I see you loving each and every child you welcome into your home, fully knowing that their time with you is not forever. I see you treat each child like family, be they with you for month or a few years.
With only a moment of hesitation, you take in the unwanted: the too difficult, the too old, the too risky.
Your patience astounds me
You establish structure, safety, and routine over and over again. You recognize the hurt behind the anger a youth uses as a defense.
I am humbled by your willingness to trust me to listen when you need to vent. To trust me when you need to cry for fear that you can’t do it anymore. Yet you do it anyway, because these children need you. I am in awe of your flexibility. When you agree to take in a teenage girl even though you intended to be a home for only infants. Or when you recognize there is no other option and agree to be a temporary home to two children, when you were clear that you would only care for one at a time.
THANK YOU doesn’t seem like enough to express thanks for all that you do!