Getting Involved In Foster Care

Perhaps being a foster parent is not for you.  There are many, many other ways to help if fostering does not fit your family’s needs.  With it being National Foster Care Month, it’s a great time to find a way to be supportive to a child or agency in the foster care system.  If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to work with Foster Children, this is an easy way to get your foot in the door and experience this field first-hand.

Recently, I contacted the Children’s Home Society here in Palm Beach County and found that there are lots and lots of agencies under their umbrella.  I’m excited because I will be doing some group classes and graduation coaching with some young adults aging out of the foster care system.  The young girls in this facility are either teens in the system that are pregnant or have a child or they are homeless and pregnant or have a child.  Most of these girls do not have a direction or any idea of what awaits them upon leaving this facility.  I look forward to using my life-coaching, teaching and education background to help coach and empower these young girls as they begin to plan for life with their child on the “outside”.

 http://www.chsfl.org/impact

Check out this agency at (http://www.chsfl.org/impact .  Be sure to watch the video, too.) If this one doesn’t fit find a similar agency in your area to get involved with the foster care crisis now.

When I met with the program director, she mentioned she has many ideas where volunteers may come and help.  She wishes she had someone to come in and teach these girls “mom” skills and fun “mom/child” things that these girls were most likely not taught in their childhood.  The program director mentioned simple ways her volunteers may help.

I’ve added a list here that include some of her ideas along with a few other ones I’ve found on two different agency websites.  I’m sure there are many, many more avenues, and it’s definitely possible to find a place to fit in and find something to enjoy.

  • Scrapbooking
  • Leading a “Mom & Me” class
  • Crafting
  • Teaching Sewing/Quilting
  • (Repairing/Constructing)/Handyman
  • Tutoring
  • Mentoring
  • Assisting with administrative work
  • Fundraising
  • Making Meals/Teaching Cooking
  • Teaching Life-Skills Classes
  • Organizing/playing/hanging with kids on “Sports Day”
  • Offering professional support for your area of expertise
  • Cleaning Services
  • Marketing/Public Relations/Development
  • Writing grants
  • IT Support
  • Relief House Parents
  • Driving
  • Coordinating Special Events
  • Gardening
  • Repairing Automobiles
  • Babysitting
  • Respite foster home
  • Fostering
  • Guardian Ad-Li tum

Most  agencies are individually run by a program director and there are a lot that are privately run by churches.  Depending on the needs of the home, there are so many ways to help these kids  experience things they may have missed out on since being in foster care.

Go ahead, I challenge you…take the leap and find a place to volunteer.  Remember, if one organization doesn’t seem to “fit” your family, then try another one.  This is also a great way to model giving and sharing with your own children.

Do you volunteer somewhere in the Foster Care System?
Do you have other ideas for serving in this area?
If you decide to get involved and serve,
please feel free to check back and share your experience.

Life After Foster Care

I was 13 when I left the very conservative Christian children’s home where I was safely living for four and a half years. We lived by strict rules and I felt very naive as I entered ninth grade at a public high school.  For any rising ninth grader, it’s already nerve-wracking enough worrying about fitting in, finding friends and looking good, but for me, I was coming from a place where we didn’t wear pants, didn’t listen to popular music or watch the hip shows.   I had been secluded and was SO out of the “know”.  I KNEW I was different.  I was nervous in my own skin, I was insecure about my secret home-life  and wanted desperately to seem normal — to just start over with a fresh start.

During the last six years of my life, I’d been grounded with a great faith in Christ…although I think this is where I learned how “legalistic” religion can be at times.  When I returned home I was abruptly told my mother was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and I’d now be studying the faith, too.  YIKES!  Instantly, I  became more confused about religion, I questioned my faith, I questioned what I had learned for the six years.  All of it felt very weird to me, and I was bombarded with more “legal” rules of religion.  We weren’t allowed to celebrate holidays, no blood transfusions — thankfully I’ve never been faced with that!  I learned we couldn’t associate with the “worldly”, so I wasn’t allowed to “hang” with kids at school and as a result had no friends.   I was told I couldn’t go to college for fear of “falling away”.  They believe that Christ didn’t die on a cross–he died on a stake.  My favorite rule was that we weren’t allowed to celebrate birthdays because there are only three mentioned in the Bible and at all of the parties there was a murder.  I still don’t understand that one.  Anyway..I learned about these and many other of their “interpretations”.  Nonetheless, it never felt right to me.

