No doubt, you have probably had one of those months, yourself.
It really began four months earlier.
Our placement of three children, ages 4, 2, and 1, left our home a four months earlier, and had left my wife and me physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Even more, we were heartbroken when they children left. The four year old’s words haunted me for weeks; “Daddy, will you miss me and still love me after I leave?” Indeed, as I write this, tears begin to form in my eyes, and a heaviness appears once again in my heart.
After the children left our home, my wife and I spent considerable time in discussion and prayer. After 14 years of caring for children in foster care, with up to 11 children in our home on more than one occasion, along with my increasing work load traveling the nation training foster parents, social workers, and churches, coupled with my wife’s Lyme’s Disease, it appeared that our days as a foster family were coming to a close, at least for the time being.
Yet, four months later, the phone rang once more one evening. This time, it was a 17 year old boy, homeless, and in jail. According to the child welfare worker, the young man did not need to be in there, was not a trouble maker in the least, and simply needed a family to care for him. This straight A student needed a home to live in for the following 9 months of school. Emotionally challenged and filled with anxieties from the various forms of abuse he had suffered through the years, he just needed someone to care enough about him to help him.
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When I finally fell asleep that night, after a great deal of discussion with my wife and family, I felt that we would say no to this placement. I was surprised the next morning by my wife’s first words to me, after the alarm clock was shut off, without even a “Good morning” to me. Instead, she said “that poor boy can’t spend another day in jail. We have no choice. We have to help him.”
Indeed, while traveling across the country working with thousands of foster parents at training conferences and speaking engagements, I continue to meet many such foster parents, working tirelessly to help children in need. Over and over again, I am inspired by their stories of dedication, unconditional love, and servant hood. The foster parents I met in Texas who only cared for babies that were dying from a variety of terminal illnesses, rocking them in a chair until they died, and making sure they were loved until their last breath. The single foster father in South Carolina who only looked after troubled teenage boys. The single foster mother in West Virginia who cared for young teenage girls and their babies. These were just a few of the inspirational people I had met through the years, all dedicating their lives to helping children in need.
To be sure, foster parenting is a choice, a voluntary act, if you will. Foster parents volunteer as an act of service to a child welfare agency or government organization. What many outside of foster care do not appreciate, though, is that foster parents have very little say in regards to the child’s life, as the agency or organization that has placed the child in the foster parent’s home have control over every key area and decision regarding the child, and which will affect his life. We are choosing to take care of children that are not ours, and doing so in a selfless manner. Sometimes, these children might keep us awake at night; sometimes they might challenges us; sometimes they might resist our attempts to care for us; sometimes they might even fight us. It can be a daunting and difficult task, at times. Goodness knows it has been for me, on several occasions. Even now, when I thought we were going to finally take that long break, for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, there are children right now who need us to care for them.
So, why do we continue to foster? Why, when my wife says she can no longer do it? Why, when our house is already full? It’s really quite simple, and I am sure you feel the same way. When the phone rings, and the case worker tells us that there is a child in need, we answer the call. As my own family has pointed out to me on a few occasions, I cannot save every child. But to be sure, I can help some, and so can you. Foster parents do make a difference. You are making a difference every time a foster child is placed into your home. You are making a difference every day a child is living with you. You are changing the life of a child. You are giving hope to a child, and you are giving that child a better future.
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