By Celia Gnoza
Did you ever want to be a hero? Did you ever wonder if you could ever make a difference in this world? Well you can! Anyone can be a hero by becoming a Foster Parent. Some of the greatest champions in our city are every day people who have chosen to foster children in the care of the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
It’s about caring for a child in need and extending love to a human being
Many of the children come with a history of trauma and the difference you can make is huge.
There are currently many children in the Worcester area alone who are living in foster care. We need your help to provide these children with a safe and loving home.
While it is often the case that children twelve years of age and older wait longer than their younger peers to find an adoptive family, these children never give up hope for a permanent home. Within just the past six months, the Central DCF Region has legalized the adoptions of five children, all placed as teenagers with non-related families. Here are there stories.
Before reaching 15, Tashanna’s birth mother had died and her three younger siblings had been adopted. She always wanted a family but knew that her photo that appeared in the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) manual drew few inquiries. During the spring of 2007, an adoptive couple with no previous children saw her picture in pre-adoptive training and said it was love at first sight.” Tashanna’s adoption worker, her therapist and members from the couple’s church helped to support the placement. The family encouraged Tashanna’s passions and interests while simultaneously introducing her to new opportunities. Tashanna is a well accomplished 16 year old whose parents are so proud that when they talk about her with others, they often well up with tears of joy.
At age 14, Steven had spent several years in foster care. One day, a social worker who knew Steven had thought of him as she was studying a couple for adoption. Steve’s polite manner, his academic ability and his interest in drama “clicked” with the personalities of his two dads, who had no prior parenting experiences. Placement proceeded and once complete, the teen’s worker described the adoption as one of the nicest adoptions he’d ever seen and described Steven as one of the most wonderful young men.
One of five siblings in foster care, Stephany’s aunt became her guardian at a young age. When Stephany was 13, she was living in residential care and a single woman volunteered at the program, and often brought along her dog with her. Stephany’s interaction with the large animal was enthusiastic and positive, and the three began to spend more time together. Although never a parent, the woman eventually inquired about adopting, and a home study was initiated. Again, therapy and a faith based community supported the new family’s relationship beyond placement. With time, patience and flexibility, an endearing love grew, and the teen girl and the single woman (and the dog) who found each other celebrated as family on National Adoption Day.
Gina Doyle and Deb Tambeau, both long term foster parents with the Department, share their experiences and answer a few of the common questions about Foster Care: Why did you decide to do Foster Care?
Gina: The reason I got into it was my two sons left home for different reasons and I wanted to still be a mother. I missed my son so much that I wanted to do for other kids who were missing their parents. We went through the process and got our first child placed with us in 1999 – her name is Keliana. She was just supposed to be a short term placement. She came at 10 months. We had her for a couple of months then we took a baby for 3 weeks who ended up going to a family member. Then we got a call for an emergency weekend and they were 18 months and two and a half. They couldn’t find a home for them right before the weekend and were going to have to be split up but we took them both. We intended to adopt one but after we got the children we fell in love and they stayed. Everyone becomes bonded and becomes a family.
Many people think they can’t do it but a lot of people could be doing this. If you ever even questioned if you could do it – you should try it. The rewards outweigh the challenges. It’s the best thing we ever done – one of the hardest at times – but it’s the best.
Deb: For me, I had been involved with children who had been involved with children who had been abused, abandoned and neglected in my career in law enforcement. That also established my relationship with the Department of Children and Families. I worked with these kids and knew that they were just typical kids who needed security, safety, a family, a home. The need is a one size fits all – even teenagers.
It’s not a job – it’s a family and a lifestyle. You have to do it for the love of kids. The money is to help with the needs of the child. If you have your own kids no one is paying you. The real investment is in the love of the child
Fears about all of the issues that Foster Kids come with:
Barbara: Who is to say that biological kids are not a handful!?
Deb: There are very typical behaviors out there that all kids’ exhibit. Foster kids don’t have the market cornered on all the challenging behaviors.
Deb: A lot of time the ‘special needs’ that these kids come with are more environmental than biological. The child may be fine academically but have struggled in school due to the instability in their lives.
