By Dawn Thompson
To bring up; nurture: bear and foster offspring.
To promote the growth and development of; cultivate: detect and foster artistic talent.
To nurse; cherish: foster a secret hope.
I was first a foster parent when I was 20 years old. I barely had a child of my own and was blessed to be able to care for another child just about the same age. Although it was unforseen and unexpected, I knew it was part of the plan. Not my plan, the BIG plan.
Years later that child went on to be adopted and my little one was on her own again.
About five years had passed and I was not in a position to have more children by birth. Besides, I wanted someone old enough for my daughter to relate to, so I looked into foster care. I was SURPRISED to see how many children were in desperate need of a home.
There were over 3,500 children in MA alone that needed placement, but how could I find the right one for our family?
I started doing research and realized that older children were harder to place. Out of those older children, there were different groups that made it even more difficult to find homes.
After months of learning everything I could about the children waiting for care, I decided I wanted to take a child that might not otherwise have a shot. I took a risk. A BIG risk on a child who was pretty much deemed unplaceable.
This kid had been through many foster homes, and at the young age of eight was already losing her chance to be part of a family due to a lack of empathy and psychotic behavior.
I met with family services again and again. I thought that if anyone could give this kid a chance it would be us. We went over a six month plan that included intensive therapy, slow integration and, most importantly, a plan to keep everyone safe during crisis interventions.
Special classes and training were provided, I bought all kinds of books to address her special needs and even took college courses to help. I was ready for my beautiful little girl to come home.
I’ll never forget the first time I met her. She called me “MOM.” I was a bit taken back until I realized this kid took everything literally, and did not even understand jokes. She had many disorders that made it difficult for her to succeed, but she tried and tried her best!
After two years of trying everything under the sun, our team decided it was time to make other plans outside of adoption.
The child was now 10 and a half, bigger and stronger, yet still showing no signs of empathy or reasoning. This was somewhat manageable as long as she didn’t have to socialize with anyone else and as long as she was content. As soon as other people were brought into her life; school, neighbors, strangers at the grocery store, she would regress and her safety and the safety of others became seriously compromised.
The last six months she stayed with us were spent getting her a permanent placement in the best facility to suit her needs. This was not an easy task and required multiple days in court advocating for her, lots of research and many, many visits to slowly move her over but we did it!
I often questioned my decision on taking in such a special needs child, as it was extremely difficult on my family and friends but ESPECIALLY my daughter. She was only nine at the time and never saw or knew such things before. We had been through a lot together, including fostering another child who was easy and gentle, but never imagined such difficulties and stress during everyday life.
I felt bad about that for many years, yet felt good for the difference we made for another child. Three short years of hard work for us meant a lifetime of quality care for another, but who was I to make that sacrifice for my child? As parents we don’t alway’s make the “best” choices for our children, but who’s to say difficult experiences are the worst? Sometimes these challenges bring out strength and abilities in our kids that they might not otherwise know they had.
Two years ago my daughter graduated with a degree in psychology from Worcester State University. She held a job as an intern for the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, a residential treatment center for kids in crisis. Some with needs similar to the ones her ”sister” had, yet most not as severe. I used to hope she’d forget most of what she went through back then, but now I hope she NEVER does, as it will be her strength and guide. She is going for her Masters now and works for Mass Mentors. I can’t even begin to tell you how I DO believe EVERYTHING happens for a reason.
I have learned that when things seem different from what we expect, that doesn’t mean it’s not supposed to be, it just means it may be part of the BIGGER plan.
As for the foster child, she is now 23 and still thriving in her placement. My views of the perfect placement have drastically changed since I first started out. I used to think the perfect family consisted of parents and children. That has grown to include ANY group of individuals who can reside safely and peacefully under one roof without compromising the safety or happiness of each other.
For some that might be in a private home for others in a residential setting. There are so many children in Massachusetts alone who need foster care, specialized care and mentors. There are so many ways to give and to help these kids get what they need.
You do not have to have an extra room in your house, just a little extra room in your heart.
Call Mass Mentors TODAY at 617.695.1200 to see how you can make a difference in the life of a child or visit them online. You will be surprised how MUCH of an impact you can make. Not only on the life of a child, but on society as a whole.