Being Pro Foster Care Means Being Pro Bio Parents
My name is Kimberly, I was born and raised in Austin, TX, and my husband and I are foster parents.
From the time I was 12 until I was around 18, my parents were foster parents. We had 4 girls live with us who had all been through some pretty hard things and even though it was overwhelming at times, I knew my mom and dad were doing something important. Being in a home where my parents showed me first hand what it was like to walk alongside vulnerable people planted a seed in my heart to one day open my home to foster children.
One part of foster care that often gets a bad reputation is family reunification.
We had two brothers ages 4 and 18 months live with us for 9 months who were successfully reunified with their mom and dad at the end of the 9 months. I can remember the CPS worker who brought them to us in the middle of the night telling me their mom was very upset when they took them and that she had asked to meet me at our first visit. CPS asked me if I was OK with meeting her, and I said yes because I would want to know who had my children if the situation were reversed. We had to drive over an hour for that first visit and I can remember praying and asking God to give me the right words to comfort this mom and dad and to let them know that their boys were OK. We walked into the room where they were waiting and after giving their boys lots of hugs, mom turned to me and gave me the biggest hug. As we were both crying, I just told her, ‘I promise I will take care of them and keep them safe. You just focus on getting yourself better so they can come home.’
In that moment, I saw two parents who deeply loved their children, but who had made some bad decisions (and who knows what kind of life they were born into), which had gotten them to this point. That meeting began our journey with this family, two families who cared deeply for these boys, now working together to see them safely reunified.
We had the opportunity to walk along them and to be there for them as well as taking care of their boys and keeping them safe. We saw their mom and dad grow so much as parents and we watched the boys grow so much as well.
When we said goodbye did my heart break? Absolutely it did. But did my heart also rejoice? You bet! This was the moment we had all worked towards for so long and we were so happy for the four of them, but my heart was also breaking because here I was sending these two little guys who I had spent the last nine months nurturing and taking care of back out into the world. Building a relationship with the boy’s parents helped us keep in contact with them and we still see them to this day! People often say to me that they couldn't foster children because they would get too attached and it would be too hard when they left. I always reply, that, yes, it is very hard when they leave, but if it wasn’t, then I wasn't loving them the right way when I had them. My heart always breaks a little, but there is still plenty left to keep loving the next kids who come into our home.
When we first started fostering, we fully intended to be a place for kids to go to be safe and loved while their parents worked on getting them back. But to be honest, I didn't really factor in having relationships with their moms and dads as well. And, truthfully I was a little scared because the history for a lot of these parents included drugs, violence, gangs, etc. and that was very intimidating for me to even think about. However, as I began to get to know the parents whose children were in our home, I started to realize that most of these moms and dads are adults who were never parented and were never taught how to parent properly. Often times parents whose children end up in foster care come from generations of dysfunction where CPS involvement and domestic violence are second nature to them. I then started to realize that we are all broken and by some very small changes in any of our lives, it could be any one of us in the same situation. I began to see that I could hopefully be a mentor to these parents and could be there to help them in whatever way I could. It isn't always easy because years of living a certain way isn’t just going to change overnight. That is why it is so important to be able to meet people where they are emotionally, mentally, and physically and to be able to adjust your expectations about how you think the world should work. Then, when you start to see positive changes that result in reunification with their kids down the road, it is all worth it.
When bio families don't have the capacity to fight for their kids I want to encourage you to keep loving on a them, even if they aren’t making any moves or effort to get their child back. This, sadly, does happen quite often. It happened with our first case. Little Boy was 3 when he came to our home. His mom was a drug addict. She had a baby in November 2016 who tested positive for several different drugs, so CPS stepped in and took the baby and Little Boy at that time. Little Boy was in the same foster home as his sister for two months, but because of the trauma he had endured, he kept trying to hurt the baby. So, CPS ended up moving him to a different foster home which turned out to be us. The first two months he was with us, we heard nothing from his mom and then she showed up and wanted visits and wanted to do her service plan. She went to rehab and did well for a couple of months, but then started using again and we were back to square one. This happened on and off throughout the case and ultimately, she had just been through way too much in her life and couldn't ever make the changes in order to get Little Boy and his sister back. Before our final hearing, she called me and we talked for a long time. She cried and told me she loved Little Boy so much. I told her I knew she did and I assured her that we loved him, too. I told her that I was so sorry that she had to live through so much trauma growing up and that I wish I could have been there to keep her safe and to fight for her the way we had for Little Boy. In the end, she went to court and relinquished her rights on both children. It was a very bittersweet moment knowing that I was gaining the same son she lost. We adopted our son on July 11, 2018, and still stay in contact with her.
If you care about family unification and children getting out of the foster system I want to encourage you to invest in the parents. The best way to help parents resettle with their children is to be willing to be their to mentor and guide them if possible. Be a positive influence in their lives where they've maybe never had any. When we receive new children into our care we think about the moms and dads, how would they be feeling? You can do little things like text pics of the kids to mom several times a week, have the kids make her birthday gifts and Christmas gifts, make videos during the week and send those to mom to encourage her. Find ways to let mom know you aren’t trying to “take” her kids away from her but rather that you believe in her and want her kids to remember her.