The television reporter said that a 6 year old boy was walking along the freeway with his 6 week old
brother looking for his mother because he was hungry when the police found them. The 6 year old
was sent to foster care but the 6 week old was taken back to the hospital because there were no
foster homes available at that time for infants. As a mother of 3 young boys, and a preschool
teacher, I knew that I could take care of infants! I called the next day and signed up for the 10 weeks
of training that it would take for my husband and I to become a licensed foster home for the state of
Our first foster child was a beautiful little 2 month old girl! Her 18 month stay, and eventual adoption by friends in our church was the beginning of a long foster care journey! We have been privileged to welcome almost 90 children in our home, some for only a few weeks, others have stayed for years. While there are lots of frustrations dealing with the foster care system, none of them have to do with the children who come. Whether they are newborn or teenage; from the moment their tired, scared faces enter my door, the only thing they require is love, attention, acceptance and security. These children come battered and bruised both physically and mentally. It is very difficult to try to stay positive about their parents while you are trying to put a broken child back together. They get weekly supervised visits with their parents and sometimes weekly you have to help a child recoup from the trauma of that visit.
Navigating the foster care system can be another trial for foster parents. Caseworkers often change several times for each child. They are also government employees who suffer from low pay, long hours, and massive caseloads, so burnout is a constant problem. Along with having to deal with the traumatized child, caseworkers also have to deal with the parents and/or family members of each child. Parents who are not good to their children are not easy to work with.
The system is also very slow to respond to the need for services, so many times foster parents depend on their own support system to help them out with babysitting and clothing needs. Many times a child arrives very late at night and the size 3 diapers you have are not the right size for that child. The state gives foster parents a subsidy for caring for these children; but the $22 per day doesn’t go very far for the child who shows up with nothing but the clothes on his their back. Caseworkers are required to visit their children every month, and each foster family has a worker that checks up on them and helps them.
There are lots of requirements for your home to qualify as a foster home, with provisions for fire inspection, health inspection, locking medicine cabinet, and much more, so there are always people in your home checking up on you and the children. Good foster parents never make it in the paper or on the news!!! Only those who have done something to hurt children make it in the news, so people are always watching to make sure you are not “one of those”. They don’t understand that the reason your infant is crying is because they were born addicted to cocaine or that the 2 year old is having a meltdown in the store because she saw someone who looked like the brother who was placed in another foster home. The teenage girl with the strange hair, clothes and belligerent attitude is trying to figure out the boundaries in her new foster home where she is not being sexually molested or forced to stay home from school to hide the belt stripes across her face. We once had a set of twins in our home that arrived with nothing, and before we could go get diapers or clothes, we stopped in ChickFilA because they hadn’t eaten all day. As we sat there with these two filthy smelly babies, the people at the tables around us got up one by one and relocated to other tables. Tolerance, understanding and judging others were great topics in that moment with our own children who witnessed the people moving away. Foster parents are not looking for praise or accolades, they just want to help the children in their care become successful, well-adjusted people.
While opening your home to foster children can be challenging, the rewards are too numerous to count. The education in compassion and kindness that my children received with hands on training was remarkable. The ability to deal with meltdowns and crisis prevention, as well as, being able to masterfully change the diaper of a willful 2 year old are skills that my three boys have carried into their adult years. We are very grateful to know the awesome people who have become part of our family through the adoption of our children as well as the many terrific caseworkers, and family members that we have met along the way. We have rejoiced with the families who were selected to adopt one of our children. We have also celebrated with the mother whose child was returned to her once the caseworker learnt that the broken leg of the child was caused by a freak accident and not by a neglectful mom. We counselled and supported the grandparents taking their 3 very young grandchildren into their home.
We continue visiting the dad who learnt that he was a dad to an incredible 2 year old in our home; reconnected on Facebook with our first foster child, now a mother herself. We have been invited to birthday parties, baptisms, football games, dance recitals, and most recently, my husband escorted one of our girls adopted by a single mom to her first father/daughter dance. We hope that each child that leaves our home will be able to stay in contact, but many times that doesn’t happen and for those we can only pray.
The plight of child abuse is not exclusive to the United States; we have done mission work in Africa and know that children there suffer greatly at the hands of their parents, relatives and society. The news media constantly portrays other countries that fail in their treatment of children, and I hope to be able to visit places such as India, Costa Rica, Thailand and Haiti in order to help children there. Helping children is what God has called me to do. I, not only love to be hands on with children who are hurting, but I love to counsel, mentor, cajole and beg others to do the same. Being a child should not be so difficult, and it is the responsibility of everyone to see that children are treated with dignity and respect.
Julie Winters Rives, a preschool teacher/director for over 30 years and a foster parent for 24 years. Mother to three grown up boys and grandmother to Lucy and June. Julie is a resident of Texas, USA
Written byShayonti Chatterji
With a career spanning over 20 years, in management and business development, believes in dreaming and living the dream. Believes in the power of a story.