My wife and I had a bit of a whirlwind romance. Both of us were in our mid-30’s and we were starting to feel our age. Neither of us wanted to do the bar scene since we don’t drink and we both hated blind dates (horror stories, anyone??). So, in December 2008 we both joined eHarmony. I joined first. I went on several dates before I was matched with Erin. I met some nice folks. No crazies or bizzaros. But I didn’t click with anybody. By the time I reached the end of January, I was burned out (and nearly broke from paying for all those dates!), so I decided to turn off my notifications for a little bit and try again later. I purchased a year’s membership and was in no rush.
Meanwhile, Erin joined in late February during a free sign-up period with a goal of meeting new people and being more social. Her first match was with a dude who wanted to rush the conversation and meet quickly because his free trial was about to expire. She got the heebee-jeebees from him and decided to take a pass. Besides, he was clearly cheap.
I restarted my notifications in mid-March. The very morning I restarted, Erin was the third option on my list of matches. She had such a sweet face and her profile seemed a perfect match. I hit the “Initiate Contact” button to see if she were interested in talking.
What I didn’t know was that thirty miles away I was her first option on her list the same morning and she thought the same of me. She also clicked the “Initiate Contact” button. We wrote through eHarmony for a week, talked on the phone for a week, and then met for our first date on April 4, 2009. We were married on October 31. 2009.
Pardon the lack of details and the time jumps, but I will post more of our story in a later post. In 2011 we learned that we would not be able to have children due to infertility issues. We spent thousands of dollars on procedures that were not covered by our insurance. But most severely, Erin’s body had to undergo the extreme stress of the hormones and medications that threw her body into emotional turmoil. With each passing month, when the pregnancy test came back negative, it was like mourning the death of a child. I tread lightly at first, but I finally had to confront Erin with the possibility that we would never have a child of our own. After many tears and restless nights comforting each other, we decided to foster-to-adopt.
Here we are in 2017 with four beautiful children, all of whom we adopted. Phillip and Carl we fostered first beginning April, 2013. Phillip was 6 and Carl was 5. Rosie came to us in 2013. We picked her up from the hospital when she was three weeks old. Her first weeks of life were spent in the neonatal intensive care unit. Jon, the biological brother of Phillip and Carl, came to live with us in April, 2014 when he was 5. We officially adopted Phillip, Carl, and Jon in November, 2016. Rosie’s adoption has just been finalized in early 2017. Again, full adoptions will be in later posts!
When we hear of couples who struggle having children we often ask them to consider fostering. Usually we hear the same excuses: “I can’t take the emotional toil of having children move around; I can’t deal with the issues foster children have; I have to have my own children; etc.” We politely smile and tell them if they want to reconsider they can call us.
Fostering has been a huge blessing to our family. We could easily have lived our lives in peace and quiet without ever having had children. The problem was we knew we were born to be parents. That was our mission, our purpose in life.
I decided to write this post to help any perspective foster parents as they try to decide if this life-changing experience is worth it to them. So, I present to you the Top 5 Reasons You Need to be a Foster Parent:
1) Every child deserves a stable, loving home.
On any given day, and average 428,000 children are in foster care. The number fluctuates because children come into care or leave the system for a variety of reasons. While the primary goal of foster care is to reunite the children with their birth families, some children are not able to return home. These children will be available for adoption once their parents’ rights are terminated by the court. This process can take years. When tragedy strikes a family and social services feels a child must be removed from a home, a qualified relative is sought after first. If no immediate and acceptable relation can be found, the child is placed in a foster home.
Foster children have experienced the trauma of being pulled away from the only family they have ever known. This will be a time of healing. Whether the child stays with a foster family for a couple of nights or a couple of years, the child will need the love and support of a family during this difficult time.
Our first two placements came to us on the same day in July, 2012. One was a three year-old girl who had been in eight different foster homes due to her biological mother moving around so much. The other was an 18 month old boy. Neither was related to the other. Our initial hope was to adopt the children, but we lost the boy after a month when relatives were found in another state and the little girl left us six months later when the birth mother relinquished her rights to a couple she knew. I’ve had so many people tell me they couldn’t bear the thought of having a foster child taken away from them. The emotional stress would be too much. Yet I pose this question: “Is it better for an adult to suffer the sense of loss due to the removal of a foster child or for a child not the experience the love and care of a family during their desperate hour of need?” The needs of the children must always come first.
2) Foster care costs are covered by the state and federal government.
