Get the inside, real-life story about foster care.
Without a filter and through the lense of real foster parents and Saint Louis PARTNERS staff members, read more about real life as a foster family. What it’s like, why it’s hard, and how rewarding it can be.
Real Life As A Foster Family.
AN UNEXPECTED GIFT
How fostering became an amazing experience I never expected.
I did not plan to be a foster parent but had known of this young girl that lived down the street from me. I saw her play out in the streets, sometimes way after dark. I often wondered why her parents didn’t call her into the house. One day I learned that she had entered foster care due to “unsafe issues” at home. This explained a lot to me. I then learned that she was living with strangers that she didn’t know. I reached out to her mother and found out who I needed to talk to in order to help. Her mother was very happy to hear that I was willing to research this and after I did all the trainings and home visits, she was able to live with me. Sometimes, things happen in your life and you don’t plan on it but it turns out to be the most amazing thing. My life is now complete because of this little girl.
BECOMING THE PARENT I ALWAYS DREAMED OF
How fostering made a difference in my life.
As a young girl, I always dreamed of growing up, getting married, living in a house with a white picket fence and having lots of children running around the yard. Aside from being a teacher, I could never imagine anything better than being a mom. I played “mommy” often as a little girl; taking “care” of my baby dolls and stuffed animals (and even my poor little brother at times), “going grocery shopping” and “just playing with them”. In my mind, being a mom was the greatest achievement a girl could have. However, as most of us learn at some point, life doesn’t always go as we have planned. After graduating college, I watched as friend after friend got married. I then watched as these same friends began having babies and became moms and parents themselves. Although I loved all my friends’ children dearly and treated them as if they were my own, I always knew something was missing in my life. I became an elementary school teacher and often thought of my students as my “kids”. I heard time and time again, “You’ll be a great mom someday”.
And while this comment made my heart happy, it was also hard to hear. I realized with each passing year that it was more and more likely that I would not be a mom. It was then that God planted the seed about adoption. Although I didn’t know much about the process, I knew that there were children in need of loving families. As I began thinking about this option, I mentioned it to a few friends. My thoughts were immediately pushed away with comments such as “No. That’s no way to build a family”, or “You’ll really never get married if you adopt”. At this point, although I still thought of it often, I no longer said these thoughts aloud. And then, one cold, winter night in December 2012, I vividly remember watching tv all alone in my house. A commercial came on the television listing statistics about the number of children who didn’t have a warm place to sleep at night. At that point, I stood up and went to sit in my spare bedroom. This was it for me! I knew then that I needed to do something. I had a 2 bedroom house, heat, food, running water and love. It was then that I realized that the bed in the guest bedroom had not been used in over a year! A year! It hit me hard…there were hundreds of children without beds and I had a perfectly good one in my house sitting empty. I literally burst into tears thinking about the children out there needing a place to sleep. I immediately began searching online for resources and trying to figure out where to start. Just as instantly, I became overwhelmed with the amount of information and I had no idea who to turn to.
A few months later, I began attending a new small group for church. Through this group, I was connected with a local ministry that helps support foster and adoptive parents. This ministry then connected me with Bringing Families Together. I began my training to become a foster parent in June 2013 and was licensed by the end of October 2013. I had a wonderful experience as a foster parent and knew I was impacting lives of children. I later adopted and became the mom always dreamed of.
AN UNLIKELY FOSTER PARENT
Why a 48-year-old mother of 5 would want to foster
My grandmother died before I was born, leaving my 7 year old aunt with my grandfather who didn't think he care for her. She went to live with a friend's family as a foster child. And then, when I was 7 my aunt came to live with us. That was my introduction to fostering.
As an adult, I would see people in need and do my best to help them. Many times I had people from work sleeping on my living room couch and even taking in homeless families I knew. If I had room, how could I turn my back on someone in need?
When I married my husband, we already had 3 children between us from previous marriages. After we were married we had 2 more little boys. It wasn't that our house was big or that we were made a lot of money, I just knew that my heart was big enough for us to bring in children who needed a Mommy and a Daddy, who could give them more. While living in Los Angeles, CA, with 5 children, one being about 4 months old, I started taking foster parenting classes.
