By Guest Blogger Amy Hughes
Nothing is easy about our foster care system. Whether you’re a foster parent, child, caseworker, or birth parent it is undoubtedly a hard journey for everyone involved. For foster parents there is tons of red tape to navigate, constant trainings and meetings, and a lot of missed days of work. All of the hard work is worth it though, especially when there is a happy ending. Happy endings can come by reuniting a child with their parents or when a child in need finds an adoptive family. Very few times do we as a society address the burn out that foster parents can feel while working towards that happy ending for a child. It’s important to discuss it, so that potential and existing foster parents know to identify their limits and boundaries, and adhere to them.
I began my journey as a foster parent by doing respite care. Respite is temporary care of a child in foster care that is waiting on a permanent placement, or for a foster family that needs a short term break. For me respite was FUN! The kids and I baked cookies, watched movies, went to the library and trampoline park.
I showed them all how to cook spaghetti and even make their own sauce.
One of my respite kids even got unexpectedly snowed in with us and he and my birth son played in the snow until they couldn’t feel their fingers!
By the middle of December my spirits were up! As far as I was concerned I was killing it at being a foster Mom. My birth son was adjusting well, and the holidays were fast approaching. One Friday afternoon, I got a call about a possible permanent placement. A teenage girl, 17 years old. When you become a foster parent you’re asked what age ranges you wish to foster. There is an incredible need for foster parents willing to take teenagers, and that’s where my heart was. Teens can be intimidating, they’re kids, trapped in big bodies, and they need help and guidance into adulthood. In reality, they want the same thing any kid wants, to feel safe and loved.
Permanent placement was not something that was on my radar due to an upcoming surgery I had to have, but something about this girls story touched my heart, so I agreed to meet her. Like so many kids her age, Becca was living in a group home, and was mostly taking care of herself.
When a child in foster care turns 18 they have two options. Stay in a program for kids 18-21 run by the state, that helps them transition into adulthood with minimal guidance. Or they can head out into the world on their own, hopefully with the support of a foster family.
Becca had two years of high school left, and she still needed a gentle yet sturdy adult hand to help guide her in the right direction. She was a great kid! A/B honor roll, active in sports, part time job, and most importantly she had an amazing, kind soul. Recently, due to lack of supervision, Becca had started to get in trouble, and was losing sight of everything that had once been important to her. I was convinced she needed me. So we decided to give it a shot.
Unfortunately, the timing was off. My surgery ended up being more complex than originally intended, and missing more work then I had planned put me in a stressful financial situation. I had followed my heart when saying yes to her moving in before my surgery, but I should have followed my brain, and stuck with the original limits I set for myself.
Just like everyone else, Becca had problems she needed to deal with, but she didn’t know how. She put on a great facade, but she bottled everything up and was extremely angry. She had every right to be. Eventually everything we did together to prepare her for adulthood ended in an argument. By no fault of her own, she didn’t have the emotional tools to understand that holding her accountable for her mistakes, was me being a good parent and role model to her. Teaching her life lessons was my responsibility. Teaching her how to make spaghetti was showing her how much I loved her. Both of us began to mentally check out. Between my financial stressors, and tension at home, one day everything just broke.
Two months before Becca’s 18th birthday I received my first collection notice on my medical bills. There had been so many things I had put on the back burner to try to keep our family running smoothly, that they had now began to catch fire and I couldn’t see through the smoke. I was overwhelmed with life, I might lose my home, and I couldn’t hold us together anymore. I felt like a failure.
Though the initial plan was for Becca to stay with us until graduation, I now did not have the financial security I did a year ago when she had first come to live with me. I had another child to worry about as well and with the mounting tension in the home I had to make the hard decision to ask Becca to move out.
I had wanted to remain part of her life, and had offered to help her find an apartment near us when she turned 18, so I could still be close and help her with anything she needed. But she was angry, and I understood that. She found a family to stay with temporarily and I am grateful she did. She cut me out of her life. Though she did call me to tell me she had gotten into college and I am so proud of her for all the hard work she put in! That call put the hope in my heart that one day she will come back into our lives.
It’s a hard story to write, but like I said at the beginning, nothing about foster care is easy. My story is not unique, and I wanted to write it, not to dissuade anyone from becoming a foster parent, quite the opposite actually. If you’re thinking of opening your home and heart to a child in need, please do it! It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. But make sure you establish boundaries for yourself and stick to them. I couldn’t provide a permanent home for Becca, but I know while she was with us, she knew love. The kids who came before her, knew love too. Soon, when I’m ready, I hope to teach a few more kids how to make spaghetti.
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