The Face of Foster
Writer / Kristen Parker
Photographer / Forrest Mellott
As I write, a sweet baby naps down the hall. He is not mine for always, but he is mine for now. The toothy smile he flashes while playing peek-a-boo with my boys and the chance to be there for all his “first” moments bring the same joy as with my other children.
After my husband and I had our two children, we knew without a doubt that we were done. There were two of us and two of them. We were choosing the one-on-one strategy.
Yet, over time, our paths crossed with several families who had successfully navigated foster care. Though their often difficult and painful experiences were different from one another, their stories of lives being changed made my heart swell up with excitement. The need for foster parents was apparent, and I became eager to jump in and serve other families in need.
However, it was a few years before my husband was on the same page as me because, let’s be honest, it is asking a lot to bring someone else’s child into your home to love and care for as though he or she is your own.
I won’t sugarcoat it. Our foray into foster care was difficult for us, but we were able to view it for what it was: an amazing opportunity to learn about how the system operates as well as gauge what we might be capable of handling. It paved the way for a smoother start to the next placement, which has been life changing.
We learned that we must love the children placed in our care fiercely, deeply and completely. They might not be ours forever, but they are ours for a time, and they are family. We decided that attachment to the children was our goal — not because it was good for us (which, by the way, it is), but because it is best for them.
In March of this year, the Department of Child Services (DCS) cited that about 12,500 children in Indiana have been removed from their homes and live under the umbrella of the foster care system.
Of that total, nearly half, 5,750 of them, are living with relatives but with supervision by DCS. The other half are living with non-relatives in a “typical” foster care home (such as we are). The remaining approximately 1,000 are either in a residential facility or in an alternative situation.
There are approximately 5,390 foster homes throughout Indiana; only 83 of them are located in Johnson County. By numbers alone, this county should be able to easily handle the 55 Johnson County children currently in care. However, counties are often reciprocal, helping one another, as they are able. In addition, many homes are licensed with Private Agencies (such as Children’s Bureau or Adult & Child), and those agencies accept children from surrounding counties as well.
Here is the issue: most foster families’ (ourselves included) place limitations on age, gender, sibling groups, behaviors or other special needs, and those parameters may not match the populations most in need. As a result, there tend to be more homes available for younger children while there is a greater need for homes open to teens and adolescents as well as children of all ages who have unique medical needs.
We learned it is important to decide as a family what kind of parameters to put on placements. Nevertheless, we know that every home is different, and every family must make the decision that is best for them. The bottom line: the more families that make the decision to foster, the more options DCS will have in finding a safe place for children to go.
Many of the children currently in care have been in and out of the system, going home for a while only to be removed again and often placed with a different foster family than the previous one, or they are bounced around from foster family to foster family. This, understandably, leads to attachment issues for the children who simply want to be loved, yet, through no wrongdoing of their own, they don’t understand what love looks like nor how to express it appropriately.
Foster parents have the chance to help these neglected children work through (or at least work on) their bonding issues by demonstrating what real love and attachment are, giving them a gift they can use for a lifetime.
If you’ve ever considered becoming a foster parent, now is the time to act. The need has never been greater. I won’t lie and say that it’s easy. In fact, I would dare say it has been one of the more difficult things I have ever done in my life. However, I know that we are making a difference in this child’s life, and he is most assuredly making one in ours.