My husband was in the U.S. Navy and was getting ready for a one year deployment to Afghanistan. He asked me not to foster while he was away, so I postponed fostering. When my husband got back from Afghanistan I moved in a pregnant mom and her 5 homeless children. Fostering would need to wait. This family lived with us for 6 months. A few months later the Navy moved us to a suburb of Seattle, WA. While in Seattle we took in several families at different times, but my heart was still on fostering so we took foster parenting classes again in Seattle. Soon after we finished our fostering classes in Washington, my husband was informed that would would be transferring one last time to St. Louis, MO! Here we have achieved our dream and goal to be foster parents. While we have been through multiple states and trainings it was well worth the wait! There is something quite gratifying knowing that you are taking children who are so misunderstood and/or traumatized, and give them a home. Helping them to know what a healthy family feels like. I believe that my biological children were intended for me and the ones I get thereafter are a bonus! I believe that it is a privilege to be a foster parent. I am lucky to know the great people I associate with in the foster care community. We are making a difference! In short, I see a need and I can fill that need, so I do. And I hope that others can do the same -- it makes a difference for the kids and the impact on our lives has been incredible. Kathy F.
“WE HAD TO DO IT FOR HIM.”
An aunt and uncle give the gift of safety, of love.
Jackie was looking forward to retiring with her husband when she started noticing things weren't quite right with her niece. She looked tired and would disappear for long periods of time. When her niece became pregnant, the family became more concerned. When the baby was born, his mother disappeared for two weeks and eventually ended up in jail for possession of meth. Jackie and her husband decided to go to court and get full custody of their niece's son. "We had to do it for him."
SOWING SEEDS OF LOVE
The gift of love that grows through both a child and the foster family.
Today was a tough one...one of those days when I question why we choose to foster kids. Three-year-old Sam, who was in our care last fall, needed care again for a few weeks. His mom was dealing with another emergency and specifically requested that he be placed with our family again. We were all so thrilled that our sweet, little guy was coming back! It had been six months...Sam didn’t remember us... And since he’d left, he had learned to spit, kick, hit, bite, jump on the furniture, and throw things. His favorite word was a mean name – a word I told him we don’t use in this house. It made me very sad...to him, it’s just a normal word... As I was holding back tears that first night, exhausted and wondering if this is really worth it, I walked by the front door. And there they were...Sam’s pair of shoes. Hours earlier, I had asked Sam to put his shoes by the front door – but I meant with the other shoes on a small mat near the front door. He did it, exactly the way he put them by the front door last fall. A bit of joy – and even a little bit of laughter – filled my heart. We are sowing seeds of love and hope in these little ones we are blessed to know. And they do the same exact thing for us.”
AGAINST ALL ODDS
Two brothers overcome physical and psychological giants
to receive the love, support and solidarity of family.
Two brothers entered the foster care system due to their home being condemned (the home was filthy, had excessive bugs and 14 dogs residing in the small home). Plus there were many hotlines on the family in the previous months that were in regards to the children’s aggressive behaviors, neglect and abuse by their mother.
Upon coming into care, both boys were extremely aggressive with staff and adults and had to be transported by ambulance so they could be safely restrained. The older brother has a diagnosis of Autism and was placed in a residential placement. And he was previously attending school only half of the time due to his aggressive behaviors. The younger brother was placed in a foster home (after one failed placement) that had over 10 years of experience with caring for foster children.
In the months following their placements, both boys struggled with being physically aggressive with their teachers, staff, and placement providers. The younger brother (age 8) was also asked to leave two daycares due to his use of hateful racial slurs.
The boys’ father resides in Illinois so had to go through the lengthy process of being approved for placement out of state. In the meantime, both boys received psychological and psychiatric evaluations. Both boys received consistent support including individual therapy, medication management, consistent schedules and expectations, and genuine compassion and caring.
After approximately 8 months in their placements there was great improvements in the boys’ behaviors overall. The younger brother learned how to make better choices, learned how to better regulate himself when he is upset and learned that he is an intelligent child and excelled in his academics with pride. The older brother also was able to have his medication and therapies on a regular basis and also showed a decrease in his aggression.
Both boys were placed with their father in Illinois after ten months of being in foster care. Both, currently, have consistently received excellent behavior scores in the classroom (which is an amazing improvement for the older brother) and have been connected with consistent support services by their father. The mother and father have made a visitation plan so the boys get to still see their mother and come back to their stable home with their father.