Gina: How can they focus in school when their whole life is falling apart?
Deb: The disruption in a child’s life causes what happens behaviorally and emotionally to our kids. The solution then is to fix the disruption and that’s where foster care comes in. It is to bring that balance back into their lives.
The child might come to you with behavioral problems and diagnoses. But once they are stabilized in that family they become a whole different child. The family can also get them the proper health care which makes a huge difference.
You don’t know what you are getting:
But when you have biological children – you have no idea what they are gong to be like. You may have one child of your own who is quiet child and another who is willful.
What Difference Do You See With These Children Over Time?
Gina: I measure my kid’s success by the opportunity we can give them and what they personally achieved – by where they have come from. Tyler swims which is amazing but I know that he would not have learned to swim otherwise. My kids would have been academically no where without my stepping in on their behalf.
Deb: It’s great when the kids get the great grades, etc. but it depends on how you measure success. One child in my home was so affected by his family’s history that he couldn’t be held or reciprocate giving any love. After a year of therapy and being consistent he was finally able to look at you and say I love you. Now he is a hyperactive 10 year old who loves to cuddle and hug every morning – he is beyond amazing. He is a typical kid and that’s a success.
A lot of kids are terrified of daily routines like bedtime or taking a bath. Helping them to have less of this reaction is a success.
The Fear of losing the kids if they have to return home:
Gina: It is a scary thing once you begin you can’t control that love thing you have for these kids. It’s devastating the first time you have to return that child but it’s better to have loved. This is always going to stay with him/her. After all, you would never get married if you feared divorce. This child’s going but there is always another one to love. It’s a journey of gains.
Some people hold back from the child because of that fear but you need to put in 100% – that 100% will be the foundation for that child. You can’t hold back. Everyone has to experience loss. You (the parent) need to grow up. What’s a better environment for them than with their biological parent? You can never replace a child but you will always have the memory and know you were a part of their life – that’s the reward
Deb: They are focused on the child leaving. How can you look at a child who needs you and say I can’t help you because you will leave?
They don’t forget no matter how young they are when they were in care. They remember what you did for them.
Can I love them if they are not my child?
Deb: Of course you can! You can’t let biology rule love. We are not biologically linked to our spouse but we love them.
It’s a plus. If a kid is acting up you can say – it’s not my genes!
About the Fears People Have About Taking in Teens:
Gina: I thought by taking kids in from birth I would avoid all of the environmental stuff they come with but – at any age children have things going on. There are a lot of teens in DCF care who are just ordinary teens.
It’s amazing that teens are teens and kids are kids.
It never ceases to amaze me that you may have all of these pre-conceived ideas but when you meet the child you realize that they are just a child.
Fears about Working with Kids Impacted by Sexual Abuse:
Deb: The Department will look at your situation and place the kid that is right for your home. Kids with sexually acting out behavior are placed in more specialized settings until they are able to live with a family
Gina: You can’t take it personally – they won’t trust you and you have to build that trust with them over time.
Actual Success Stories:
Deb: One of my children came at the age of 11. She had been moved 8 times before that. Not because of her behavior but because of the lack of enough families who could commit. They told me she was borderline retarded and would be lucky to get through high school and now she is an A/B student at Quinsigamond College. She was none of those diagnoses. The biggest thing she displayed was an inability to be hugged enough. That was the biggest thing for her – to be held and to have that closeness – and if that’s the biggest problem these kids have I’ll take it!
They need love, stability, consistency, they need to feel important. For some of them they just need to recognize and to find out that they have worth.
You realize that you can go back and fill in some of those gaps. You can go back to give them some of the needs they missed and then give them what they need to go on.
The biggest thing is that people see the diagnosis and not the kids.
Another thing is people say “I couldn’t love someone else’s child. But they are not someone else’s children – they ARE your children. Even if they are foster children – they may have other parents but they can be your children also.
Then there is the story of a Foster Parent named Sally. Sally and two other long time foster mothers who arranged to travel to Disney World last year have fostered dozens, if not hundreds of children. For decades, these active moms have care for medically involved youngsters. They have handled children with various and significant behavioral and emotional needs. This particular trip’s relatively small entourage included the three women and five children, ranging in age from three to fourteen. Was it perhaps the contrasting skin tones of the parents and their accompanying children that somehow set them apart?
