Tag: foster family

The emotional rollercoaster of being a foster grandparent

In 2009, I was a new immigrant to the U.S. I was living with my daughter and son-in-law as I settled in my new country. At the time, they were foster-to-adopt parents, awaiting a placement of a child or children through five years of age, with the hope of eventually adopting.

I discovered that when you are registered to be a foster parent, things can happen quickly, suddenly in fact. My daughter and son-in-law were at work and I was in the house when I got a call from my daughter telling me it was highly likely two young girls would be arriving within a few hours.

My daughter and son-in-law soon came home and within a short time, a social worker arrived with the girls, ages 4 and 3. It was that quick! One moment we were a family of three, the next a family of five!

I have a lasting memory, one burned into my mind, of these two frightened little girls, standing in the kitchen, wearing very thin clothes—T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops—with a small plastic bag containing a couple of dollar-store toys in it. That was all they had.

They had literally just been removed from their home and had been given no time to bring anything else with them. If my experiences up to that point had not brought home the reality of what fostering meant, this most certainly did. It is a moment I will never forget.

Over the course of the next few days, we gradually got to know the two girls, whom I will call Sara and Vicky. They were full of questions, understandably a little scared. But my daughter and son-in-law did amazing things to make them feel at ease, answering their questions in a positive way, establishing a loving and safe environment for them and buying both of them clothes and toys.

Gradually, things settled into a routine and the girls seemed to adapt to their new environment. While I got along with both children, Sara and I seemed to hit it off especially well. Sara wanted to learn to dance but had never had the opportunity, so we bought her an outfit and some dance shoes and every week I took her to classes. I came to really enjoy our time together and remember those dance classes with great fondness.

I was more than a little shocked at how quickly it ended. Once again, it was all very sudden. It felt as if one moment they were with us, the next they were gone. (Of course, there had been weeks of pre-reunification visits, court dates and so on, but from where I stood it was as if I was a grandpa one minute and the next I wasn’t anymore.)

I saw the mixed emotions on the faces of my daughter and son-in-law. They knew the children were going back home—which, of course, is the goal of foster care!

But it was also painful as they had given these girls their love and were now saying goodbye. That caused mixed emotions in me as well, seeing what my daughter and son-in-law were going through as well as having to say goodbye to children who, in every sense, had become my grandchildren.

And just as Sara was about to walk out the door, she turned and ran to me and jumped into my arms. I will admit I had tears then and now as I think of that moment, but that also is a memory I will treasure forever.

I would love to know how the girls are today, but know that is not possible. I just hope they have as fond memories of me as I have of them. I feel it was an honor and a privilege to have been grandpa to these girls, even if only for a few months.

I have many warm memories of my first experience of being a foster grandparent. I saw the commitment of my daughter and son-in-law doing everything they could to make this a safe transition for these girls, facilitating the process of getting them reunited with their biological family. Even though they knew this arrangement was temporary, they gave their all.

My own father grew up in foster care. He spoke very little of his experience but he did say just how much his first foster mom meant to him. I never really understood that until I became a foster grandpa myself and then I was able to understand completely.

People say all the time, “I could never foster, I would get too attached.” But as a grandpa who lived in the home with his foster grandkids, I can confirm you will, in fact, get attached. You will love these kids like your own.

But, even if you have to say goodbye, it is all worth it! It is worth becoming attached to make a difference in a child’s life.

My dad spoke of his first foster mom with great fondness, even 70 years after he said goodbye to her. She was his mom for just a period of his life, but the impact of her love and care lasted an entire lifetime.

—Lester Wills

Connecting with birth parents – Five easy tips

Tim and I have been incredibly blessed to have a positive relationship with our son’s birth family.

In fact, the absolute best piece of advice we received in resource family training was to be friendly with birth parents. In some cases, this is probably incredibly tough to do. But in our case, a little bit has gone a long way.

I think it’s easy to see birth parents as the enemy in the foster care system. But regardless of whatever mistakes parents have made, they almost always still love their kids. It is tough to try to connect with them, but all outcomes of success include benefit for the child, so it’s worth it!

Here are a few simple ideas to break the ice and extend an olive branch to birth parents: 

1. Introduce Yourself! We learned that in six homes, we were the first family to introduce ourselves to birth parents. Imagine being a parent and not knowing who your child was staying with. Being able to meet and greet can significantly lower anxiety for both parties.

2. Start off with a deferential statement such as, “You have beautiful children.” At this point in your foster children’s lives, you are providing for all of their needs—physical, emotional and so on. Knowing that someone else is building a strong connection with your child can be very threatening for a parent. Find a way to indicate that you still acknowledge that the kids “belong” to their birth parents.

