(By Stephanie Holland)
Fostering. Unknown. Broken system. Court delays. Financial burden. Social Workers. Resource parent. Birth parent. Attachment. Reunification. Qualifications. Paperwork. Home Study. Foster siblings. Babies. Teens. Behavioral issues. Developmental delays. Abuse. Neglect. Trauma. Therapy.
Chances are you’ve heard one or more of these, and possibly countless other phrases or words related to foster care. The myths about fostering abound and, like most myths, there may be a little or a lot of truth contained in them. But there is also a much bigger, redemptive and breathtaking picture that often isn’t revealed or fully appreciated until those moments in time – days, weeks, months, years – are completed by the master artist.
Maybe you’ve even heard the staggering numbers for South Carolina: as of June 2020, there are:
· 4,480 children in foster care
· 2,865 foster families, and
· 1,615 families needed
To borrow a favorite expression from my coworker, those numbers can make one feel “just as lost as last year’s Easter eggs.”
Then again, perhaps you’ve felt a tingle or heart tug a time or two or twenty to learn more about the system created to protect children exposed to harm and/or neglect, or to simply learn more about the process of becoming a licensed foster parent. Not commit, mind you –no ma’am, no siree– but gather some information, please and thank you, with the option to keep on strolling, scrolling or politely hang up the phone if the answers leave you shaking or just uncertain. Tip: We’re not afraid of questions at any point in the process, so ask away! And maybe, just maybe, that shaking might even be excitement about the possibilities. Stranger things have …
Well alrighty then. Turning now to non-myths, the dictionary definition of FOSTER as a verb is to:
1) encourage or promote the development of (something, typically regarded as good);
2) bring up (a child that is not one’s own by birth).
This isn’t an either/or definition – foster parenting wholeheartedly embraces both of these! Nor is fostering a modern idea, not by a long shot. In fact, the Old Testament and the Talmud contain some of the first known documentation of children being cared for in foster homes. Old, right??
Moving all the way from ancient times to the year 1636, Benjamin Eaton became the first foster child in the Americas, less than 30 years after Jamestown Colony was founded. And in 1853, a minister and director of the New York Children’s Aid Society, Charles Loring Brace, became the founder of the free foster home movement in response to his concern over the large number of immigrant children sleeping in the streets of New York.* Okay, okay, I hear you non-history buffs politely groaning and won’t subject you further to endless facts and the extensive national and global history of foster care. Suffice it to say, the need for stable, safe and loving homes is not new or novel.
Yet here we are in 2020, a year many of us would like to fast-forward through or borrow a time-traveling DeLorean to skip altogether for many reasons. One reason that stands out to me is the vast uncertainty about, errr, most everything. Which reinforces my lack of control over circumstances and is not a comfortable place to dwell, at all. And now imagine a foster child removed from his or her family, forced to be separated from their siblings (because DSS can’t find a foster home able to accommodate the sibling group), their friends, their school, their neighbors, their bed, most of their possessions and so much more. Oh, and placed by a stranger with complete strangers in a strange home in a strange bed in a strange neighborhood. Talk about uncertainty, lack of control and feelings of powerlessness.
In nearly 15 years of working with foster children, foster families, birth parents, birth relatives and child welfare professionals, it has been consistently amazing and humbling to witness the resilience of these children. Even when their spark is dimmed or buried 10,000 leagues under the sea deep as a means of self-protection and self-preservation, against all odds it is not extinguished … and with time and patience and sacrifice and perseverance and selfless love, you might just witness a priceless miracle as that spark becomes a flame which illuminates the beautiful picture of restorative grace.
If you’re interested in being a part of that picture and a child’s story, Lutheran Services Carolinas is here to answer your questions and walk with you every step of the way should you decide to embark on this incredible fostering journey. For more information, please visit our website at fosterparentschangelives.net or call 1-800-435-7464. We would love to talk with you and promise there is no question too big or too small!
*Source: National Foster Parent Association, “History of Foster Care in the United States”