|honoring Dr. Deb Shropshire|
For whatever reason, I was called to the world of social work and child welfare immediately following my college graduation. In fact, I was offered, and then accepted, my first adult job before even graduating college. Armed with a degree in journalism, a desire to change the world, and wide-eyed optimism, I began my career in social work at the age of 22.
A lot of people didn't expect me to last a year. But I did. I lasted just under two years in permanency before accepting a job recruiting and retaining foster parents and adoptive parents. I still can't tell you why I took a job in child welfare. It doesn't make any sense.
I never really knew about the orphan crisis or the need for foster care growing up. I knew people who were adopted but that was about it. Still, I always had a desire to help people. I wanted to make a difference and had dreams of owning a ranch on the beach where kids with nowhere else to go could live.
Looking back, I now know that the dream was placed on my heart by God. He has called me to social work, to foster care, to standing in the gap and doing something that looks odd to a lot of people. He has taken a girl who grew up never knowing abuse or neglect and decided that she is to be the mother to countless children who have suffered countless hurts.
I've often wondered why I want to foster. We get asked that question a lot. I don't think there's a really good answer for it. And I don't necessarily think it's something we just want to do. Rather it's something that we feel we have to do.
One of the speakers at the Foster Care Forum said something that has stuck with me. To be fair, ALL the speakers said things that have stuck with me. But there's one thing that has stuck with me more.
It was a story told by a woman who ventured into foster care by taking a child home from the shelter for the Christmas holiday and then took two other children home for a weekend. She talked about the kids they cared for and how their stories touched she and her husband. And then she said this "I realized that no one else was coming." (Thank you, Susan Binkowski, for this.)
Right now, in Oklahoma, there are over 10,000 child in state custody. Over 10,000 children who have been neglected or abused and sometimes both. Over 10,000 children who won't sleep in their own homes. Over 10,000 children who won't wake up tomorrow morning with their birth parents.
And no one is coming for them. Social workers will seek out family members to take the children. And if there aren't family members, they will look for other people those children may know like teachers or friends. About half of the children in state custody will be placed with kinship foster families - these families who get calls in the middle of the night and of the day begging that they take placement of children who only want their mom and their dad. These families who will care for these children and try to make sense of why they're put in this position and try to figure out how they will pay the bills and feed extra mouths.
But what about the other children? The ones who don't have any relatives who can be approved or any other non-relative connections who are willing to take them. For them, no one else is coming.
People need to come. People need to open up their lives and invite in the mess that is foster care. People need to open their eyes and see the devastation that exists. And that's why we're fostering.
We're one of the foster families that is considered a kinship foster family. We're not related to the kids we're taking in, but we know them. We know their story. And when we heard they didn't have a place to go, we contacted OKDHS and said we would take them.
Our classes started on Saturday. It's the second time I've taken the classes. I took them a little over a year ago for my job, and so I was a bit bored on Saturday. I knew the material, had seen the videos, and I was just going through the motions.
We broke for lunch and went to a little Mexican restaurant. On the way to the restaurant, I commented to my husband that I wish we had invited the couple sitting next to us to have lunch with us. They aren't kinship. They're one of the ones welcoming in children they know nothing about, and I wanted to talk with them more.
God had other plans, and just after we ordered our food, we noticed a couple who was in our class sitting down at another booth. And we invited them to eat with us.
They were a kinship foster family and had taken in three children of the wife's sister. They were tired and broken down and in need of support. They needed someone who understood and were trying to wrap their minds around how they ended up as a kinship foster family. So we talked for over an hour. We let them spill their hurts and their frustrations and tried to offer some sort of support, some knowledge. We just tried to love them and tell them that we got it.
I realized then how much God has done to bring me to this place. I saw His sovereignty as we were able to be there for this family, to be the church to them and to stand in the gap along side them.
Foster care is hard. And it hurts. It makes you realize all the things about yourself that you ignore. It ostracizes you from society. People start to look at you differently. And you will lose friends.
You will always just be the foster family. You'll be the safe place for a child to sleep, but they will likely always want their parents. You will be the one to deal with anger and rage following a visit. You will also be the one to say positive things about a birth parent after they miss or cancel a visit. You will invite a child into your family and your life all the while knowing that they will choose their birth family over you.
You may not be considered a real parent. People may call you just a foster mom or a foster dad. And it will hurt. Because it's true and because you miss those kids, as difficult as they are, every single time they choose their birth family over your family.
But you will do it. You will do the sleepless nights and the angry outbursts and the parents who think you are trying to take their children. Because if you don't... then who will?
And, as Megan Dunham said, if it doesn't hurt so much then you haven't done it right.