Have you ever thought about fostering? If so, you’re not alone: According to a 2017 survey, approximately 28% of adults have considered becoming a foster parent.
But while plenty of people wonder if fostering is for them, far fewer take the steps to get involved. Of Florida’s approximately 7.9 million households, only 7,600 (or about 0.1%) are licensed foster homes. It’s easy to tell yourself that you’re not ready, that it’s not something you can fit into your life, or that some other family is better for the job.
The reality? There’s no such thing as the “perfect time” or the “perfect family” for fostering –only families who are willing to give it a try.
That was Rebecca Farmer’s experience. Rebecca was a teacher when she found out that one of her students (we’ll call her “Leah”) was in the middle of a serious crisis.
Before enrolling in school, Leah and her younger sister, “Mariah,” had been abandoned by their birth mother who could no longer care for them. After intervention from the Department of Children and Families, the children were placed with a relative. But one day that relative came to school asking Rebecca for help. Could she take care of Leah, the older girl? Did she know anyone else who could?
Right away, Rebecca knew she couldn’t stand by and watch the sisters be separated. She and her husband, J.J., got in touch with Embrace Families, Central Florida’s lead nonprofit agency overseeing foster care, and volunteered to take both Leah and Mariah.
Although the Farmers originally planned on a short-term foster placement, it soon became clear that the girls would be staying for a while. After their birth mother’s recovery plan fell through, the Farmers adopted the sisters for good.
But that’s not the end of the story: Leah and Mariah had an older brother, “Joshua,” who was living with his grandfather. Their relationship was rocky – and after Joshua acted out “one time too many,” his grandfather said enough was enough. He told Joshua to find his own way and moved to Tennessee, leaving the teenager alone in Orlando with nowhere to go.
When the Farmers heard Joshua’s story, they knew their job wasn’t done yet. Once again, they contacted Embrace Families and offered to take him in.
It was a rough transition at first. But just over a year after moving in with his new family, Joshua’s doing much better. He’s bringing up his grades, settling in with his sisters, and changing his outlook. Most of all, he knows his new home isn’t like the one that left him behind – and he’s willing to give trust a second chance.
Not everyone who fosters ends up adopting like Rebecca and J.J. – in fact, most don’t. More often, we’re called to be a stepping-stone for children. We give them a secure space to grow and heal before they’re reunified with their parents or placed with a caring adoptive family.
My husband and I, for example, provide “respite” or emergency care for teenage boys. Most of the time, the children we foster stay in our home for less than a week. In the last year, we haven’t had any long-term placements … but when a child is going through a crisis and needs a safe home for the night, we’re the ones who get the call.
Whether you’re looking to foster, adopt, mentor or volunteer, there’s no wrong way to get involved. As long as you’re willing to take that first step, you’re already making a difference – so choose a path that’s right for your family’s needs, experiences and goals.
Fostering is sometimes called “the hardest thing you’ll never regret.” But while caring for children brings unique challenges, remember that you don’t have to face those challenges alone. A support network of case workers and fellow foster parents will be ready to step in and lend a hand.
Most important, never forget how powerful an impact one family can have. By opening your heart and home to youth whose lives are in crisis, you can do your part to fight the problems of homelessness, poverty and substance abuse – building stronger families and futures for Florida’s children.
For more information about the different ways to help, visit www.EmbraceFamiles.org.
Christina Wilson is an incident report manager for Embrace Families.