3. Ask birth parents if there is any important information you need to know to best care for their children. Birth parents want to be heard. They (like you) are at the mercy of the court system. Decisions about their child’s care have been taken out of their hands. Even if a child has been in care for a long time, a birth parent may have something he or she wants to share with you that a previous foster parent did not pick up on. If a parent does share with you something you should do to best care for their child, follow through with it if you can, and show the parents that you have listened.

4. Take photos to visits. Your home and the child’s world are unknowns to the birth parents. By printing out pictures to give at visits, you give them a glimpse into your world. This step will reinforce that the child is happy, has toys, and so on.

5. Speak well of birth parents when they are not around. If you smile and nod to birth parents at visits, but then talk poorly about them behind their back, your child will notice. Help reinforce that you, birth parents, caseworkers, and judges are all trying to work together for the child’s safety and best interest.

Building trust with birth parents can only benefit the child. By showing that you are not the enemy, you open a conversation that can result in working together for the child.

If your foster child observes you respecting his or her birth parents, the child’s trust in you will also increase.

After all—the goal of foster care is reunification. You have the power to help make that transition a positive one for children and youths by actively communicating with birth parents.

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Siblings and foster care: the give and take

As the mother of a large family, I am often asked all sorts of questions about doing foster care, but the one posed most frequently is “How do your girls feel about it all?” … followed by, “I am sure it takes away from them, doesn’t it?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

When Jeff and I first considered foster care and adoption, we had many questions and thoughts and scenarios. Foremost, being the birth-parents of four daughters, we were concerned about their safety and happiness. They would be sacrificing a lot as well and that sacrifice wasn’t to be taken lightly. They would share their rooms, their toys, their time and their parents.

How would they feel when a child left? Would they understand it at all? We would bring it up often and always spoke the truth. We didn’t have a lot of the answers to the questions they had—and a lot of the questions they had were the same ones we had.

Shared love: A potential bridge for birth and adoptive parents

Josh and I have been married for 18 years this year. We have five children, three born to us and two adopted; our oldest daughter has a son, so we’re also grandparents!

Josh owns two businesses and I stay at home to homeschool the children; in fact, we’re in our ninth year of homeschooling.

Our first adopted child was placed with us when she was 6 months old and we fostered her for 17 months before the adoption was finalized. Our second child was placed with us when she was 2 days old and we fostered her for 18 months before adopting her.

As you can probably tell, we are a busy, active family! We spend a lot of time with our extended family; in fact, the kids are very close to their cousins.

In the past, there was usually a “distance” kept between birth parent or parents and the foster or adoptive parents, but that is changing in many cases—and we think it’s a great thing, if possible in light of individual circumstances.

We met the birth mother of Izzy (Isabel), our second adopted child, when we took Izzy for her first doctor’s appointment. In fact, I had asked if we could meet Izzy’s birth mother in the hospital when we were being placed with her, but the response was that it was not a good idea. I wish now that I had pushed the idea more because at our first meeting, Izzy’s mom said she felt a little better after having met me.

I can’t imagine how scary and difficult it would be to have your newborn baby placed with “faceless” strangers. I felt it would have given her some peace if she had seen and met us.

In fact, that first meeting went really well!

We connected right away. I had been a little nervous because I didn’t have much information about the case, but had been told there were significant issues in the family. Yet, both parents were always respectful of us, kind and very appreciative of the care we were providing Izzy. She had been sleeping in her baby seat and her birth mother asked if she could hold her.

Helping to make a hard day a little more “bear”able

A few months ago, I brought up the idea to my children to raise enough money for each of us to donate a filled duffel bag to a child in foster care.

You see, most of the children who have come to our home arrived with their items in a garbage bag.

After we decided to take on this project, we shared the idea with friends. We also presented it to our Sunday School program. And what began as a project to gather enough items for six bags turned into an amazing project that raised enough for 37 of them!

Time well spent

While Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are now past us, this guest column reminds us about how we should celebrate—and wisely use—our time with (and as) both parents and children.

 

It’s as if a mirror is being held up.

That’s how I often describe the early days of having our foster daughter. Similar to when you invite a guest to, well, anything—you become hyper-aware of how things look through their eyes (if you’re of the pious persuasion, try taking a friend to church—you’ll see what I mean).

A sense of belonging…the best gift of all

While the holidays are merry for many, children within the child welfare system may not feel quite the same way. In fact, some may feel acute grief and loss.

Many of the images we see during the holiday season are of family, friends and being home. Imagine not being able to get home to your family and friends? Children within the child welfare system typically face circumstances outside their control, circumstances that separate them from family, friends and home.

What to expect as a foster parent

According to the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network, usually known as SWAN, there are currently approximately 15,000 children in temporary foster care in Pennsylvania. Perhaps you or someone you know is interested in providing stability and a safe home for one or more of these children. Where do you start? What can you expect?

Several Diakon Adoption & Foster Care staff members shared their helpful insights and advice for what they think you should know as you consider becoming a foster family: