If you don’t know much about the foster care system, you’ve probably never watched TV or read any YA novels or seen your local news. For those of you who have been paying attention to after school specials and such, then you have some preconceived notions. I wish I could tell you that you are 100% wrong about those ideas, but I can’t in good faith.
The foster care system is indeed a broken one, as it is an output of so many other messed-up constructs like healthcare and the justice system. There are people in the system though that are doing their best to make it better. There are birth parents fighting for their lives, fighting for their kids. They are fighting addiction, stereotypes, poverty, mental health, and cycles of societal oppression. You can blame the opioid epidemic for a lot of this, folks. Oh, and don’t forget the criminalization of marijuana and prison industrial complex.
Foster parents sign up for this gig for a million different reasons. I’ve not met a foster parent myself who didn’t have the best of intentions, even if their reasons are somewhat complicated. The whole thing is complicated. There are no winners. There are only players, dong the best they can do.
By participating in the foster care system, as foster parents, you are signing up to actively support the progress and healing of the birth parent so that the child can be reunified with family. While conceptually I agree with this philosophy, it doesn’t make it easy, and we don’t even have children in our care yet!
I am really working to prepare my heart and fully lean into a place of empathy in order to truly serve both the parents and the children. I know it won’t be easy, but I do think it is necessary to fully embody the spirit of our commitment.
So here’s a start. This letter will be included in a scrapbook that we are making to share with the kids and parents whom our family will serve through foster care.
Dear Brave One,
It is an honor to be a part of your story. Whatever you are dealing with right now, it is going to take a lot of courage to face. With courage, there’s often fear or doubt. I hope this letter gives you some peace. Before I say much more, please know this: we’re on your side. We’re rooting for you. We are committed to you and your children for as long as it takes. We promise to be your partners as long as you need us.
While I imagine you are scared or angry, I don’t know what it is like to be in your shoes, but I will try to understand. I do know it is scary to leave your kids with people you don’t know. I remember being momentously afraid to leave my son at daycare, or my infant daughters with a new caregiver. Also, whether kids are big or small, it is scary when they go out in the world without you. As a parent, you can’t always protect them from injury or bullies or sadness or disappointment. I know those feelings can be overwhelming and discouraging. This to say, I’ll do my best to put myself in your shoes, as well as in the shoes of your children. I will do my best to be gentle and lead with empathy.
It’s natural to believe that no one else can love your baby the way you can. I think that is mostly true. The love that connects biological families is unique and resilient and whole; it is complete in what it is, even when circumstances are difficult. That said, I also know what it is like to love a child as if she were your own. I know what it is like to do this while knowing that the child already has biological tethers that can’t be replaced.
My step-daughter, or bonus daughter as I usually call her, has been part of my life since she was 18 months old. She has a wonderful, loving, caring biological mother who does the heavy lifting of raising her. She does not need another mother in the way that she already has one. My love for Avery is tailored to her; it’s unique to our relationship. The love I have for each of my children is unique, whether they are biological or not. I believe I can fully love your kiddos in a way that is needed and helpful, and not in a way that takes away from the love and bond that you share.
Our family has been preparing to serve yours. We have been preparing our hearts and minds to make a caring, comfortable place for your child. Our kids have been collecting toys, ideas, questions, memories, and stories to share. They are really cool kids, with big hearts and big ideas. They are built to love. They are eager to learn how they can help. They’re beyond excited to get to know your children and share life with them.
Please know that your children will be loved and cared for. They will be safe. They will be fed. They will have a cozy place to sleep. We will have fun; we will laugh and play. We will read and have dinner together. We like to color and do art projects. We like to be outside: running, swimming, walking, and riding bikes. We also like to watch TV and eat ice cream!
Don’t get me wrong; we are not perfect people, but we will do our best every day to stand with you and for you as you continue to edit your story. As you’re writing this chapter, please try not to worry about your children. You have our word that we will do our best to care for them as you care for you.
Sending you strength and grace.
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