Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Reflections on National Foster Care Awareness Month

Silhouette of adult and child playing at a beach

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. Although foster care is not an abortion alternative (for reasons discussed at length here), the pro-life and foster care communities significantly overlap, united by a common concern for vulnerable children. People who grow up in foster care have been especially vocal about the harms of pro-choice rhetoric suggesting they should have been aborted. Foster children deserve caregivers who will affirm their humanity and dignity.

In January — coincidentally, right around the time of the canceled March for Life — I became a licensed foster parent and welcomed a teenager into my home. The friends I have cultivated over my dozen years of pro-life advocacy (give or take) have been tremendously supportive, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Without oversharing any personal details about my foster daughter, I'd like to offer some general thoughts and encouragement for pro-life readers who may be thinking about becoming a foster parent.

The licensing process

The process of becoming a foster parent varies by jurisdiction. In my case, I contacted the agency in September and obtained my license four months later. The process included two home inspections, various safety purchases to come into compliance (e.g. a refrigerator thermometer, fire extinguishers, and cabinet locks), a background check and fingerprinting, and weekly Zoom classes and homework assignments to become educated about childhood trauma.

The training involved many difficult, heartbreaking topics. To get a flavor, I highly recommend the Removed series of short films, available on YouTube (part 1, part 2, part 3).

I am single and I work full time. I do not have medical training. My home has stairs and cannot accommodate a wheelchair user. All of these things have been taken into account. My license is only for children between the ages of 6 and 17 who do not have serious medical needs. My agency is careful to match children with suitable homes, and I was always encouraged to speak up about what I could and could not offer. 

Expect the unexpected

If you are devoted to a strict routine and react poorly to deviations, foster parenting probably is not for you. My foster daughter was originally placed in my home "just for the weekend," but when Monday rolled around, she wanted to stay with me and the only other option was a group home. A consensus quickly emerged that my home was indeed in her best interest. 

Here are just a few of the issues we encountered: not having her medications; not having her glasses; a week-long administrative delay getting her enrolled in school; her prescriptions being sent to a pharmacy that didn't take her insurance; delays in setting up her therapy appointments; and, not two weeks into the placement, an urgent care visit because she took a bad step and injured her foot. (Don't worry, she's fine. Toenails grow back.)

These situations were all quite stressful, but I am gradually learning, as she'd say, to "take a chill pill." It's all worth it to give her a safe environment that meets her needs.

A team effort

If you're thinking "I could never handle all that," remember that you won't be going it alone. The adage that it takes a village to raise a child is especially true for foster parenting. I have support from many quarters, including my family, friends, neighbors, Secular Pro-Life co-leaders, a therapist, a doctor, case managers, school staff, and licensing supervisors. I'm especially fortunate to have a good relationship with my foster daughter's mother, who is working to regain custody.

This is not a solo endeavor. Coming up for air every now and then is crucial. Don't be afraid to ask for help!

"You don't have to be perfect, to be a perfect parent."

Remember these public service announcements? I've been thinking about them a lot lately. I am far from perfect. Sometimes I say the wrong thing. I often fall behind on chores and errands. I take misbehavior too personally. I waste time comparing myself to imaginary, impossible standards. 

But every Friday at 8:00 p.m., my foster daughter and I celebrate another week together — and that's enough. Getting to know her and care for her has been a privilege. Whatever happens, we will always have a bond.

There is a tremendous need for loving foster homes. The opioid addiction epidemic has shattered countless families and overwhelmed child welfare programs. If any part of you is drawn to the idea of becoming a foster parent, you owe it to both the children and yourself to contact a local agency and learn more. You don't know what you're missing!

[Photo credit: Lauren Lulu Taylor on Unsplash]

No comments: