Foster parents talk about their joys and challenges.
Ten year-old Lynn’s parents were struggling with mental health issues and addictions and couldn’t take care of their daughter. Karen, a teacher at Lynn’s school, contacted the Children’s Aid Society and became a foster parent to Lynn.
In the years that followed, Karen provided Lynn with the day-to-day support and care she needed and helped her deal with the tragic loss of her brother and father. Lynn felt safe, loved and nurtured in Karen’s home, while Karen came to care for Lynn as a daughter. Twenty years later, the two still feel as close as family.
Caring for a foster child can bring both challenges and joy. Foster kids come into the care of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) for many reasons – their families may not be able to provide the necessities of life, there may be conflicts or illness, neglect or abuse. Some kids may have physical, emotional or mental challenges. Each child is unique, but what they have in common is the need for the proper growth and development that a caring home, stability, structure, and guidance can provide.
Foster parents come from every walk of life, culture, religion and lifestyle. They may be empty nesters, young couples raising their own kids, older couples, or individuals. All share a genuine interest in helping kids and understand the importance of caring for those in need.
Foster families receive close to 30 hours of training over several months before a child is matched with their home, and work closely with a dedicated Children’s Aid resource worker throughout the child’s placement.
In it for the love
The CAS also provides a compensation package, but “you certainly don’t want to do it for the money,” says Wayne Thomson, a foster parent for over 20 years. “If you want to do it for the kids, for the good of your own family, because you have it in you to give, then by all means, do.”
Thomson and his wife Cheryl know how rewarding it can be to foster a child. “There’s a deep satisfaction in raising these kids,” says Thomson. Even the ones that act out or get in trouble with the law. “Sometimes you find that the toughest kids can turn out to be the most caring people,” says Thomson.
So what does it take to foster a child? As well as the bottomless patience required of virtually all parents, caring for foster children takes an extra measure of consistency and organization, says Kelley Kellar, a long-time foster mom who takes in children with behavioural issues.
“Because many of the children who come into care haven’t had nearly enough consistency in their lives, they crave it,” says Kellar. “There’s a boy we’ve had three years now, and a million times I wanted to give him back, but after years of being extremely consistent and honest with him – trying never to say anything I don’t mean – now he’s my doll.”
Another thing foster parents need is a “major sense of humour,” says Kellar. “Joking around with kids, especially when someone’s causing trouble, helps kids understand that it’s not all their fault. The kids we take in have been through a lot, and many of them respond really well to lighthearted humour at the right moment.”
Foster parents should also be prepared to have the child’s biological parents involved in their lives – no matter how difficult it may be. “We look to them as a resource,” says Bryan Bridgeman, who, along with wife Sonja, has been fostering kids for over 30 years. “They may have insight into the child’s early experiences or family history that can really help in caring for the child.”
Along with the challenges come some pretty special rewards. Some foster parents enjoy the honour of being called mom or dad. Others are touched when a child who has moved on continues to share their successes and celebrations, dropping in for Sunday dinners or sharing birthdays.
“It’s amazing how good it makes you feel when a child you haven’t seen in years calls to share good news,” says Kellar. “One girl we used to foster just told us she’s entered college. That’s a great milestone and something she might not have been able to do without the care, encouragement and coping skills she developed while she was with our family.”
Her own family has benefited too. “It’s absolutely amazing for our three biological daughters,” says Kellar. “I’ve had a number of teachers tell me we’ve raised the most compassionate children; they’ll do anything for anyone. All three of them want to be foster parents.”
Also rewarding for Kellar are the relationships she’s been able to build with the biological parents of children she fosters. “Walking down the street and having a biological parent come up to tell you they still have their kids, and they’re doing really well – that feels really good.”
All in all, fostering “is a very rewarding experience, says Kellar. “Anyone who loves children and is interested should give it a try. You might love it; I know we do.”