In foster care, there's always room for one more
Caring families can help rescue kids and their parents
Cleary, John. Elmira Star-Gazette, Nov. 15, 2008.
This week, I became a father again. Twice.
My wife and I finalized our third and fourth adoptions this week. Two foster children, girls ages 3 years and 15 months, have permanently joined our family. We now have six children.
It is, of course, a joyous thing. Our new youngest daughter has lived with us since birth, her new older sister for almost all of her life. To have them become, officially, part of our family is a cause for celebration. We are happy the adoptions could be finalized in November, National Adoption Month.
But it is bittersweet, too. We know now our family is complete. We don't have the space or, honestly, the inclination to adopt any more children. We have been foster parents for nearly seven years, having cared for more than two dozen children. With our family having grown so much, taking in more children is difficult. We may be available for temporary respite care or the occasional emergency case, but I think our days of long-term foster care are behind us, at least until our own children are older.
Foster care has been such an integral part of our family life, we don't quite know how to feel. Except for brief vacations or time between cases, this weekend we are without foster children for the first time in our married life. We feel we are ending the first chapter of our life as a family, and while we're excited to see what comes next, we'll miss the challenges we're leaving behind.
Foster care has been the most exhilarating, draining, uplifting, depressing, fun and frustrating experience of my life. Above all, it has been illuminating. We've learned some valuable lessons.
We've come to believe no case is hopeless. We have met families with enormous challenges to overcome and have seen them do it. We've known addicts who have gotten clean, victims who have escaped abusive relationships, homeless parents who have found suitable housing and mental health patients who have made great strides in treatment. We have seen children we were certain were heading to adoption go home and live happy, safe lives.
When it happens, it is beautiful to see.
I've learned all children crave a measure of control. I believe what motivates a lot of a child's behavior, good and bad, is the desire to demonstrate, to themselves or others, that they have some control over their lives. Children, especially those in foster care, have little say in where they live, what they eat, when they sleep and what they do. So they try to control the things they can, often in antisocial ways. A lot of problems, I think, can be resolved or prevented by seeking an understanding of the child's need for control.
Most of all, we've learned the system that cares for these children can work. It requires the active advocacy of caseworkers, judges who are compassionate but firm, law guardians who care and foster parents who aren't content to watch children get lost in the shuffle.
You can join that team. Call your county Department of Social Services and ask how you can open your home to a child. You will never do anything as rewarding as helping a child in need.
John P. Cleary is a freelance writer from Elmira, NY