ack in the day when a parent couldn’t afford to raise a child on a minimum wage job, or when the label of unwed mother generated too much finger pointing, or when young parents just weren’t ready for the day-to-day responsibilities of child rearing, Grandma and Grandpa would step in. In many families, they provided grandchildren with a stable, loving home.
Times have changed.
Foster care parents-many of whom are not related to the children they care for-are increasingly playing the role of a substitute family. Nationally, the child welfare system has about 700,000 children under its care. In Michigan, there are approximately 18,000 young people from newborn to 21 years of age who depend on thousands of social workers, therapists and foster parents. The goal is to help families work things out so kids can return home.
Dyan King is a foster care parent who works closely with The Children’s Center of Wayne County (TCC), a child and family agency. She says this is something she has to do.
“Between my own children and my foster children, I’ve always been somebody’s mama,” she says. “There was a time when I said, ‘No, I can’t love another child and give him up.’ But my social worker knew this child that would be perfect for me. She was right. Again.”
King had fostered a family of four siblings when the court determined that after several months of family counseling, it was time they returned to their mother. Shortly thereafter, the youngest, a 1-year-old child, died in a fire. King was devastated and full of grief.
“Yes, it’s human nature to get attached, but I knew the rules going in,” King says. “The need is so great, I won’t stop.” King recently took in two brothers, ages 12 and 13, who are learning to handle their anger issues and to trust her. She calls their adjustment sunshine.
“I see myself as the bridge between where they are and where they need to be,” says King.
The reality is that foster parents like King are at a premium. There’s a critical shortage of people who are willing to take on the responsibility of caring for someone else’s child, even though they’ll receive a monthly allowance.
TCC is constantly engaged in recruiting, training and providing support services to people who are willing to love and nurture an abused or neglected child. But the faltering economy has cast a gloomy shadow on the success of many of these initiatives. Some foster parents have lost their jobs, while some have children who have returned home and need the bedroom space once designated for foster care. Others are spacing out their time between placements.
TCC has a reputation for doing a lot of hand holding with foster parents so they never feel alone. “Our foster parents are on the front lines impacting children’s lives,” says CEO Debora Matthews. “They make a big difference and we are so grateful for all they do.”
Some people can’t imagine the levels of abuse and neglect children go through. But with the right foster parents and resources, some children grow up to become people who help other people, like Freddie Thomas. As a child, his mother beat him every day and would lock him and his sister in a closet. When he went to live with his grandmother, she made him eat on the floor like a dog.
At TCC and in the home of loving foster care parents, he learned that it wasn’t his fault. He learned to heal and forgive. He’s currently working in law enforcement to help protect other children.
As we search for purpose and meaning in life, many of us wonder, “What can I do to make the world a better place?” Maybe it’s time to consider becoming a foster parent. You may be the one to provide a child with just the love and support she needs.
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. On May 18, TCC will host “Paint the Town,” a day-long community event designed to encourage people to become foster care parents. On May 26, the staff of TCC will host a Potluck Supper for all of its foster care families to say thank you for helping to make a child’s life better.
The Children’s Center of Wayne County is one of the largest, most diverse and comprehensive child-serving agencies in Michigan, providing over 20 programs addressing the needs of children up to age 22. We offer mental health, foster care and adoption services for more than 5,000 families in the Detroit area. For information on becoming a foster care parent, visit www.thechildrenscenter.com or call 313-831-5535.