Hearts of Gold
Published: April 29, 2017
By: Stephanie Rodda
I first heard the phrase at an awards ceremony for foster parents in Jefferson County about 20 years ago. We were each given shiny, heart-shaped keychains with the words “Foster Parents Have Hearts of Gold” engraved on them. I still have that keychain tucked away as a memento of some of the richest years of our lives.
My husband and I fostered for 15 years and had dozens of children enter our home and our hearts. We adopted seven of the children who were originally placed with us as foster children, but there were many other long-lasting relationships that were formed during that time.
For instance, there are three little girls in Georgia who call me Grandmommy. I’m so proud to be a small part of their lives. When their daddy was only a boy, he came to us as a foster child and found a permanent place in our hearts after being with us several years. Adoption was not declared, yet love was declared and lasting bonds were formed.
In Colorado, another of our former foster children lives with her three little sons. I’ve never met them in person, but I care for them because I care for their sweet momma. I have since I first held her, decades ago, when she was just a tiny infant. They are an important part of our extended family, and I am glad they are.
In a nearby Alabama town is a cherished former foster daughter who was adopted by loving parents. We try to stay in touch, sharing prayer requests and concerns, and encouraging each other. She now has two children of her own, a little boy and a girl. She, too, has a permanent place in my heart.
Those are only a few examples of the long-lasting bonds that can be made during what is designed to be a short-term situation. Foster care is intended to be temporary. Foster care is intended to provide a safe place for children while they are displaced. Foster care is intended to be a system that supports the restoration of birth families when possible. Although they are intended, these goals are not always achieved.
When complications occur, which is more often than you might imagine, foster care can become a way of life for some children. Some even “age out” of the system, becoming young adults that are still wards of the state and then on their own without the support a family can provide. Sometimes, reunification is simply not possible. Birth parents might refuse to comply with court orders. Mental illness, incarceration, or even death can be factors in particular cases.
I recently interviewed three current foster parents to gain their insights concerning foster care. I was not surprised to hear that their biggest desire is to see permanency achieved for foster children in a timelier manner. While the goal initially is to reunite families, unfortunately, that is not always achievable. When that is the case, children can be left in limbo; unable to be placed for adoption and therefore, unable to move forward with their lives.
Stephanie Hixon, who has fostered for nearly five years, expressed her concerns:
“Currently, TPR (termination of parental rights) trials may be canceled and rescheduled up to TEN times before the case is finally heard. These kids need permanency, and it needs to happen much faster than it is happening now.”
I couldn’t agree more strongly. In our own family, our oldest son came to us at age eight. He was in and out of foster care from the time he was a young baby. Although his journey happily ended with being adopted, far too many times there is no such happy ending after such lengthy drawn-out cases. No child should be left waiting for years in the system.
While they are waiting, however, they do need a home; a safe place to wait. We often hear about foster parents who misuse the system, mistreat the children, and in my opinion, misrepresent the vast majority of the foster parenting community. While those who are abusive and negligent should certainly be exposed, the fact remains that many foster parents can be scrutinized and criticized while doing their very best within an overwhelmed and faulty system.
Foster parent April Lane shared about the importance of good relations with social workers. She and her husband, Greg, have their first foster placement after raising their young adult children. She speaks highly of their relationship with their social worker, “She is not only our mediator, but she is our mentor as well. She has made this experience as easy as possible.”
Natalie Brumfield and her husband, Matt, have fostered six children and adopted one of those children. They are now in the process of adopting twins they are currently fostering. She shared about the importance of a good support system as foster parents. “My biggest support base is definitely other foster parents,” Brumfield says. “We support each other quickly because we understand each other’s needs in a huge way!”
Hixon also shared some valuable advice concerning receiving offered help. “It’s so tempting for us to say, ‘Oh no, I’m fine!’ when our friends and family ask, ‘What do you need?’ But I have learned that in doing that, I am robbing them of the opportunity to serve. Foster care can be very lonely at times – accept help from those who offer it.”
If you’ve ever considered being a foster parent, there’s never been a greater need for more homes and more hearts that are willing to love without a promise of love returned. That is why it is often said that foster parents have hearts of gold. Get some information. Attend an orientation. You may be surprised to discover the number of ways to get involved.
When asked about what prevents people from being foster parents, Lane added her thoughts. “Knowledge. Most do not understand how it works. I can understand how some could be overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to get approved. Classes, fingerprints, etc.”
Brumfield added, “It is easy to get overwhelmed or even burned out with fostering. However, if you can focus on the wins in each day, or better yet, forget the hard day you just had and move on to the next day – Jesus will give you the strength you need to keep fostering.”
Stephanie Rodda is a local freelance writer and adopted 7 children through the foster care system.