My name is Caroline Parker, my father grew up in foster care and I truly believe that knowing how to support foster parents is the most important thing the world needs to know about foster care.
In 2014 I befriended a foster mom and advocate named Kristy at a local bounce house. She had a baby in her arms. Given my dad’s background of being in foster care, as well as my dear friend’s adoption from Haiti, I didn’t want to assume anything. So I asked, “The baby is beautiful! Is he your son, foster son, or are you a nanny? Cause there is no easy way to ask all the questions here. But he’s beautiful!”. Kristy appreciated my candor and told me that the child in her arms was her foster son. Feeling inspired, I began to share the story of my dad, who at the age of 4 was taken from his mother’s care due to alcoholism.
After meeting Kristy, I became involved in foster care by volunteering my time to love and serve Kristy and her family. I just showed up. I asked what was needed, I prayed, I wept, and some days I just did dishes. I knew from the stories my dad had shared that foster children needed consistency and their caregivers/foster parents needed all the help they could get. So I just started showing up.
“I loved to go to the West’s after church on Sunday because I liked the smell of their home and I liked to sit at the table with them and eat barbecued chicken with biscuits and green beans and corn. I knew I was not a part of the family, but it sure was nice to just be there and be close to it and see a family happening. As a foster child, I hadn’t seen that before up close. It felt real good and I went every chance I got. But, I didn’t want to “wear out my welcome” as Aunt Sadie said. “It’s alright to go once in a while, but not all the time. They won’t want you to come at all if you go too much.” That was the trick that kept me on edge a little; how do you know when it is too much. I would never want to risk going too much and have them get tired of me. That would be terrible. I set some rules for myself. I would never go two Sundays in a row. I would always help in any way I could. I helped with the dishes. I was never loud. I made sure they never had to call me down.
I did ask a lot of questions, but I watched Miss Alieens’ eyes and Mr. Hermans’ eyes to see if they were irritated and I’d stop asking questions. I’d listen to their voices, too. You can hear things in a voice sometimes before you see it in the eyes. It’s just that little strain or pitch that goes up a little. I guess that was it, I don’t really know how I knew, but I knew. I guess I had learned that at the foster homes I was at for several years.”
My dad’s background as a foster kiddo in the 60’s is probably what spurred me on to help out with Kristy and her foster family. I remember him sharing a story about a family who would invite him to church and then for supper afterwards. However, his Aunt Sadie, who eventually took him in after he had been in the system for years, told him to not over-stay his welcome with that kind family and that he only should go every other week. My dad wanted to be humble and liked by this family, so he did just that.
For me this story from my dad empowered me to create a place of safety and consistency for my foster parent friends and their kids. I want them to feel that they don’t have to BE or DO anything. I believe that these are God’s children, even with the trauma that has made them angry, tired, or just “not like other kids”. I believe that Jesus has welcomed me, the hot mess that I am, into His family, and therefore I want foster children to know they are welcome, as they are, into my family.
If you are reading this and don’t feel like you have the capacity to be a foster parent right now, I want to encourage you to look into helping a foster parent out for an evening or weekend. These parents who advocate and care for children in the system are often exhausted and over worked. Foster parents sometimes need a break to rest, rejuvenate and recharge in order to continue fighting for vulnerable children’s lives. A fun idea that I’ve found is to book a hotel for mom and dad to sleep and connect while their friends drop off food!
I believe if all foster parents had support, like Kristy, they could keep soldiering on. I believe if all foster parents had support, like Kristy, the turnover rates would decrease. If we just show up, all of us, we can all play a part in creating a consistent home that children, like my dad, desire.
Bring toilet paper, diapers, even leftover soup…drop off chocolate or wine, too! Then stay and help out with dishes while the parents bathe the kids and conquer bedtime routines. Just show up, it’s as simple as that.
Caroline, Foster Support/Volunteer