When A.J. was born, he needed stability, structure, and love that his birth parents could not provide at the time. Thankfully, after a friend recommended they work with Children’s Bureau, the couple in this story opened their family to a foster child for the first time. Learn more about their first foster care experience and how A.J. changed their lives in their interview with Children’s Bureau below.
CB: How did you find Children’s Bureau and why did you choose to foster through this agency?
My husband and I were referred to Children’s Bureau by a friend I have known since junior high. We had been trying to conceive for two years without any luck and my husband reached out to our friend, Michael, and asked about his experience with the fostering to adopt process. He had just officially adopted his son through Children’s Bureau and shared his story with us, but most importantly he did not sugar coat the process. Even though we live in San Bernardino County, we chose this agency because we felt comfortable asking the difficult questions and did not feel pressured into making the decision to foster-adopt.
CB: What was the process of becoming a resource parent and how long did it take?
We completed a pre-assessment visit, the three Saturdays of training sessions, took CPR/1st Aid, and prepared for the final home inspection. Then, after completing our family assessment (home study), we became approved resource parents (a family who is prepared to foster or foster-adopt). The process took about six months to complete and then we met with the matching team coordinator to review our family assessment. We were so nervous about the dramatic change we were getting ourselves into and often thought we were not up for the task. We were going to be first-time parents and did not know if we were prepared enough, but when we felt we were ready, we welcomed a child into our lives.
CB: What inspired you to become resource parents and how has it changed your life?
My husband and I feel that fostering to adopt is our calling. I recall being in the P.R.I.D.E. training sessions and after hearing the stories of previous foster parents, I looked at my husband and we both smiled because we both knew we were in the right place. Sure, not all stories have happy endings for families hoping to build their family by adoption. We saw how devastated one foster mother was when she shared that her son that she raised from an infant was reunified with his birth mother after one year in her care. My heart broke for her, but she helped that boy receive all the love and support for the most important year of his life. That was our driving force. We have fallen head over heels for A.J. and we now know that this is who we are…we are here to help those who need it most; the children that need loving homes and the parents that need help raising their children.
CB: How have you helped the children transition back to their families? What was that like for you?
We picked up A.J. at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit when he was just one week old and started family time with his mom the following month, and later with his father. A.J.’s mother was very good with him and she would cry once her time with him was over. It was difficult to be in the same room with her at first. I wanted to protect A.J. from her, but at the same time she was his mother and I had to respect that bond. Through the following months, I would share pictures with her and made a life book complete with important milestones and holiday pictures. We then started overnight visits and after 16 months in our care, we were told that A.J. would be reunited with his mother. We were devastated and angry. We felt as though we did something wrong. Why can’t he stay with us? He is our son! We had a hard time dealing with our loss and had to take a break from fostering to process our feelings.
CB: What were the birth parents like and how much contact do you have with them?
When we first met A.J.’s mother, she was so appreciative of us taking care of her son. She never had an attitude toward us and was very friendly. During her visits, she would be so attentive to A.J. and showered him with kisses and cuddles. The birth father rarely visited. When A.J. went back to his mother, we thought we would never see him again. Thankfully, she reached out to us and asked if we wanted to babysit A.J. and have overnight weekend visits. That quickly changed to weeklong visits and we often engage in activities together such as hiking, shopping and lunches. We talk almost twice a week and she even asked us to be A.J.’s godparents! We were sad that A.J. is not living with us, but we are thrilled that he is still in our lives and now A.J. has two families that love and support him.
CB: How has Children’s Bureau helped you on this journey?
Our CB social worker and the family support social worker, were amazing! Our social worker helped us navigate the process and was very open with us. He did not give us false hope and was constantly available to talk to us whenever we needed him. When A.J. left us, we were so angry and defeated and he knew we needed to talk to someone who could help us process our grief. After a few meetings with her, my husband and I were able to go through the stages of grief and come out grateful to have had the opportunity to raise such a loving, sweet boy. Even with all the heartbreak, we never regret the time we had with A.J.
CB: How did you manage your and other family member’s feelings when a child goes to live with another family?
I think that was the hardest part of all. My family is my support system and A.J. was the only baby in the family, so they were devastated when he rejoined his mother. I felt a sense of guilt for putting them through that pain. Throughout the process, I made sure to not give my family false hope and always communicated with them what to expect. When A.J. was going to leave us, I invited my family and friends to the house all week to say goodbye and have a sense of closure. We cried together, laughed together, and accepted together. We became a stronger family and we are so pleased with our contribution to A.J.’s development. He was raised surrounded by love and he exudes those qualities.
CB: What challenges have you faced as a resource parent and what have you learned?
Being a first-time parent was one of my biggest challenges. We were so scared that we would do something wrong, but with all the training and support from CB, we knew we had the tools we needed. Balancing work, home life, married life, doctor visits, lawyer appointments, court dates and visits with birth parents was also very challenging. My husband and I have very stressful and demanding jobs; he is a chef and I am an ER nurse, so adding all the extra appointments was difficult, but not impossible. Thankfully, our family was always there to help with the baby and/or go to appointments. They also knew when we needed a break and would babysit so we could have time to ourselves and to “recharge our batteries”.
CB: Tell us about A.J.’s interests?
A.J. is now 19 months old and he is awesome! He is a social butterfly which scares us sometimes because he will go up to everyone and say, “Hi,” then holds his arms out to be picked up. “Stranger Danger” is not in his vocabulary yet! He loves to run, swim, play music, play sports and push chairs across the room. He also loves our chocolate lab named Mahi and our cat named Kitty and always gives them kisses on their heads when they are near. When we pick him up for overnight visits, he is always so happy to see us and runs straight into our arms. His mother knows how much we love her son and often refers to us as “mom” or “dad” which makes us feel like she considers us a part of her family. It may not be a typical family, but we are everything A.J. needs.