From then on I didn’t trust anyone about religion, but one thing I did gather and still believe today about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they believe Christ is the Messiah/our Savior, they believe he died and rose again, they believe there will be a second coming and a judgement day.  They do believe that some Christians will go to heaven.  Anyway, these are just some of the interpretations I learned between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the the “average” Christian denomination.  Don’t we all have our quirks and crazy interpretations?  I know I don’t have all the answers.  In essence, I think they have the basic underlying truths of Christianity.  I only talk about that because it was an integral picture into what our home-life looked like.  My mom was studying and my step-father was not, which put another weird twist on it all. For the first few months, it all felt like things might be “normal” until…

It was New Years Eve of 1981 and the sexual abuse started over again, my brother was always “in trouble” and the abuse was abundant again. Here we go with the secrets again.  I tried to go to school and be “normal”.  At home, I was doing what I had to do what I had to do to be the “perfect” child and not rock the boat.  When I was 15, my parents said they didn’t have enough money to make ends meet.  My brother and I both were “homeschooled” – we really quit school and went to work full time to give our money to the family.  I didn’t like school only because I wasn’t allowed to associate with any of the kids and I felt out of place, so I *thought* this would be a good idea.  Afterall, I already felt “grown up” why not go out into the world and work to prove I’m responsible.

Not long after working on my own, at age 16, I finagled my way out of the house and moved out (another story for another day).  I felt it was an escape.  I didn’t get along with my mom because of the religion, my step-father was still abusing me and I knew if I could get out it may feel “fresh”.  Off I went, to rent a room from someone. My mentor got wind that I had moved out and immediately contacted me and helped me get back into school.  Soon, I found myself riding my bike to school, working full time, going to school full time and studying in my spare time.  I still didn’t feel normal.  I was estranged from my family after the “elders” of the witnesses came to my home and “disassociated” me from the Witnesses.  Now, my mom was forbidden to speak with me.  I was all alone, no family and no real friends.

Many children that age out of the foster care find themselves in this very same situation.  They are thrown into the big world right out of a foster home that no longer received funding for them. They are told they need to survive.  Many times, there are no benefits or assistance to help them transition, and if they do receive help, it’s temporary.  Any young adult going to college or the work world needs motivation, encouragement, love and empowerment from family and friends.  If anything, they need a home, family, or place to return for holiday, when life gets tough.

Here’s how one girl explains her story of emancipation: ”

The day I graduated from high school my foster mom told me, “You’ve been
emancipated. You can’t live here anymore.” My social worker showed up—I
was still in my little graduation dress and heels, my flowers, my cap on. My
social worker had never talked with me. [She just] told me, “I’ve called around
and found a shelter for you. You have a bed for four months.”
—Karen D., San Francisco

This is just one of many stories.  I was fortunate that I had God on my side – although I had turned my back on organized religion since I was so confused, he was ever-present and protecting me.  I was resilient.  I had the will to succeed in my heart.  I had had many great role models and examples of what a “normal home” *might* look like and I wanted it.  I had drive, I had passion.  I was “clingy” and shared my story frequently.  I think that helped others know what I was going through and willing to help me and invite me in on holidays.  I’ve made some special and compassionate friends over the years.  I was fortunate that I was blessed with a personality that has a “go-get-it” attitude attached.  I lived the saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way” and found ways to apply it at all cost.  I graduated at the top of my high school class, received scholarships to college and made my way.  No, it wasn’t easy…there were lots of troubles, dark lonely paths where I dabbled.  Somehow, I never lost sight of my goal and I finished.  Many of these foster kids haven’t been given the gift of great mentors, the gift of drive and tenacity or the ability to focus intently on a goal.  Those are the ones that need others to be intuitive and reach out to help them.  They need mentors.  They need us to come along side them and let them know there is good in this world.  They need someone to love unconditionally.

