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‘If not me, then who?’ Calling attention to National Foster Care Awareness Month

Did you know that the month of May is National Foster Care Awareness Month? It’s true! Bearing that in mind, before the month runs out, The Crossroads Chronicle, along with a special family in the community, are proud to present this special piece to bring awareness to foster care and the ways people can play a part in enhancing the lives of children of all ages who are in the foster care system.

Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Jennifer Bell. My husband, Corbin, and I have been fostering for 11+ years. We have also hosted several information sessions locally in hopes to have more homes open to fostering. We plan on resuming those sessions as soon as COVID will safely allow. We have learned so much over the years while fostering, and this article is to share some of that information to bring awareness to the foster care system and to give a glimpse into why we do what we do.

Let’s start with the most basic question: What is foster care? Foster care is a system in which a minor child is placed with a safety resource such as an approved relative, group home, or state-approved, private, residential home. The child is usually removed from parents/guardians due to abuse, neglect, and/or living in an unsafe environment. The child remains in care until the parent(s) can maintain a safe environment for the child. Reunification of the child to the parent is the primary goal when a child enters into the foster care system. If reunification is unable to be obtained, the child will be put into adoption status. Our county is in desperate need of safe homes for children to live in while in foster care. Currently, Emanuel County has only five foster homes and 63 children in foster care.

We get asked a lot of questions about being foster parents. I want to highlight a few. I am often asked, “What are some needs that foster homes/children have?” When children come into care, they usually come with very little to no personal items. Therefore, clothing, toiletries, and toys are always needed. Thankfully, Hawhammock Baptist Church has noticed the need and has opened a clothing closet. Carol Steedley, director of the closet, has some clothing, beds and other items available. The church is accepting donations as well. Foster homes always appreciate any help they receive with basic needs.

Another question I usually get is, “Can you work and be a foster parent?” Yes! The state provides childcare for children.

A lot of people wonder if you have to be married to foster, and the answer to that question is no, you do not. Foster parents cannot be discriminated against in any way. Neither marital status, race, religion, nor sexual preference will influence the process of someone becoming a foster parent.

While these are all common questions, the one I get asked most is, “How do you let them go?” I can only answer that from my heart. Kids who come into care do not ask to be put into the situation they are in. They are scared, confused, and honestly feel somewhat lost. It’s up to us to make them feel safe, secure, wanted, and, most importantly, loved. It does hurt when they leave, but to sacrifice a piece of my heart to help a child through the hardest time of their life is worth it. It is up to us to break the cycle of foster care by raising these children to understand better so they, in turn, will be better parents themselves.

Many people usually wonder how children in foster care feel about their time in the system, so I reached out to several children who have been in foster care and asked them questions so you could see their point of view. [Editor’s note: Their names have been omitted for privacy reasons. The questions Bell asked follow below in bold, and the individual’s response follows on the next line.]

- Describe your experience of being in foster care.

When I was in a group home, I heard a lot of bad stories about being in foster care. When I found out we were going into foster care, I was really scared. When we got to our foster home, I was really nervous. Then, I got to know my foster family and I felt safe, like I was part of the family.

- Do you feel like your time in foster care has changed the way you now parent your own child?

Yes. Foster care changed the way I look at life. I know from being in foster care that there is a way to be loving and understanding without abuse. I will parent my child on a whole different level than I was raised. I will break that cycle of verbal, mental, and emotional abuse because I know what it did to me as a child and teenager. My child will have a loving and secure life.

- Do you think the foster home you were in helped you become who you are today? What advice do you have for those who are scared to become foster parents or scared to foster teens?

The foster home I was in definitely helped me become who I am today. My foster parents showed me what it is like to have parental figures that truly care about my success and showed me love, even though I am not biologically theirs. They still encourage me to be the best I can be every day. My advice to those that are scared to become a foster parent is that you can make a big difference to a child’s life, even if you only have them for a few days. The kindness that you show them will always have an impact in their lives. There are so many children out there needing a place to stay and you can make a difference.

In closing, foster care is about building relationships and being a resource while the child is in your care and making life long bonds that will change both you and the child you foster. We have been very touched and proud of the relationships we have built over these past years. I leave you with one question to ask yourself about considering to become a foster parent: “If not me, then who?”

I’m always available to discuss and help anyone wanting to join us on the foster care journey. Should you want to contact me, email me at niferbell@yahoo.com.

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