The Weight of the Unknown: Why foster care is so important.
Once upon a time there was a girl. She was 11, brown haired, hazel eyed. She loved her dolls and school. She loved music and reading.
She was just like the children you see every day. Just like your own children.
Except she was bruised. She was scarred. And she was neglected.
The girl was removed from her home. She clung to a pillowcase full of Cabbage Patch dolls and watched her mother get smaller and smaller in the rear window as she was driven away.
She flew across the country alone. To her father’s home. Only to be told she was unwanted.
That girl was thrown into the foster care system from that day. Bounced from home to home, back to her biological parents, to well-meaning family members and then back to strangers.
From Vegas to Omaha to Texas and back she traveled. With every new home she had hope. She only wanted to be safe and to be loved.
The weight of the unknown crushed her until she became smaller than what she could have and should have been.
She graduated when she was 17, emancipated from the state from that moment on.
She carries the weight of those seven years to this very day. The feeling of loneliness never entirely fades. The feeling of waiting for the inevitable — the bottom to fall out, the back to be turned, the home to be shattered. It never goes away.
But what also never goes away? The feelings she has for those that took her in — their unending kindness with her. Their ability to love the unlovable, to give of themselves. Their willingness to share their home and their hearts with a child who truly needed them.
Their ability to reach out and save.
Those kindnesses shaped her just as much as the uncertainty did.
This girl grew and learned what generosity is. How to give and how to receive. And that love and families come in many forms.
Why do I tell you these things?
Because that girl was me.
And because there are currently 140 children just like I was waiting for foster parents in our county. Waiting to be loved. Waiting for stability and kindness. Waiting for compassion and care.
Waiting for somebody to teach them of their worth and of their value.
There are currently only 16 active foster families in our area. Sixteen. With 140 children waiting.
This is a crisis. But it doesn’t have to remain so. We as a community can do something.
This is a chance to give of ourselves and of our bounty to those who go without. It’s a chance for a child to find everything they need — light in a world that can seem very dark when you are little and helpless.
The terror of being pulled from the only home you know, the only life you know, into an unknown environment is overpowering.
These children need help. They need homes and open hearts to love them.
You may be wondering how you could possibly do such a thing. How somebody ordinary such as yourself could do the extraordinary. How your family can give more, stretch more? These are hard times, after all. So many are struggling.
I understand. I truly do. But in the scheme of things, this isn’t about us, is it? It’s about the children God has placed near us. Children who have needs we can meet.
Here are the stories of two such families, ordinary people just like you and me who have opened their homes to children in need.
Building a family through fostering
When Eric and Christa Field married, they knew they wanted children. Eric also knew he was interested in adoption.
“I had a fourth-grade teacher who was adopted,” says Eric. “It got me interested and was something I always thought about.”
“We tried for 10 years to have one of our own,” says Christa. “It just didn’t happen for us.”
Soon they began to consider fostering.
“We knew there were so many children in our area that needed help,” says Christa. “So we decided to start the process.”
Brunswick County requires 30 hours of classes to become qualified to become a foster parent.
“The classes were so good,” Christa says. “I feel like everybody should take them, not just prospective foster parents!”
Soon they were certified to foster children.
In the midst of all this, a family friend told them of a birth mother who was considering giving up her twins who had been born prematurely. The couple was asked to come visit the birth mother and twins in the hospital.
The visit went well, but the couple didn’t hear anything more from the birth mother so they put it from their minds.
Christa was out with her church group on an overnight trip when she received an unexpected call from Eric.
He told her that the twins’ mother had decided to place them in foster care, and she wanted the couple to have them. They discussed it briefly, and believing they had time to sort things out, Christa stayed at her church function.
Christa walked into church the next morning to meet Eric. He was waiting with news.
“He told me the twins were on their way to our house, right then,” she says.
The couple met the birth mother and DSS worker at their home an hour later.
“They were still newborn size, just 7 pounds,” says Christa. “But they had everything — car seats and a stroller, diapers and clothes.”
Baby Tanner also had a heart monitor, which promptly went off. They immediately took the babies to the hospital to have Tanner checked.
Turns out he was just fine, but as they were waiting, little Sarah began vomiting bright green fluid.
“We knew something was wrong,” says Christa. “So we took her back to be looked at as well.”
And it’s a good thing they did. Little Sarah’s bowels weren’t functioning well. Her core temperature was very low, as was her blood sugar.
The hospital admitted her, and she had to stay for the next month.
