It’s 2am and the phone rings. “Ms. Hawker this is Jill from the Dept of Children Svc and we are looking for placement of 3 children.” As I try to wake up and understand the information being presented I have to process what it will be like to bring more children into our home.
In 1996 we accepted our first foster child with a couple more to follow. After moving a few times and receiving my MA in Marriage and Family Therapy we decided it was time to open our home again. So in 2009 we signed up for the call. The process of becoming a foster parent was a 12 week parenting course that covered everything from child abuse, cultural diversity, working with birth parents and the legal system. My husband and I learned so much about what it means to be parents, even though we already had three birth children. Since our training classes in 2009 we have fostered about 20 children in our home. And have provided respite (temporary care) for several others.
When we receive a call to accept a child, or a sibling group, we know very little about the children. We are told their age, sex and race. If medical issues are known by DCS, we may find out however some families are very reluctant to share. Children have come to us at all hours of the day and night. They generally come with the clothing on their backs and maybe one other outfit. They come hungry, tired and scared. Several children have come to our home with lice, roaches, scabies, foul language, aggressive behavior and most without appropriate discipline. Each child is different and each situation has called for grace, humility and a goal to love the child.
When the paperwork is complete and goodbyes are done by the state worker who brings the child to our home, the child is left with strangers. As a foster family we do our best to let the child know they are safe, they will be fed and no harm will come upon them. The first night especially for little ones is tough. One time we had a 7 year brother lay next to his 4 yr old sister trying to comfort her all the while needing to be comforted himself.
As the days pass there are initial court hearings that the children and I must attend. This is generally my first meeting with the parents. I have had some good experiences and some pretty sad experiences meeting the birth mothers for the first time. If the children are in school, they must be enrolled within about 5 days. Next comes the medical and dental appointments that must be completed within 30 days. After about 2-3 weeks the state will help with getting clothes.
Real life everyday living. Our home is approved for a total of 6 children, my three plus three. Some days get a little wild and crazy. Waking up six kids for school, getting everyone bathed and fed requires an extra dose of coffee in the morning. Homework, afternoon sports, dinner and baths become like a revolving door; it just keeps moving. Our grocery bill increases a bit, our water bill goes up, but God always provides. One year my friend Tamara showed up in the middle of the night with a box of food and toiletries. Others have lent us car seats, given us clothes and provided a listening ear.
As I’ve mentioned I have three children of my own. They are a vital part in everything we do as a foster family. As we are making decisions to accept children we consider not only the physical and emotional; but also the spiritual impact other children will have on our birth children. My children have become very aware of some of the “baggage” that foster children bring. My children have learned to share not only their toys, their home, their parents but also their faith. My children enjoy helping to take care of, mentor and befriend each child that comes into our home. When certain children have left, my kids have asked how they are doing and if they will ever see their friends again.
It’s not easy being a foster parent. The kids don’t always receive love and discipline. The birth parents can be mean and blame us for taking their children. Well meaning friends have questioned why we have those kids in our home. Being a foster parent doesn’t really require any special skills or traits. It does require a few schedule adjustments and a few unknowns. Being a foster parent doesn’t require major financial burdens, the state will help along the way. It does require an extra couple meals and a few extra loads of laundry. Being a foster parent doesn’t require a big house with a big front yard. It does require space in your heart to love one created by God. Being a foster parent doesn’t require being perfect it just requires being a parent to a child.
I agree not everyone is called to be a foster parent. So you may ask how you can help. Pray for a foster family. The beginning of a school year tends to bring awareness to the plight of children and more come into the foster system. Consider helping a foster family with school supplies, diapers, formula, whatever God lays on your heart. Consider emailing or sending a card to a foster family. Consider making a special package for the birth children, sometimes they feel left out. There are so many ways to support foster families and the children they serve. With over 1,200 foster children between Knox, Blount and Sevier County the need is definitely present to get involved.
Today I sit watching over 3 blond headed, green eyed boys and 2 of the most compassionate children I have ever met.
Isaiah 58:7 NLT “Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them…”
James 1:27 NLT “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows…”
I am also drawn to a small little word tucked in 1 Timothy 3:2..”hospitable”.
Thank you for letting me share my journey. It’s just a small part of who I am but I believe it’s making big marks on the hearts of the children we serve in our home.