The decision to become a foster parent varies for each family. For Martha and Tom, it was a newspaper article that inspired their desire to learn more about Children’s Bureau and ultimately become foster parents through the agency. The couple had raised four children of their own and thought fostering offered a great way to help other children and families in the community. Read Tom and Martha’s discussion with Children’s Bureau below to learn more about their journey to become foster parents.
CB: How did you find Children’s Bureau and what was the process of becoming a foster parent?
My husband, Tom, and I chose to foster through Children’s Bureau on the recommendation of an acquaintance who was a foster parent with Children’s Bureau.
The process to become foster parents took about six months after approval. We took the PRIDE training over two months, due to our own scheduling conflicts, followed by a family assessment.
CB: How has Children’s Bureau helped you on this journey?
Children’s Bureau has been invaluable in guiding us through our journey as resource parents. The Children’s Bureau social worker has been our source of information, support, and our advocate.
CB: What inspired you to become foster parents, and how has it changed your life?
Tom read a newspaper article written by a woman who, with her husband, was fostering to adopt. She wrote of their heartbreak after the first child they fostered, was reunited with family. She cited statistics showing the goal of most foster parents is to adopt, though the goal of Los Angeles County is to reunite families.
Tom shared the article with me. We concluded that supporting a biological family in the reunification process with a child, while desperately wanting to adopt that child yourself, seemed an extraordinary challenge. Tom pointed out that people like us would make the perfect foster parents; Tom was retired, I am semi-retired, raised our own children, and no interest in adoption. We were at a stage in our lives where we could dedicate our time and energy to children for the period of time necessary, while also mentoring and supporting a birth family in healthy parenting practices. Our four biological children, at that time ranging in age from 21 years to 31 years, gave us their unequivocal support.
Being foster parents has been all-consuming. Both Tom and I have had to cut back on some of the volunteer activities and I cut back on my work schedule. We do not have the freedom to travel as previously, and it had been years since we had to think about hiring a babysitter just to go out to dinner. Since both of us are committed to this journey, those sacrifices are part of the deal.
Overall, we find being foster parents hugely rewarding; we have witnessed a transformation in each child for whom we have cared, and our lives have been enriched by knowing all our foster children and their families.
CB: How have you helped the children transition back to their families? What was that like for you?
From the beginning, we have volunteered to monitor family time with approved relatives as often as scheduling permits. We feel that children and relatives benefit from maximizing family time in a safe, supervised setting. We know foster children and their birth parents absolutely love each other, and we can demonstrate good parenting techniques from which parents can learn during visits. We invite the birth family to join us at school events, church programs, sports or other activities in which the children are engaged.
From the beginning of our relationship with the birth parents, we are clear that we are not competing with them for their children’s love. We know their children are not ours to keep; our role is to keep the children safe, healthy, learning, and happy until they can reunify. In fact, we are not open to adoption at all.
We believe sharing our perspective with the birth families can be very reassuring and helps them trust us. As reunification approaches, we try to ease the transition by increasing family time, including unsupervised time with the birth family, as approved by the court. We make it clear to the children and their birth families that we are always available to them, even after reunification; they have our cell phone numbers and we hope to remain part of the children’s lives.
CB: What activities/therapies have the children you cared for experienced?
We treat our foster children just as we treated our biological children. After we get to know one another a little bit, we figure out what kind of activities might enrich each child. We have had children in church choir, basketball leagues, AYSO soccer, YMCA summer day camp, piano lessons, tumbling classes, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
We enrolled all the 2–4-year-olds in private pre-school and encourage play dates with classmates or friends from the community. All children are taught to enjoy the pool and ocean, and all the children over the age of 2 years have been competent, safe swimmers at reunification.
Foster children may have additional needs requiring interventions. After initial assessments, we have supported and followed through with individual and family therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, interventional preschools, and wrap-around services. In many cases, we have initiated tutoring to catch up to grade level. We have also advocated for IEP (Individualized Education Program) assessments as indicated.
CB: What surprised you about the birth parents/families?
Birth parents and families are just people doing the best they can. They may have made mistakes, but it is not our role to judge them; our role is to support them. We have been surprised at how much the birth parents love their children and how much the children love them, despite whatever went on prior to coming into foster care.
CB: How did you manage your and other family member’s feelings when a child goes to live with another family?
Since the goal from the outset is reunification, there is a happy sense of a job well done when reunification happens. They will always have a part of our hearts and we miss the individual children and the routines we created with them. We hope to stay in touch and see them. We feel that the emotions may be similar to a teacher at the end of the year when students get promoted; he/she cherished the time they had together in that grade but at the end of the year, (if the students do well) the teacher sends the students on, hopes the best for them in their lives and that they will come back and visit.
We had one situation in which the foster children did not reunite but were separated and moved to two homes that might offer permanence. We leaned on the support of Children’s Bureau, our family and friends. As hard as it was on us, we know that it was infinitely harder on the children, the innocent ones we try to protect.
Back in our empty nest, Tom and I throw our extra energy into cleaning the house, organizing, sorting, and storing. We usually take a break for a couple of months, then jump back in with a new set of siblings.
CB: What do you do to prepare yourselves for the child leaving?
In preparation for reunification, we spend time with the children reviewing their favorite memories of their time with us. Final touches are put on the Life Books that go with the children as a document of their life with us and we gather our family and friends for a farewell party to celebrate them.
CB: What advice would you give others who are considering being resource parents?
Talking to someone who has been a foster parent about his/her experience is probably the best advice I would have for someone who is considering becoming a foster parent. The information session at Children’s Bureau is a good place to start.
Tom and I have a young friend who is finishing the process of foster family approval with Children’s Bureau. I have enjoyed having her reach out to me with some of her questions and concerns as well as keeping me posted with her progress.
CB: What is the greatest thing you have learned from fostering?
I have discovered and been encouraged by the overwhelming support for what Tom and I are doing within our community, from our families and friends, church family, schools and school district, to our medical community.
*Interview is from Spring, 2018