From Fear to Success
Jen and Denny were first turned onto fostering by a good friend who was a Foster Care Navigator. After several years of prodding, they felt they were ready to jump in and have been fostering since 2017. Together, Jen and Denny have 3 biological children, 2 adopted children, and 2 foster children – most of whom are in high school or college.
Starting out, Jen’s biggest fear came when they made the decision to foster children whose parental rights hadn’t been terminated. She wondered how they would be sure the kids were going back to a safe environment and worried about the difficulties of maintaining a lasting relationship with the children and parents. In the last three years, Jen has worked hard to build and maintain a supportive relationship with families as opposed to being “that lady who has my kids.” When applicable, Jen tries to supervise visits so that she can have an established relationship with families. For example, on Christmas Day, Jen supervised a visit in her own home so that the mother and child could celebrate together in a warm and comfortable setting. Jen says “a little bit of compassion goes a long way.”
Now, as that same case moves toward reunification, Jen and Denny are working with the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to find out what they can do, what services can they help with to transition the foster child home safely. Jen anticipates that reunification won’t be the end of their relationship with this family – because they were willing to put in the work to make that connection.
PUT ON YOUR OWN OXYGEN FIRST
One thing that Jen wanted to highlight for other foster families is the reality of secondary trauma. She drew the parallel to flying, when the flight attendant is preparing for take off and tells you to put on your oxygen first, as if you don’t you won’t be able to help your family put theirs on. If families become too bogged down in the situations they are facing and don’t take the time for self-care it can negatively impact everyone involved. Jen says to “listen to your body.” One important part of self-care is building a strong support network. While families are required to have a substitute caregiver, Jen recommends having several. Fostering is a significant time commitment and having even a few hours of supplemental care can be a huge help – especially with teens with busy schedules!
Jen shared that feelings of frustration or discouragement are normal, and turned back to that message of listening to your body. She said, “if something feels not right, odds are it’s not right.” She encourages families to be an advocate for themselves, or if they can’t, to find someone to advocate for them. She reminds that the process is long, and to try to be patient, but says “not too patient”, and that checking in and asking if it feels like something is taking a long time can be good too.