If you watch cable TV, then I’m just going to assume you’re familiar with This Is Us. If you’re not, then you might need to consider setting aside some time for serious binge watching. This Is Us beautifully captures the story of a family going through life’s ups and downs, but amongst the many intertwined plot lines, the one that causes me to reflect and cry the most is the foster care storyline.
In the last season of This Is Us, we got to see a married couple struggle with the decision to foster a child, as well as how it affects the entire foster family’s structure and its members. The one thing that was illuminated for me was getting to see the trenches of a reunification.
Foster care is very close to my heart, and I hope to one day foster (God allowing, soon). I’ve been blessed to have a stepmom and a dad who have a heart to foster, and I’ve seen the beauty of fostering relatives and adopting relatives (in our case, it was my stepmother’s nephew). I’ve seen the beauty of fostering and adopting a child who you don’t know and choose to love as your own. In my family, we have two amazing special needs ex-foster children who are now adopted into our family and are considered siblings. In my life experience with foster care, it has only led to adoption and time with a loving and caring family after the birth parents no longer have their birth children. Reunification simply wasn’t on my radar until watching the show and also seeing a friend go through a surprise reunification of her foster daughters to their biological mother.
After watching This Is Us, I realized how little I knew about foster care and how much I needed to find and talk to foster parents and friends of mine who’ve grown up in or have been in foster care. In doing so, I wanted to speak with a local foster mom and ask her a few questions. I’m so thankful that Katie Weida, who is a seasoned foster mom, so graciously took the time out of her day to speak with me. I was enriched by her answers to my pervasive questions.
Why is fostering worth it for you?
Katie: Although I was never in foster care myself, I did grow up in an abusive home. Because of that, I’ve always had a lot of empathy for abused and neglected children, and a desire to help. At the same time, I also became a mother at 18, and I understand the struggles that parents can face as they try to raise children in difficult circumstances with limited resources and personal “tools” to cope. Many parents in the system simply don’t know how to parent, because it was never modeled for them. Seeing parents learn and grow and be reunited with their children was very rewarding.
What do you wish prospective foster parents knew but rarely get told?
Katie: Oh, there’s so much! One thing that surprised me was how different the process was in reality, compared to official guidelines. So, for example, on paper DCS wants a case closed out within 15 months, whether through reunification or termination of parental rights. Truthfully, it often takes several years. The two children I had longterm are still waiting for adoption to finalize after three-and-a-half years in the system.
How can those who don’t foster better support foster families?
Katie: Fostering is an emotional rollercoaster that can often be overwhelming. I’d love to see more friends and family of those who foster offering practical help, like housecleaning, dinners, gift cards for gas or food, etc. With so many appointments and hearings and meetings, it’s very easy to get buried under daily responsibilities and “burn out.” Helping them find a way for some personal time to “recharge” is great, too. Even just lending a sympathetic and nonjudgmental ear can mean a lot.
Do you have any words of wisdom for the first reunification of the child to their biological home?
Katie: I would say to be as honest with the children as is appropriate for their age and situation. Ideally, throughout the process, they will have been having regular visitation and will have some understanding that they will be getting reunited at some point. Some parents are open to maintaining contact with the foster family, and that can be wonderful! Let the kids know how much you love them and how happy you are that their parents worked hard to improve themselves and the situation so they could be reunited. A picture book of their time with you can be very meaningful for the children, and help them process and cope with the transition back to their birth family.
I’m so thankful for all of you awesome foster parents out there. If you are interested in learning more about foster care in Jacksonville, please visit Florida Department of Children and Families.