Although it was initially extremely hard for both young boys to come into care and adjust to their living situations, they have both made great strides in their behaviors and are now in a safe, stable and nurturing environment. The younger brother’s foster parents continue to be a support for the father and has made a lifelong connection with the young boy.
A LIFE CHANGED
A tragic, paralyzing injury met with acceptance, love and consistency.
In 2009, a 10 year old James was shot while playing in his front yard by a drive-by shooter. His whole life suddenly changed as he was now paralyzed from the waist down. James had a catheter and was in a wheelchair. Several months after the shooting, it was brought to the Children’s Division’s attention that his mother was not capable of caring for him properly. He stunk because his catheter wasn’t being changed, and he was not given baths. James had large sores from not being out of his chair periodically or moved around, and he was not attending school. He came into foster care in 2010 and LFCS tried desperately to find him a home or residential facility. Surprisingly, many residential facilities were not equipped with proper ramps for his wheelchair or the staff to deal with his medical needs. We did not know what we were going to do. One night I personally thought I was going to have to spend the night at our agency with James, due to not being able to find a home for him all day. Finally, Youth In Need agreed to take him for one night and I drove him there at 9 p.m.
But that was just one night.
We needed to create consistency and give James the stability he needed. PARTNERS spent a great deal of time trying to find a home for James and just kept hitting dead ends.
Then a co-worker remembered a foster parent she had worked with in the past and decided to ask her. Ms. Louis said she would give it a try. We were skeptical as we just didn’t know how James would adjust to a stranger’s home, or if Ms. Louis could deal with the physical demands of lifting James in and out of his wheelchair and folding and lifting the wheelchair in and out of her vehicle. Not only could she do it, but continued to do it for SEVEN YEARS!
Ms. Louis was an amazing role model for James showing patience, love, and acceptance to him, which he had never received while he lived with his biological family, even prior to the shooting. James is not only physically disabled, he has learning issues, which makes understanding many things difficult for him – again requiring much patience on his caretaker’s part. Ms. Louis dealt with all of his acting out behaviors and could be firm, but was always loving. James graduated from high school, which was a huge achievement! The stability she gave James for all of those years is unmeasurable. She is a rare person who takes the roles of being a parent, a mentor, and supervisor very seriously. Ms. Louis has a great attitude and caring heart, and we, the staff of LFCS, are forever grateful to her!
FOSTERING AS FAMILY
Navigating the intricacies of biological and foster families.
And understanding the value and importance of each.
Daniel and Shauna are foster parents who truly understand and embrace all five competencies taught in STARS class, but go above and beyond when it comes to supporting relationships between children and their families. The first child that I placed in their home had been physically abused by an unknown perpetrator. The fact that we did not even know if it was the mother or the father, Daniel and Shauna were open to still strengthening the relationship between the mother and her son...who the mother was trying to be reunited with. Even though the child was an infant they encouraged her to call him and talk with him. When they were not doing visits, they sent pictures of his day-to-day activities. The mother relapsed in treatment, but Daniel and Shauna continued to encourage her, and visit with her, and let her be a part of the child’s special moments like birthday parties and more. They sent videos of his first steps and his first words. Between the mother’s mental health issues and drug usage, she was very difficult to communicate with and be around, but the foster parents persisted in letting her know they want her to have a relationship with her son. Eventually, mom’s parental rights were terminated, and Daniel and Shauna adopted the little boy who had been in their home for two years. They still have an open door policy and want his biological mom to be a part of his life journey. She has stopped contacting them, but they have a box of keepsakes to send to her when she is ready.
This same family fostered two sisters - at the time, only a baby and a one year old when they came to live in their home. Again, the biological mom, who is single, had difficulty with mental illness and stress due to parenting five children in her mid-twenties. She became pregnant while her five children were in care and the new baby also came into care briefly. During this journey, the girls’ mother would often blame others for her children being in care and had a difficult time taking responsibility for her own decisions. She hot lined the foster parents a few times for unsubstantiated reasons, which made it difficult for the foster parents and her to continue communicating. However, they continued to love the girls and were faithful with assisting with weekly visits with their mother. Eventually, mom started maturing, taking responsibility and making better decisions. After three years in care, the girls were reunited with their mother and the relationship between she and the foster parents has grown tremendously. The biological mom calls them for support almost daily. They have helped her with getting her other children back by anonymously helping her financially with utilities, etc. This family has gone ABOVE AND BEYOND many times over. They truly understand their role is to love these children as their own and support the relationship between the children and their parents, which at times is very challenging.
