As a veteran former teacher of twenty-three years, a Florida Guardian ad Litem, advocating on behalf of children in the foster care system, and a mother, I have a heart for children. I miss my work as a Florida Guardian ad Litem. I volunteered as an advocate for children who found themselves in the foster care system. Last week, I wrote about how to recognize and report child abuse in part one of this two-part column. This week’s column is part two: helping children who are removed from their families by becoming a foster parent.

The State of Mississippi has a shortage of foster parents. Foster parents are individuals or married couples who complete the steps to become licensed to serve as caretakers for children in the foster care system. They work with birth families and hope changes are made that will allow the children to return to a safe home. Foster parents may choose to adopt the children if reunification with their families isn’t possible.

These families provide a safe and stable environment for children who may be experiencing stress and trauma from recent life changes. They receive a monthly reimbursement to help offset the cost of caring for children. Social workers visit the home on a regular basis to provide services and support to the children and family.

(The following statistics are from iFoster.org and Children’s Home Society)

There are approximately 424,000 kids in the United States foster care system.

The average age of foster child is 6 ½ years old.

Over 20,000 foster kids age out of the foster care system between the ages of 18 – 21 each year. They are left to find a way to support for themselves without the help of an adoptive family. Many of these will find themselves homeless and unemployed.

70 percent of foster kids would like to go to college. However, only 3% of foster youth who age out of the foster system earn a college degree.

One in four foster kids won’t graduate (or get a GED).

One in 2 who age out of the foster care system will have a substance dependence.

According to the Adoption Network, in the United States, 1 in 3 people consider adopting at some point in their life, but only 2% of them actually adopt.

I had the privilege of speaking with Ripley resident, Beth Benson, about her journey as a foster parent. Beth wears many hats. She’s a Career Coach for Union County School District & the CREATE Foundation. She is also the owner of Beth’s Bungalow, one of my favorite shops on the square in Ripley.

Beth is also Youth Director at Ripley First United Methodist Church, and is a Foster Parent.

When I asked Beth to share what she wanted my readers to know about being a foster parent, this is what she said:

“I would get too attached” or “I could never do that” or "You’re a better person than I am” or my personal favorite, “You need to guard your heart.” As a foster mom, these are statements I hear every single day (and these are the positive remarks). I also hear things like “What’s her real mom’s story?” And, “Is she a drug baby?” And, “This is great practice for when you have your own kids!” And, “Oh, she’s leaving? Well, you can just get another one!”

Foster care is HARD! And replying to these types of comments is even harder. I love having these hard conversations, though! I LOVE getting too attached. Everyone who has ever been born deserves someone that is “too attached”! I get so attached that it almost kills me inside when they have to leave me and go back. But that pain has never once led to any sort of regret. Never.

I have been fostering for a little over three years now, and these three years have held the most joy and the most sorrow that I have ever experienced. Nine children have lived in my house. A few have stayed for a couple of nights, several have stayed for a few months, and one even stayed for over a year. I have had toddlers, babies, and am currently fostering the most precious infant I’ve ever laid eyes on. From the moment I get the call from a social worker until the moment they have to leave my house, I make sure that I love them - every single one of them - with the biggest love they could ever receive. I tell them how special they are and how purposeful their lives will be. I sing them to sleep and read them lots of books. Wherever I go, they go. They are part of our family. Even after they leave I try to keep in touch with them the best way I can.

The system is broken. Dealing with CPS is not the most fun thing I get to do in my life. Having my house judged monthly on safety and having to take unhelpful training classes are not my favorite pastimes. Meeting birth parents who are on drugs or have malnourished their children would not make it onto my bucket list. But I would do these things ten times over in order to be able to see my baby’s smile when she sees me! I could talk for days about the in’s and out’s of the system, but, in the end, it isn’t really about the system. It’s about people. It’s truly about LOVING people.

To those who have said that I should “guard my heart,” I say this: Guarding our hearts is what we do to protect ourselves from things that could harm us. I don’t need protection from these children- they are not harming me! When my life is over, I don’t want to have once ounce of love left to give! And fostering is how I want to use every ounce up!”

Beth, you are a very inspiring person. I’m proud to call you my friend! It is my hope that your testimonial will inspire other would-be foster parents to say “yes” to a child who desperately needs them.

Foster Parenting Information

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to help you decide if becoming a foster parent is right for you, as provided by the Mississippi Child Protective Services website.

Am I eligible to become a Foster Parent?

Mississippi Foster Parents are people who:

Are legal Mississippi residents.

Can pass a criminal background check.

Are at least 21 years old.

May be legally married or legally single.

Have no more than four children living in the home.

