Could You Become a Foster Parent?
Triangle parents share their experiences
When my friend, a foster parent, suggested that my husband and I also consider fostering, I shook my head. I admired her immensely. We wanted to help, and we had room in our hearts and home for more kids. But we could never be foster parents. Could we?
First, the Numbers
In Wake County alone, there are around 200 foster families and more than 700 children in care. It doesn’t take a mathematician to compute the overwhelming need. Add into the equation, however, a general misunderstanding of foster parents and the inherent challenges of foster care, and many qualified people simply say what I did: “We could never do that.”
Well, as it turned out, we could.
We spent two of the past three years as a licensed foster family. The experience was challenging, but also incredibly rewarding. And, for us, brief. Though reunification with the birth family is every foster family’s imperative, that outcome isn’t always possible. We adopted our first placement, then closed out our license to focus on meeting the needs of our expanded family.
I suppose it’s easy for me to say that welcoming a foster child into your heart and home is a risk worth taking. I’ll say it anyway. No matter what the outcome, you’ll gain back far more than you give.
The following conversations are with other foster parents serving kids in their communities. The journey to becoming a foster parent often starts with conversations like these, and the extending of an invitation. Consider this yours.
Melanie Shaw works in the information technology field and has been a foster parent for 10 years. During that time, she has cared for 15 teenage girls.
Why did you become a foster parent?
My parents raised me to help people and give back where I can. This will sound selfish, but I also wanted to help teenagers because they were the age of the children I wanted to have but didn’t.
What’s it like being a single foster parent?
There are benefits to being a single parent to some kids. They are more comfortable without a man in the home because of what they’ve been through. I do work full-time, so I’ve had awesome social workers that help me meet the kids’ needs. I also use the respite care offered through other foster parents to take breaks. Fostering is emotionally challenging work. But this has been one of the best experiences of my life. It’s a joy to give these kids positive experiences they might not have had otherwise.
What would you say to someone interested in fostering?
I grew up on a farm and, to me, fostering is like farming. There are stages. Sometimes you plant the seeds but someone else does the watering. You don’t always get to see the harvest. You have to trust that these kids will take what you’ve given them into their futures.
Photo courtesy of Melanie Shaw
Lora and Christopher Addair
Lora Addair and her husband, Christopher, have been foster parents for five years. They have four children — two sons previously adopted from private agencies and two daughters whom they fostered and then adopted.
How did you approach fostering with your own kids, who are also in the home?
As a family. We talked to the boys and got their input first, so they saw it as something we were doing together. Once we had our first placements, they acted as stabilizers for the other kids. We have boys and fostered girls, so we did have to stay watchful. We addressed issues as they came up and made our expectations clear.
How did you balance the needs of your family with fostering?
We had regular date nights to stay connected as a couple and family nights to stay in tune with the kids. We also had to work together. Our foster kids needed to go to therapy, and we wanted to keep them in their same schools, so there was a lot of driving. But they’d already experienced so much upheaval that it was worth it.
What would you say to families who are interested in fostering?
You can change a life forever. You don’t have to be perfect, just available. Our lives are immeasurably greater for it!
Photo courtesy of the Addair Family
In the eight years that Charleen has been a foster parent, she has served six teenage girls. She also has two grown sons and seven grandchildren.
What’s your greatest joy as a foster parent?
It’s good to see that you’re making a positive impact. My goal is to make each child feel safe and loved and to give them the opportunity to be the best they can be during the time they’re with me. Some stay in touch after they leave. They ask my advice, which tells me they still trust me.
What would you say to someone considering foster care?
Fostering is a good fit for you if you love kids, have a positive attitude and are willing to take the time to make a difference in their lives. Also, know that you won’t be alone. A team of professionals will support you in helping your kids reach their goals. At the end of the day, all you can do is your very best.
Briyana and Charleen Photo courtesy of Charleen Evans
George and Edna Marshall
After raising two daughters, George and Edna became foster parents. Over the past nine years, they’ve helped more than 30 children. They are currently fostering four children ages 11 to 16.
Why foster at a time when most are taking it easy?
We saw underweight kids not getting balanced nutrition in our own county. It’s going on right here, and we don’t see it. That drives us. No one will leave our home hungry.
What’s your biggest challenge?
The media often portrays foster parents negatively. Everyone hears the bad stories, but no one sees all of the successes we have. We work hard to prepare these kids for life — succeeding in school, playing sports and finding jobs. We also work with birth families to prepare them to reunite with the kids.
Photo courtesy of the Marshall Family
What would you say to those interested in fostering?
You don’t have to be a lawyer or a doctor. You just need to give love, protection and safety to kids when they need it. We have a prayer hanging in our kitchen that we read to each kid who comes through the door:
“Dear God, swing the doors of our home wide so that all people will feel welcome and loved. May the floor and walls be strong enough to carry the burdens of those who come. We pray no one leaves feeling less than when he entered. May your love and peace cover and protect as each one departs. Amen.”
For more information on foster care or licensing through your county or a private agency, call 877-NCKIDS or visit ncdhhs.gov/dss/fostercare.
Christa Hogan is a freelance writer, mom of three and former foster parent.