Fifteen years ago my husband and I went through the training to become foster parents through our state. This summer my husband and I finished up the training (and are 90% done with the licensing requirements!) to foster through a private agency for a slightly different demographic than we have fostered in the past- I'm sure I'll write more about that experience sometime in the future.
Last year the following article was published in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Foster Roster, a magazine sent out to foster parents in my region. The article was written by the man who was our trainer over a decade ago and as I read it a lot of memories came flooding back- specifically surrounding the word "nervouscited" which is a great way to describe how I was feeling back then and how my husband and I are feeling now as we embark on a slightly different fostering path.
I'm sharing this article now for anyone who may need to hear any part of its message- wether you're just starting out on your journey to become a foster parent or are a veteran or have been considering the possibilities of fostering, or you have found your way here for whatever reason.
Ya’ Know, I’ve Been Thinking… By: Brian Young, Education, Utah Foster Care
Every month when I walk into a classroom for Class 1, at one of our region’s DCFS buildings, I look around the room at a group of new faces…. that have absolutely no idea what’s about to happen to them. You all remember that night, right? You were so “nervouscited” to finally start your foster care journey, which I understand, that you didn’t even notice that some of your spouses, if you had one there, were glaring at me with a “I can think of 100 places I'd rather be” face, which I also understand.
A few months ago, I had a couple looking at me with a different face. It was more like a, “I think I remember you,” face and they asked, “Wasn’t it you that was teaching 15 or 16 years ago when we went through this the first time?” I nodded my head, smiled and thought, “I've been doing this for 20 years and feel, really old.”
It’s made me think about a lot of things; how much child welfare has changed in our great state over the past 2 decades, how much more we know about how to better help kids and families who find themselves dealing with a situation and system they’d rather not be in, how frustrating and sad it is that sometimes it doesn’t work out the way we wanted or hoped, and how frustrating and sad it is, in a different way, that sometimes it does.
I think what’s been coming to my mind the most is all of you. With a little quick figuring and guesstimating, in the last 20 years, I've met over 3,000 families, roughly 6,000 people who had one thing in common - they had decided that sharing their lives with traumatized children and their families was something they wanted to do, without really even knowing what that meant. But there you were, ready to start, ready to learn, and ready to help.
I say it every month in class, “People who don’t understand fostering really can’t help you understand and deal with the challenges of fostering.” But I also realize that people who don’t understand fostering, can’t fully appreciate those who do it either.
You’re an odd bunch, you know that, right? You come to this to help, usually not realizing that “helping” means bringing these kiddos into your homes, lives and families, with all the “stuff ” that comes with them. You give them your heart, your time, your patience, your money, and sometimes whatever was left of your sanity, with the idea that if all goes well, you’ll be able to then watch them walk back, with a piece of your heart, to the family they came to you from. That’s if you have a “normal” case, whatever that means anymore. Add to that the extra stress of a case where it’s a constant battle with a bio-parent, a challenge to work with agencies who are sometimes having to work under a different set of rules than you, and sometimes they, would like, situations beyond your control that make you want to question the one thing you can control, whether you keep doing this or not. And you do.
Now don’t go getting all misty-eyed on me, we’ll always have more work to do to stay focused. I know when I sit in meetings with DCFS and hear that foster parents are frustrated with, or not participating in efforts towards determining if reunification will work, or deciding way before a judge does that adoption really is the best plan for a child they’re caring for, or want a child moved, because the very behaviors that made sense while we talked about them in class, are now somehow unacceptable in actual real-life practice, we’ll always have more work to do.
With all that said, what it comes down to, for me, is that I've had 20 years to work with some amazingly odd people. Thank you for trying, even when it seemed like a waste of time. Thank you for hoping, even when it seemed hopeless. Thank you for not saying out loud, in that moment of borderline rational thought, what you were thinking in that family team meeting, knowing you would have regretted it when you calmed down a bit. Thank you for helping those children you brought into your lives know it was ok to trust a parent again. Thank you for stretching your parameters a little, deciding that 9-year-old boy you said yes to really is kinda close to your initial request for girls only, from birth to 3. And the fact he’s a package deal with a 6-year-old sister, when you requested one child only, really is kinda like one, kinda.
See? I told you, you are odd.
Thanks and not just from me not that long ago I sat in a meeting with Melonie Brown, our Regional Director, who looked at me and said, “We love our foster parents! It’s crazy what we ask them to do. To take these kids in and love them like their own, give so much of themselves to help them, and then give them back. It’s just crazy, but we love them for doing it!”
That obviously doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements, challenges and frustrations, but know your efforts, even though it might seem so, aren’t going unnoticed. Even if you’re not hearing it, I am.
One last time, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be a small part of your journey through the craziness. Even those of you who were staring at me that first night of class with something other than a look of excited anticipation on your face. Thanks for still being here.