Are financially self-supporting.

What should I know about Foster Parenting?

The goal for most children in foster care is to be reunited with their parents. Foster families work with birth parents to achieve this goal. The length of time a child will stay with you depends on many factors. It could be for a few days, a few months, or much longer. It is important to note that medical and dental costs are covered for children in foster care. Teens in foster care are eligible for programs to help them learn life skills and may be eligible for some college financial assistance.

Different types of Foster Care:

Emergency/Respite Care: A child may be in need of short-term placement for various reasons. Respite care is available when Fesource Parents need a break for a short period of time, become ill, or have an emergency. Also, some children need to be quickly placed in a safe home until a more long-term placement can be arranged.

Regular Foster Care: Regular care entails a family home where a child will live as part of the family until the birth family is reunited with the child or the child is freed for adoption.

Therapeutic Foster Care: Some children need more specialized care due to medical, emotional, or developmental issues. Therapeutic Foster Parents obtain a special license that certifies their ability to care for children with special needs. This license is granted through private agencies. MDCPS can assist you in finding a local therapeutic provider: at 1-800-821-9157 to get a listing of Therapeutic Foster Care agencies.

Questions to ask yourself:

How is caring for a foster child different from caring for my own child? In many ways it is the same. Foster children need to know that you will be there for them no matter what. Foster children may have different experiences than your own children and need an additional level of care. They need you to teach them new skills, help them cope with new experiences, and support them through the transition of being in foster care.

Will I be “rescuing” a child from an abusive or neglectful parent? Many people may believe the child will be grateful and relieved to be out of their home situation. This is rarely the case. The child’s situation is normal to him or her, and being separated from family can be traumatic and stressful. Children often need time to establish trust.

What about children who have been neglected or physically, sexually, or mentally abused? These children can be angry, resentful, and sad. They may act out or take it out on their foster family. The agency provides training to help foster parents work with these situations. Are you able to help teach children alternative ways to cope with stress while not taking their words and actions personally?

Are you willing to have social workers come into your home? Can you work in a partnership with a team of professionals to help the child either get back home or to another permanent placement such as adoption? This requires excellent communication skills as a parent and a commitment to follow the plan set forth by the social worker, agency, and courts.

What types of children can you parent at this time? Consider the age and gender of a child. You will be given choices on what behaviors and special needs you feel you can or cannot parent at this time. Be aware that the agency is not always aware of a child’s behaviors at the time of placement. Also know that children meeting your specifications may not be in immediate need of placement. So, being open to parent children in the following age ranges (0-5, 6-11 and 12-18) is how we prefer to license a home.

Could I be a successful Foster Parent?

Do you have current or previous experience parenting or working with children?

Do you have the time and willingness to be involved in the life of a child?

Do you feel comfortable providing care for a child who may have been raised in an abusive or unstable environment and needs time to establish trust?

Do you feel comfortable helping a child emotionally cope with life changes?

Are you able to provide consistent, loving, and stable parenting to children who may test boundaries?

Who are the children most in need of stable foster homes?

Teens

Sibling groups (of three or more children)

Children who have been sexually abused

Children with psychological/developmental issues

Children who need to be taught new coping mechanisms (children who act out aggressively or sexually)

Children with medical needs

Pregnant girls and/or teen mothers

Sexually active children

Some people are motivated and moved to action by statistics and others need inspiration.

The following are inspirational foster care quotes and quotes that can definitely apply to fostering. I hope that as a foster parent, or as someone interested in foster parenting you find some encouraging words today.

“You might be temporary in their lives, they might be temporary in yours. But there is nothing temporary about the love or the lesson.” – Tonia Christle

“Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.” – Fred Rogers

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” – Josh Shipp

“Unconditional love is not based on the performance of the receiver, but on the character of the giver.” – Jack Frost

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“You may be in our home for a season but you’ll be in our hearts forever.” – Unknown

“I always questioned whether I was ready to adopt. Then I realized, no child was ready to be an orphan.” –Unknown

The Truth about Foster Care:

Inspiration is nice, but with the ever increasing foster parent turnover rate, there’s a need for raw truth. Here’s some quotes that inspire while acknowledging the hard truths and difficulties that one encounters in foster care.

“I am not afraid to grieve. I am afraid of what will happen to these children if no one took the risk to love them.” – Unknown

“The more healthy relationships a child has, the more likely he will be to recover from trauma and thrive. Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.” – Dr. Bruce Perry

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” – Mary Ann Radmacher

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” William Wilberforce

How do I learn more?

Contact 1-800-821-9157 to inquire about becoming a Foster Parent and to request an MDCPS application and/or additional information about private providers.

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