Being a foster parent

Roller Coaster of Emotions:

In Virginia, there are approximately 5,300 children in foster care and nowhere near that number of approved foster parents. Deciding to become a foster parent is not an easy decision to make. There are a number of factors to consider even before making the call to your local Department of Social Services office.

Once all of those factors are weighed, the soul searching is done, and you have faith that fostering is the right decision for you and your family, you have to jump in and hold on tight.

Like a roller coaster, the experience is a whirlwind. When it is done you are either excitedly ready for more or will never want to ride on it again.

Both of those are absolutely okay.

If you are not ready to be a foster parent, acknowledging and accepting it is the best thing, not only for yourself but for any child you may have in your care.

Decisions, Soul Searching, and Letting Go:

When my husband and I discussed the possibility of having a child, we both knew we wanted the child to be biologically ours. In the end, research told us the cost of surrogacy was more than prohibitive for us.

 We went back to discussing our options and weigh the pros and cons, ultimately changing our minds and opening our hearts to the possibility of fostering to adopt. For the second time, we did our research and found this option to be a much easier journey. With the statistics on foster children being astronomically high, it was a no brainer that this is what we had to do.

So many children needed loving homes and we had exactly that. With our hope and love in our hearts and our minds made up, we made the call that forever changed our life.

We met with a foster parent recruiter and signed up for the nine-week training course. The training provided a wealth of knowledge on the growing need for foster parents, details involved in preparing your home, obstacles you may face, and the entire court process from removal to reunification with family or adoption.

During that time there will home visits and rest assured you will be a nervous wreck. You will work yourself into a packing, cleaning, organizing, and fixing that hole in the drywall, and the stain in the carpet and on and on.

All of which was for naught. The caseworker is not there to pick your house apart or to judge you on your decor, they want to ensure the house is safe for a child to live there. They will walk through and point out things that need to be adjusted or “baby-proofed.” They want you to succeed because they need you and those children need you. Getting a person or a couple that has made the step to call and sign up for training is gold for them. They will bend over backward to help you in any way they can.

You will quickly let go of all of the nervousness, self-doubt, and second-guessing. You have made the right decision. You just don’t know it yet.

Smiling Faces and Diapers:

Our foster parent training ended in November 2015. On the last day of training, our instructor asked us if we would be willing foster two children, a girl and a boy, short-term because their established foster family were going on out of state and couldn’t take the children with them.

We agreed to welcome the children into our home with no hesitation. Little did we know it; this is a foreshowing of our journey.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving I talked with the foster mother and set up an arrangement to meet her at the children’s daycare to exchange the children and their belongings. The next ten days were filled with fun highs and not-so-fun lows, but at the end of it all, we had done the parenting thing, albeit in practice. We felt more confident and that experience gave us a crash course on what to do and what not to do.

One key piece of advice their foster mother gave me was to print out a structured schedule, put it on the refrigerator, and follow that as strictly as possible. She mentioned that she used the same schedule the daycare uses, because Monday through Friday, that was their routine anyway. The ten days flew by and it was time to return them to their foster home, which incidentally, they were adopted into in 2016.

We returned to the quiet life as we (impatiently) waited for the next child to enter our lives. Just two short days later, I had finished sewing two square panels of the first quilt for this future child when my phone rang.

SURPRISE, it is two and a half year old twins, one boy and one girl. Remember, the foreshadowing I mentioned?

The CPS worker gave me as much information as she had on them at the moment and said we will be there in thirty minutes. I went into cleaning mode. I packed up all of the sewing materials and stuffed it all into a closet for later. (By the way, that later never came and those same two square panels are waiting patiently in a bag for me to finish the quilt.) Thirty minutes went by in a blur of excitement and panic, all the while feeling unsure of myself and that self-talk screaming in my ear.

Just as I thought I would burst from the flood of emotions, I heard a car door shut. I quickly got the dogs outside and met the DSS and CPS workers at the door.

In their arms were these sweet, blonde hair, blue eyed, cherub-faced children. Still in the same dirty clothes, with the exception of a fresh diaper, and one of them was missing shoes.

In an instant, all of the panic left me at once and in its place was pure love, unfiltered and unconditional love. A love as strong as I have for my mother, but somehow different. A love as strong as I have for my husband, but somehow different. It was as though my heart created another chamber for their love to live and grow.

I welcomed them into our home and let them explore the toys organized neatly in a corner for them. While I spoke to the DSS and CPS workers I watched them as they checked out their new surroundings and played with the toys. The next few days and weeks were spent getting the family used to a new structured routine. However, before long it became a habit more than a routine, and I have no doubt it helped them to flourish and feel safe.

They never had to wonder when food came, or when bedtime was, or playtime or any of those things that many of us take for granted. Children need structure and reassurance that their needs will be met without fail.

 Courts, Visitations, and Adoption:    

During our training, we were given a timeline of the court process and taught the basics of how it all works. First and foremost, reunification with the biological parents was the top priority. This fact was repeated and our instructors ensured we understood that the children could go back to their biological parents at any time. We had to prepare ourselves for that possibility and figure out a way to detach from the child; should reunification occur while they are in our care.

The entirety of 2016 was spent going to court hearings, visitations with the biological parents at DSS, and monthly home visits by our caseworker. The first four months was yet another emotional roller coaster that had jumped its track to take a far different course from the first.

Once we hit six months, we started to realize that we will likely be adopting the twins. The biological parents made little to no efforts to complete the list of requirements that DSS and the courts required of them.

By the summer, the parents’ visitations were terminated altogether and one or both of them were incarcerated, on and off again, through most of this process. When it came down to it, the courts had to decide if the parents received more time to work towards reunification or to terminate their parental rights.

It was their loss and our greatest gain that their rights were terminated. Being able to adopt these little bundles of joy was life-changing.

Of course, it was worth it.

My children had a rough start to life, but now they know they have parents to love them. To support them. To help them thrive. To be there when they fall. To watch in awe of their potential.

All it took was one phone call.