After parking their car, Sally’s happy group boarded a shuttle bus for a short trip to the airport terminal. The moms loaded themselves, the kids and an assortment of tagged luggage and backpacks onto the mini van. The only other riders that morning were three gentlemen dressed as golfers, busily stacking bags and sporting equipment among the cargo. As the wheels proceeded to roll, Sally’s adopted fourteen year old son, uncomfortable with new scenarios, exhibited his normal but immature behavior. The man across from her took notice, and looking around, inquired if Sally was traveling with a special group. Sally replied that she and the others were foster parents, taking their children to Disney World – for a week. “The man’s mouth fell wide open” and in a shocked tone Sally said he uttered: “You’re going to Disney World with foster children? And you are staying an entire week?” Sally laughed and shared that the families had traveled to the park before and that everyone, but particularly the children, always had a terrific time.
Little else was said and the shuttle soon reached its final destination.
As Sally prepared to disembark, the same shock eyed gentleman was waiting at the bottom step. He reached out his arm to assist her, and as she took his hand she realized he was putting something into hers. He quickly departed into the airport while she unloaded belongings off the bus. Finally unclenching her palm Sally saw the folded $100.00 bill! She tried to hasten after the donor, to either return the money or to extend her appreciation. But corralling children and luggage erased any chances of reaching the gentleman as he disappeared down the long, wide corridor.
Just minutes of conversation with few questions asked, and much left unspoken resulted in a magical beginning to a wonderful trip. Sally’s story reminds me that random acts of kindness do occur. But more importantly, little “magic kingdoms” disguised as foster homes thankfully dot our Region. Sally and other quiet women like her, presents a positive public image by being simply who she is, and by doing what she routinely does – she is a parent caring for our kids.
Would you do it Again?
Gina: yes, definitely I would do it again
Deb has 6 kids, five adopted – all placed on adoption track range 8-23, two groups of siblings
Gina: 4-32: All foster placements, two groups of siblings. All of her girls are ‘A’ students.
Gina: I think people don’t go into it because of the fear. But if they would just try it out and know it doesn’t have to be a long term commitment. Deb: If you have ever through about it – you are not going to have answers until you do it. People will be surprised at what you can do and what a difference you can make.
I always hear people say I could never do that. But if we all thought that way, if everybody thought that because there are so many kids in need out there – that I can’t do anything – nothing would get done. If we could all foster at least child… Even one night or week per year.
Teachers always say to me “I would love to do it but I don’t have the time.” But you can even offer respite care during school vacation or one weekend per year.
Why The Need Is So Great:
Barbara Shea is a Family Resource Worker who has worked with the Department of Children and Families for the past 22 years: when there are not enough homes children are often put into a temporary home and may risk being moved multiple times.
Gina: You have to remember what it is like to lose everything. They lose everything when their family life disrupts. They lose neighborhoods, pets, their rooms – everything.
We need more heroes to come forward!
Contact the DCF Worcester Area office. You can be married or single, you can own or rent your home, you can foster overnight, short term for long term
For more information
The Worcester Area Offices of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has begun ‘Rolling’ MAPP Trainings to Reduce Wait-time!
(Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting – The 8-session (24 hours) course to foster or adopt a child from the Department of Children and Families (Formerly the Department of Social Services).
Facts About Foster Care – Dispelling the Myths!!• DCF needs families for overnight care, for 10 day short term stays or long term for 3-18 months until the child is reunited with his/her families. You can start as a hotline home – only providing overnight care!
• Over half of our children are cared for by relatives or people who know them; e.g., teachers, coaches. Did you know that you can step forward for a particular child you know? The required training is shorter in these cases
• You can be at home or at work
• You may either rent or own your own home
• Yes, you can decide on the age or gender of the child! As part of the licensing processes, you and your social worker will decide together which children placed in your home would be the best match for your family
• You can be single, married, partnered, divorced or widowed to become a foster parent
• Adoptions at no cost!