Parenting together as a one team:
Foster and biological. Bobby was taken into custody for parental drug abuse and placed in a foster home. Both parents served prison time after the removal. Bobby was placed with Mary and Joe. During his time with this family, they were able to establish rules, boundaries and routine for Bobby and he did very well. He had not had structure or consistency in his parent’s home. Susan, his mother, was released from prison and hit the ground running on doing everything she needed to do to get Bobby back. Susan really bonded with Mary and this made for an easy transition for Bobby to return home. The weekend prior to Bobby going home, Mary and Joe had a party for Bobby and Susan and asked those invited to bring Bobby’s favorite food and snacks. They collected a ton of Bobby’s favorite things and all of this went home with him and Susan so that this would be one less thing Susan would have to do. The cookie cake at the party read “Congratulations Bobby and Susan.” Susan and John, Jacob’s father, who is now also back in the home, have been able to utilize some of the tools used by the foster parents with Bobby at home. Mary and Joe will also be watching Bobby over the Thanksgiving holiday while John and Susan work. It is amazing to watch the bond between Bobby and his parents, between Bobby and Mary and Joe, and between Mary and Susan. This foster family continues to be a support, not only to Bobby, but to the entire family.
GETTING BACK UP AGAIN
Supporting a biological mother as she let go of the old way to embrace life again.
One of the strongest people I know is a biological mother whom I have had the opportunity to work with through foster care case management. Rebecca’s sons entered care due to parental drug use after her youngest son, Billy, was born drug exposed. Rebecca has struggled off and on with drug addiction since her late teens. Her drug of choice is heroin. Rebecca had a previous case with Children’s Division when her daughter, Nicole, was very young. Nicole subsequently was placed in a guardianship arrangement with her maternal grandparents. In the past, Rebecca had a stint of 2 ½ years clean time when she discovered that she was pregnant with her oldest son, Harry. However, Rebecca had a strong attachment to her children’s father, Matt, who initially introduced her to heroin. During her 2 ½ years of clean time, Matt was incarcerated. Upon his release, Rebecca relapsed. When I first met with Rebecca and Matt, I could immediately tell that they were both feeling hopeless. Rebecca was able to enter inpatient drug treatment within the first month of her case. Sadly, while Rebecca was in treatment, Matt took his own life. Upon Rebecca’s release from treatment she went to live at a sober living home in St. Louis where she remained for 3 months. Eventually, she found employment in Franklin County and decided to move in with her sister to be closer to her work and children. Rebecca celebrated 6 months clean on Matt’s’ birthday. She reported that it was a bittersweet day. While we don’t know why Matt decided to commit suicide, we can speculate that he felt that was his only way to escape the chains of addiction. Rebecca and I have discussed that all we can hope for is that he finally escaped that pain. Rebecca has openly admitted that she would not be clean today if Matt were still here. So in a way, Matt broke Rebecca’s chains, as well. Today, Rebecca continues her sobriety. She will be 1 year clean in December! Also, she started trial home placement with Billy and Harry this week. I’m so beyond proud of her! While LFCS has been there to guide Rebecca and support her, she did all the heavy duty work on her own. In addition, Rebecca’s very fortunate to have family and friends who never gave up on her. In reality, they’re the ones who have influenced her success, especially her mom and dad as they were the ones who stepped up to take care of Nicole, Billy and Harry while Rebecca focused on battling her addiction. I strongly believe that Rebecca’s strength will continue to restore her family as they move towards a brighter future.
A foster mother sees the boy no one else noticed.
16 year old Jack came into care due to what his mother called “crazy behaviors”. Jack had been in two residential facilities and hospitalized on several occasions for uncontrollable behaviors. As we were looking for a therapeutic home, we needed a place for him NOW. Ms. Thompson had another child and we asked her during a holiday weekend to take this child in for respite because we could not find anywhere for him to go. She agreed.
She called us after the holiday and asked if she could give it a try with Jack, because what she read on paper did not seem like the child standing in front of her. One year later Jack is still in her home, he is stable, and attending school on a regular basis. He has not been in the hospital, and he has been taken off all his medications. He is thriving in this nurturing environment. Ms. Thompson saw something in him, that others had missed, and taught us all about looking past what we see in black and white.