Over the past 11 years, a succession of children - some in diapers and some in high school - have come to stay in my home for varying amounts of time. They are the children most Americans think of only at Christmas time or while watching a tear-jerking movie. Maybe in May - National Foster Care Month - they register a little stronger. They are the ones who are indistinguishable from your own children except for the fact that they have been removed from their birth families and placed with strangers. I am one of those strangers.
Foster parents choose to take in children for any number of reasons; I like to think that altruism is high on the list. I foster out of gratitude for the healthy, wonderful child I gave birth to and because of a deep-seated belief that every child deserves to be loved. Of course some children are easier to love than others. And while fostering children allows you to embrace each one, it also requires you to let go. That has not gotten easier over the years.
Our first placement was an abandoned newborn baby girl, so small and sweet and requiring the care that any newborn needs. I held her and fed her and rocked her and cooed to her through the long nights and the even longer days after her teenage mother was located. I loved her while the justice system worked to reunite her with her birth mother, and eventually packed up all her little clothes and stuffed animals. I placed them in the social worker's car before gently slipping the baby into a car seat. I waved and wept as she was driven back to be reunited with the mother who was so young and scared that she had left her own baby in a church.
Since then, my family's life has been enriched by babies who have grown into toddlers in our care, by youngsters who cried themselves to sleep at night, by the second grader who couldn't believe he had a bed all to himself, and by the teenager who has grown into a man with a law degree. Greeting each one is fraught with anxiety; saying goodbye is heart-rending. And yet, who among us doesn't have some extra love and care for a child in the most extreme circumstances? Why is it that lines of good-hearted people aren't forming to train to be foster parents? Or, if fostering is too much, there are opportunities to mentor or send care packages to older foster youth through the Orphan Foundation of America.
And far away, in Arizona, a new kind of foster child is being created as illegal immigrants are deported as their American-born children huddle in despair. Who will care for them? In addition to all the other reasons that the new law is unjust, did anyone spend time thinking about the children whose parents are taken away while they are in school?
Slightly less than half a million children and young people are in foster care at any time in America. They want the same things your children want - to be loved, to be protected, to feel secure. The "system" they enter through no fault of their own is only as good as the people who keep it going - the social workers, administrators, elected officials, and foster parents. During National Foster Care Month, won't you consider opening your home and heart to a child in need? One of the lives you change may well be your own.