To be a foster parent: One mother’s story
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, email@example.com
Each week in the Darlington County, the Pee Dee Region, South Carolina and the nation a child will be removed from the care of a neglectful or abusive parent and placed into foster care. This occurs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for children from ages birth to 18 years of age.
The need for foster care parents is at an all-time high to provide safe, loving homes for these children who are often placed with only the clothing they are wearing at the time of their placement.
A young woman, Jennifer Gray of Florence, recently reached out to the News and Press to let us know about a Clothes Closet she has began to help share not only clothing, but child care supplies that foster families may need.
Gray agreed to share her experiences as a new foster parent with readers of the News and Press.
1. What inspired you to become a foster parent?
I have had the desire to foster for many years. I remember clearly the day that I thought, “that is what I want to do”. I was working in the ER when a child was brought to us…she was a gorgeous little girl that had been “dropped off” on someone’s front porch. She was the same age as my youngest daughter was at the time, and my heart just broke. Seeing the struggle that the DSS workers had finding her a home was sobering. I couldn’t understand why someone would drop her off like that, but, even more so, I couldn’t understand why there were no foster families to take her! “Take her to my house” was my plea to the worker…I have everything I need to take care of her. So I began doing some research into foster care. I finally decided this past January that I knew in my heart I wanted to be a foster parent, and the process began. I completed all of the licensing process and attended my training and my completed file was processed in July of this year. On August 6th, I received a call telling me my license had been issued, and the next day I received the call that I so greatly anticipated…there was a baby who needed my love. And so it began.
2. Can you describe the experiences you’ve had since becoming one in August?
I will start by saying I do not regret a single moment of my time with my foster children…but this process is a very sad one. When a child is placed in your home, you must enter into that relationship with the thought process that your time is limited. Typically you have no idea how long a child will be with you…and for me, that time, regardless of how long, never seems long enough. My first foster baby will be leaving me this Monday, and, to be honest, it feels like a death to my family. We are grieving…but we are doing what we have said from day one, living our family motto: “We are going to love you with every ounce of love that we have until your family is able to love you again”.
But there are problems with that motto; it isn’t always a matter of a family “not loving” their child, and we aren’t going to love them until their family is reunited-we are going to love them forever, as they are now a forever part of our lives. The journey is definitely an emotional one. But the amazing times greatly outweigh the sad times.
I recently came across a quote that perfectly sums it up…”I am not afraid to grieve. I am afraid of what would happen to these children if no one took the risk to love them. The more you care, the more it hurts.” No group of words has ever proven to be so true.
3. Do you have children already? Are you co-parenting with a partner, or are you a single mom? Do you have a network of support such as grandparents, aunts/uncles, neighbors, etc.?
I am a single mom to three amazing girls, ages 15, 9, and 7, and have two new additions (my foster children). We collectively made the decision to become a foster family and my children have learned so much about life and love in this short amount of time. I have a great network that supports me: a significant other, my mother, an amazing sitter, and many friends. And through the founding of the Foster Care Clothing Closet, I have found a whole new network! I have met former foster children as well, and they have shared a little about the foster care system and the needs I see.
4. Do you have friends/family members that are also foster parents?
I do not have any family members or friends that are currently fostering, but I do have a friend that is a former foster mother (she adopted a sibling set of three) and she is a great resource for me. I have a few friends that are embarking on the foster care licensing journey right now and I am able to share with them what I am experiencing. I most often hear from friends and family, “I just couldn’t do it…I would get too attached.” And you do…and you still do it.
5. Can you share how being a foster parent has enriched your life – despite the obvious struggles? Would you recommend it to others?
My life has been forever changed just in these few months. I have learned so much about who I am. I recently told someone I think I needed these children more than they could have ever needed me. They have taught me so much about love, and about the power of love. It has, also, shown me how truly human I am.
I have prided myself of trying to be “Super Mom”, never letting my weakness show. Foster parenting has shown me my weaknesses: letting go, being one of those. But, never has my heart been as full as it is right now. Again, even knowing what I am experiencing now, I wouldn’t change a single moment of it.
I would absolutely recommend foster parenting to anyone who has a desire. It isn’t something that people should be coerced into or something that should be entered into lightly. These are children. Children who have often times been hurt, or experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect. Children who need to feel loved regardless and who need to feel safe at all times.
There is such a need for foster families in our area…in our state…and, I would guess, across the nation. As sad as it is, people are oftentimes more willing to foster a dog or cat, than a child. A different dynamic, I understand, but an even greater need. Foster care has a bad stigma that goes along with it. For many reasons, I’m sure, but the main one I hear is “people do it for a check”. And, in some cases, I am sure this is true. Just like with anything else, some people will manipulate a system to benefit themselves. But, I will say this- foster parenting is not a money making venture. If love isn’t your motivating factor, then don’t waste your time, but most importantly, don’t add to the hurt, disappointment, and sense of neglect these precious children have already had to endure.
6. Is there anything else that you feel is very important for people to know that are contemplating being a foster parent?
Pray about it. Talk with your family. Ensure that you have the support system in place…not necessarily to help with the children, but to be there to help dry your tears when your precious ones return home. Understand that you will love these children as your own and when they hurt, you will hurt. Court is hard. Visitations are oftentimes stressful. But the rewards- those smiles, the “I love you’s”, seeing the quiet, frightened child blossom into an outgoing, confident child…those are what make it worth ever tear, every stress wrinkle, and every grey hair.
To become a foster parent, you may contact the Darlington County Department of Social Services (DSS) to begin the process. Contact them at: 843-332-2231.
A wonderful resource is the South Carolina Foster Parent Association (SCFPA) was founded by Carl Brown in 1975. Carl and his wife, Mary, began fostering children in 1974. Heavily involved in the National Foster Parent Association, they quickly realized the need for a state association. In the 40 years since it was formed, the SCFPA has served as infrastructure and support for SC foster parents. Presently, there 41 county or county-cluster organizations serving all 46 SC counties; each with its own elected officials and DSS liaison. Find them online at: scfpa.com or call: 803-865-2020