I hope as I share my story and the stories of others that you find a way to reach out in your local area and help someone in need.  I hope you can find a sweet spot where you can help the ‘least of these’.  They are God’s children; they are society’s children!

Until next time:
Matthew 25:40 …Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Many Secrets of a Foster Child

My childhood was probably very similar to many of the children in foster care today.  I was a happy baby girl and had a very rambunctious little brother (Jeff), but around us there were many moments of strife, sadness and mental illness.  My parents were average hard-working people, but I remember …

Image

I can’t help but notice the big grin on my face, the lack of a car seat and my favorite Raggedy Ann doll on the seat beside me (that one stirs my inner child a bit). Can you guess what kind of car this was by the back seat and window?

… the many fights, the smell of beer on my father’s breath, the many beer cans on the tables when I awoke in the morning and I remember how life was when my mother left him.  I remember a couple of my mother’s different boyfriend’s and what they did to me as a toddler. Most of all, I remember the new step father that joined our family promising lots of happy memories.

But, he didn’t create happy memories for us – just the opposite…I remember his beatings and I have vivid memories of hearing him beat my brother and seeing the hand-print bruises on his tiny little face.  I remember the night he left our mobile home to take my 5 year old brother out to the middle of nowhere and leave him on the side of the road — just to punish and scare him–a 5 year old!!  By the grace of God, I’ve been able to work through those memories and keep them from haunting me every day.  Some children aren’t so lucky.

It wasn’t long after that we went to live with a new family.  I stayed with one family for about eight months, but they couldn’t handle my brother, Jeff.  He was probably classified as severely ADHD and emotionally handicapped (as they’d label today), so he bounced from home to home and probably lived in about nine different homes.  We became “Society’s Children” and were raised by other families, mentors or houseparents.  Our lives drastically changed.

On any given day, there are approximately 400,000 children in foster care in the US.  Many of these kids have similar stories of abuse, neglect, abandonment and fear — most importantly, they live with many painful secrets they never have the courage to share.  Many of these kids feel it’s their own fault and if they’d only been “good enough” things would be different.  Some walk around with hatred so strong they wish their parents were dead.  Some kids still, after all the trauma, wish mommy and daddy would bring them home.  Some kids just “function” and try to get through life, figure out how to survive and find their new “normal”.  As a result, it’s important to note that each of these 400,000 kids needs a mentor, needs a warm hug, and some gentle guidance.

I believe that it was because of the countless mentors, houseparents, good role models and great homes I’ve had in my life that have helped me “go down the right path”.  It’s because someone thought it was important to model and develop in me a faith in Christ at an early age.

Do you have a similar story?  Have you had a mentor that has greatly influenced your life?  Have you ever served as a mentor for others?

Until next time, please remember James 1:27

James127


National Foster Care Month

Foster Care Button2

May is National Foster Care Month, and this is something close to my heart because I relate to the 1000’s of children living in foster care now. I lived in a children’s home from the age of 9 until I was 13. I know what it feels like at a very young and tender age to be moved away from my family and not truly understand why. I know what it feels like to be scared and long to hear from my family. I know what it feels like to want my mom despite what ugly things happened at home. It’s isolating, it’s scary and it’s not fair to any of these children in the system!

Many of us live our daily lives and never think of these kids in foster care.  Some of us live with the memories and the stories.  I am now (after developing a very strong faith in Christ and years of therapy) able to say I am blessed. I have found the many blessings among the hatred, abuse, strangers, new homes, isolation and feelings of loneliness. I overcame and somewhere deep inside me my inner survivor is cheering because I prevailed!

Why and how?

I will be sharing more of my story during the month of May as we celebrate the heroes of foster care, hear stories similar to mine and learn how we can help.

Please don’t hesitate to share your story, too.  If you’re a foster parent, foster child, social worker, guardian, or mentor…please follow along and share your story, too.