Foster families receive stipends each month to cover the cost of care for each child. The total available varies by state and by the age of the child. Foster children who are considered therapeutic (the care for these children can be intense due to being medically fragile or the need for intense therapy) receive a much larger supplement. Therapeutic foster parents must undertake much more extensive training than regular foster parents. Foster children are covered by Medicaid and they qualify for free breakfast and lunch through the public school food service program. For infants, WIC benefits are provided to cover the cost of formula for infants and basic food items for the child until the age of 5. Erin and I used the WIC program for formula, but once our kids moved to solid foods we stopped using this benefit.
In North Carolina, children who are in foster care past the age of 13 are eligible for free tuition at any UNC system school should the child meet the qualifications of enrollment. Foster children may remain in the system and continue to receive benefits up the age of 21.
3) Fostering is a great path to adoption.
For many prospective parents, private adoption is out of reach. Costs can quickly sore into tens of thousands of dollars. I have heard of the drama of surrogates who decide at the last minute to keep their babies, even though the court fights could drag on for years.
If you wish to adopt children, fostering can be a godsend. First, if you just wish to adopt a child without fostering, you can let the social workers know that you are interested only in adopting. There are thousands of children currently awaiting adoption. However, your chance of adopting an infant without fostering is slim to none. Keep this in mind: The primary goal of foster care is to reunite children with their birth families. If that reunification is not possible, the court will release the child for adoption. Infants come into care frequently. If you hope to have the full parenting experience from birth though adulthood you are going to have to foster first, work toward reunification with the birth family, and then adopt if the reunification doesn’t work out. I realize this may scare you to pieces. But this is how we came to adopt our daughter. We know of many other foster families in the same situation. They took in an infant, worked with the system, and then adopted when the court allowed it. I’ll be upfront: You may lose the child. It is very well possible that the child you raise from infancy eventually returns to the birth family. You can not work to sabotage the effort at reunification. Instead, you must work with the social workers and see where the cards fall. Despite the risks, I still believe foster-to-adopt is the best way to adopt an infant.
Adopting a child with special needs, a sibling group, a child past the age of 8, or a child from a minority ethnic group entitles the adoptive family to continue to receive Medicaid as well as the monthly stipend until the child’s eighteenth birthday. Funds are also provided in the event unexpected costs arise such as the need for braces or support services for medical or educational needs.
4) Foster children have done nothing to influence their placement in foster care.
A popular misconception is that foster children exhibit behaviors that forced their placement in the foster care system. This simply is not true. Kids come into foster care because the adults in their lives made bad decisions or had difficult circumstances come their way that put the safety of their children at risk. The kids get caught up in that whirlwind and need a calm and peaceful place to stay so they can begin to heal.
My honest piece of advice: Stop watching Lifetime Movie Network! You’ll see all kinds of over-the-top situations embellished for dramatic purposes. On the whole, fostering is not like that. Kids who exhibit extreme behaviors are placed in therapeutic foster homes where the families have undertaken extensive training. Your foster child will need love and attention to overcome the trauma that they have endured, but you need not expect a holy terror or psychopath will be dropped off on your front porch. Those stories you can see on CSI-SVU, not in your home.
5) Fostering will enrich your life.
If you are even considering foster care, you have a special place in your heart for kids. I work with kids every day of my life, but when I went home to an empty house I didn’t get the feeling of joy and contentment I desperately wanted. After I became a father, my outlook totally changed. I had four munchkins running around the house laughing, playing, and getting on my nerves. I loved it! They crawl in my lap, give me hugs, and break my things. They tell me they love me, fuss with each constantly, and whisper what they dream of doing one day. How can you not love that?
My children breathed life into our home. Those feelings of loss over not having our own children dissipated into nothingness. Our babies love us and we love them as much as if they were born from our bodies. You can’t buy an experience like that. Share your heart with a child and you’ll reap the joys until your time on this earth is over.
I am a fortunate man. Just when I feared facing middle age and the dread of continuing to come home to an empty house, I met the woman who would become my wife. Now we have a beautiful family than no one can tear apart. It’s a blessed life and we are grateful for it each and every day.
If children are your dream, your destiny, your greatest desire, give fostering a chance. I totally understand the desire to have biological children. I felt that draw as well. We have an instinctual desire to create children who will carry on our names and our family traditions. If life throws you a curve ball by not allowing you to have children of your own, just remember that there are thousands of kids right this second who would love to call you Mom or Dad. All you have to do is open your heart to the possibility that someone could offer you unconditional love in return. Make it happen. Become a foster parent. It will be the greatest experience of your life.