What do Steve Jobs, Willie Nelson, Babe Ruth, Daunte Culpepper, Louie Armstrong and Jamie Foxx have in common? They all spent a part of their childhood in foster care.
Some were raised by family members, others only temporarily and one, Steve Jobs, briefly until his foster parents adopted him.
Fred Rogers said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Since May is National Foster Care Month and today being Mother’s Day (with Father’s day not far behind), I wanted to join Rogers in speaking up for this unique and diverse group of “heroes.”
There are a number of reasons a child may be removed from their natural home and placed in temporary or long-term foster care. Obviously, for every successful celebrity, athlete and entrepreneur who was raised in foster care, there are hundreds of children whose names will never be listed on Google.
What many people may not know is there are different types of foster care available depending on the needs of the children. The first choice for children needing placement is “kinship” care, which involves family members providing care. It is estimated that in the U.S., 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren. When “kinship” is not an option, for children with few needs, traditional foster care would be the next desirable choice.
“Therapeutic” or “medical” foster care addresses the needs of children who have experienced trauma in their natural family environment and may have medical, intellectual, developmental or behavioral needs. Some families prefer to fill a much more temporary role by providing “emergency” foster care that can happen without notice at any time of day or night, and is a very short time until relatives or another foster placement can be found. Another, more temporary type of foster care is “respite” care. These families provide an alternative setting for foster families or children who may need to recharge or need assistance for a short period of time. This is also a great way for families to see if they would be a fit for other types.
Regardless of the type of care, it goes without saying that it is not easy. From the moment the decision is made by the family, and it must be the whole family, because fostering children impacts the entire family and not just the parents, life no longer looks the same. Because one of the most basic needs of children in foster care is safety and security, there is a lot of scrutiny and licensing requirements for the family members, as well as the home. Once a child is placed in the home, the contractual obligations do not end, but sometimes intensify with monthly reporting, documentation, transportation needs, medical and counseling appointments, issues with school, problems with behavior, etc. With all of this in place for the protection of the child, it is easy to see why so many families never consider the idea of fostering, or try it for a short time and decide it is not for them and others continue for years.
As I began listing the various requirements of foster parents, I also wondered what made raising a child that you don’t know and may not get to know worth these challenges. I reached out to a foster parent who has been providing “therapeutic” foster care for over 5 years for three different children and “respite” care for 12. When I asked Shaudai Stewart why she does this, surprisingly, she didn’t have a ready answer.
“A lot of people ask me that question,” she said, “and I don’t have a great answer. I wish I had an inspiring story about how I was raised in foster care and decided to give back, but it is not about that. I have worked in group homes and watched men and boys who were raised in state hospital, without families.”
She summed it up by saying, “My husband and I have this faith that says that if you have ability of taking in more, you should. It is wrong to recognize your own blessings and think that no one else deserves them.”
Deborah A. Beasley is an author, parent educator, family coach and consultant who helps parents find what they desire most in raising special needs children. She explains the challenges of raising another person’s child, especially for those with extra needs, “Sometimes our work as caregivers is not for the faint of heart. But, you will never know what you are made of until you step into the fire. Step bravely!”
So, I express my gratitude to the Stewarts and all of the foster and professional parents that I have met over the last six years. I want to say thank you for “stepping bravely,” even during those times when it would clearly be easier to “step away.”
There are many opportunities in our local communities to become foster parent,s including support providers, Utah Adoption Agency and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.