It takes a special person to maintain a selfless perspective while fostering children. In this Huffington Post Gay Voices / RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family®” series installment, contributing writer Beth Hallstrom introduces us to a single father who’s humble approach to fostering is inspirational.
Seasoned foster father Daniel Kerrigan has a simple mantra that helps him cope with the often peripatetic and transient lives of foster children in his care: one day at a time.
The Glenview, Illinois, single dad, 50, works in software development in Chicago and has been a foster dad to seven children since 2001. One of those children, Emmanuel, better known as Emman, so captured Daniel's heart that Daniel adopted him when he was five-years-old. He is now 15.
"He came to me at 12 months. He wasn't even walking yet and the agency had to hurry and finish my certification paperwork so I could take him. They needed a place for him so badly that they brought him to my work. In all the excitement, I left with him and left my wallet on my desk. I stopped at Walgreens to get formula and had no wallet so I had to take him home and go back for the supplies. That was the night I brought my son home," Daniel recalled.
Daniel's foray into foster care began when his sister became certified and welcomed twin girls. The twins had a younger sister, who also came to live with his sister, and then another baby was born to their biological mother.
Daniel said he decided to become a foster parent through Chicago-based Shelter Inc. in hopes of caring for the infant to help keep the family together.
"My sister wanted to adopt the twins but, as it turned out, they were adopted by another couple who lives nearby and my sister adopted the middle girl. It's great that the kids see each other all the time but, unfortunately, they have other siblings they don't know. The baby was taken in by a paternal relative," he said.
"The goal of foster care is always reunification of the family. The reality is that it doesn't happen very often. Our state average is 13% and only one of the seven children I've cared for has been reunited with the biological family. I believe that's why it's so important to recruit and retain good foster parents. There is an immense need," he noted.
Daniel said most of the children in the foster care system in the Chicago are there because of drug issues. Many have been exposed to drugs and are born drug-dependent or with fetal alcohol syndrome. Many also experience breathing problems and other health issues.
"If the government has to step in, you know the family is already in trouble. By far, if the parents can't hold it together, it's because of addiction," he said.
Daniel has a very matter-of-fact approach to the chaotic process of placing children in foster care, always remembering to take life one day at a time.
"Some people complain that the child's caseworker never tells them anything, but that's usually because the caseworker doesn't know anything. There is a crisis and the child is removed and many important facts about the situation are hard to come by.
"The law says they must look for a family member to take the child before he or she can be placed in foster care and it can take some time and effort to locate relatives, especially if they don't live in the area. If a relative is found, his or her house has to go through the same inspection process I went through. Imagine having to get your house up to agency standards when, 24 hours before, you didn't know you were getting a child. There is no clear path from point A to point B," he explained.
"The children often come with harrowing stories of their home lives. You have to listen and slowly piece the whole story together over time. You have to be neutral because the kids don't know what they're describing is wrong. Some of the stories are incredible. I've gotten very good at dealing with the crises and then I fall apart later," Daniel said with a wry chuckle.
Daniel said he is fortunate to have a strong support system behind him made up of his siblings, parents and friends, something he calls a must have for foster parents.
"I remember when my son was younger and he had a seizure. I called 911 then I called my father and he was there before the ambulance. That's been one of the best parts of this experience -- everyone pulling together to help," he said.
Daniel also credits an excellent school system for providing the support services his son and foster children required -- but what the children really need is a sense of permanency and stability.
"That's where one day at a time comes in to play. There are so many things I have no control over, but, while the children are with me, I can give them love and help them deal with their emotional issues. Their lives are so up in the air that you have to be realistic and just give them what they need," he said.
A passionate advocate of foster care and public adoption, Daniel said he also believes the foster system and LGBT community were, "made for each other."
"Being a foster or adoptive parent is one of the greatest things you can do for a child. You can't help but make their lives better just by loving them. There are so many kids who need homes and so many LGBT people who want families. The two fill each other's needs.
"Fostering is a great opportunity to help. Sometimes it's hard work, but I love helping kids and I'm going to continue as long as I can -- one day at a time," he added.
Have you considered building a family through fostering, adopting or weekend hosting? RaiseAChild.US would like to help you. Visit us at www.RaiseAChild.US and RSVP to join us for free, fun and educational RaiseAChild.US events throughout Southern California:
Tues., Dec. 1st 6:30PM to 8:30PM Andaz West Hollywood Hotel
Wed., Dec. 2nd 6:30PM to 8:30PM The Prado at Balboa Park, San Diego
Thur., Dec. 3rd 6:30PM to 8:30PM The Art Theatre of Long Beach
Sun., Dec. 6th 2:00PM to 4:00PM Museum of Art History in Lancaster, CA
RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates, and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the next step to parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US.