“As hard as that was, at the very least we could get used to having Tanner here,” says Christa. “I also had to settle things with work. I quit working the day before Sarah came home.”
The Fields soon knew that they wanted to adopt Sarah and Tanner. After the twins’ biological mother severed her rights, they began the process.
It was a hard wait, but last March the adoption became final.
When I asked them if they would consider telling others to become foster parents in Brunswick County, they are both adamant.
“We tell everyone about it,” Eric says. “Our waitress, our friends at church, anyone we can. People should know that there is a misconception about the foster system. All the kids want is to be safe. All the foster parents want is to help the children be safe.”
“Brunswick County workers help so much with placing a child who fits with your family,” says Christa. “They work with you the entire time.”
A month after the twins’ adoption became final, Eric and Christa got a huge surprise.
Christa was expecting a miracle.
Baby Wyatt came to join big brother Tanner and big sister Sarah on December 3, 2012.
A lifetime of giving
Dinah Scott’s home looks like that of any typical grandmother. It is crowded with pictures of children. Smiling faces look down from nearly any available space on the wall. Pride radiates from her face as she lists off names.
“I was a teacher in the Bronx,” says Dinah. “There were two little girls in my class — sisters. They came to school looking exhausted. Their faces were dirty. Their clothes and hair too. Then they disappeared, and when I checked to see where they had gone I was told they were in foster care. I asked a woman that I knew was a foster-care mother how she became involved in it. She told me about the classes.”
Dinah began driving across the Bronx to the classes. At the same time she was coming home late, working and taking care of her own children. But she knew it was what she wanted to do.
“I had two children in college and one in junior high,” says Dinah. “But I had a three-story home. There was more than enough space for more children. I had and still have very loving children. I knew anybody who came into our home would be welcome. “
And over her years teaching and living in New York, Dinah fostered 23 children and adopted three.
When she decided to retire, it was to Brunswick County.
“I love it here,” she says. “I love the climate.”
But once she got here, she wondered what she would do with herself and her time. Her children were still in New York. So she became certified to foster here. Since living here she has fostered seven children long term, two of whom currently live with her.
When I asked why she does it, she was clear.
“I enjoy seeing a happy child,” she says. “I enjoy attending to their needs. I like taking them places to explore, and I love participating in activities they are interested in. I know these things have to be done to raise a healthy child. That is the way I raised my own children. I also enjoy making them feel happy and safe at home.”
Dinah also works with the child’s parents, including them in all relevant decisions.
“Their parents and I have a good understanding,” she says. “I have developed trust with them. They know I am taking good care of their children.”
Recently she took her “girls” to NYC with her to visit family. They saw the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the Statue of Liberty and played with Dinah’s grandchildren.
When I asked her about the goal of foster care — reuniting children with their biological family — she surprised me.
“Yes, it’s hard,” she says. “But on the other hand, I’m happy to see them reunite with their parents because that is my goal. I am taking care of them until their family is able to again.”
Dinah has advice for anyone considering fostering in Brunswick County.
“It doesn’t matter if you are single, married, have other children or not,” she says. “We have so many children who need love, happiness and your time. It’s a very rewarding experience to know you had a positive impact in children’s lives.”
Is fostering for you?
To become certified as a foster parent you must be 21, pass a criminal background check, be financially stable and have a personal space and bed for the child. You also must attend 30 hours of classes, called the Model Approach to Parenting.
“One hundred and forty children need homes,” says Tamela Jones, a social worker with Brunswick County. “When we can’t find them homes here we must rely on private agencies in other counties to take them.”
This can be extremely difficult on the child, who has already been removed from their home. To also be removed from their school, friends and community is traumatizing.
“We make an effort to do visitation with their families,” says Tamela. “But transportation is hard. It’s very hard for the child most of all.”
The need in our county cannot be overstated. Only 16 active foster families are able to take in children as of right now. These children who need help will continue to be placed in other counties unless more foster families are found.
“We need family homes,” Tamela says. “We need people to open their hearts and homes when these children need help.”
Life is hard. Families are torn apart by circumstances, by life choices, by abuse. And, unfortunately, children often are caught in the crossfire. They are helpless to help themselves — and unable to have a say in where they go and who cares for them.
We cannot help the turmoil that life creates. But we can help the children affected by this chaos. We can offer shelter, care and love. We can give safety.
I cannot promise you that it will be easy. But I can promise that you will change a child’s life forever with your care.
And I can also promise that they will remember you and your kindness forever.
If you are interested in fostering, please contact Tamela Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org