It Takes A Village

Village

“It takes a village to raise a child”.  This saying is such a cliche, but as foster parents, we have an ever expanding village helping us raise our kiddos. We are so thankful for the village we have, and we know that without them, this journey would be impossible for us.  This post is about our village, how they help us, and how thankful and fortunate we are to have them in our life. It is important to recognize though, that the reason why many of these children are in care, is because their parents are not fortunate enough to have a village supporting them when times get tough, money is tight, or they make a mistake. But that is a more depressing topic, and will be discussed in another post. This post is about some of the people in our village who make our journey possible. The people in this post are proof that “not everyone can be a foster parent, but anyone can help a foster child”.

Our Parents

We live in the same town we grew up in, and our home is only a few miles from both of our parent’s homes.  For any parent, having family in your town who are able to help with childcare, and even having the kids spend the night every once in-a-while is amazing.  For us, to have two sets of parents so close to us has been incredible. What is even more important to us though, is that they accept and support us on our journey of being foster parents, and they treat all of the kiddos who live in our home, no matter how long they are with us, as their own grand kids.

For some of our kiddos, to know this many adults who love them and care for them, is a first. To have a Grandma or Grandpa who will cook or build legos with you, read to you, or take you to the park is amazing for all kids, but especially for these kids. These kids need, and more importantly, deserve all the love they can get, and our parents have been amazing at providing this for them.

“They treat all of the kiddos who live in our home, no matter how long they are with us, as their own grand kids.”

For us, our parents provide us emotional love and support, as well as tangible support.  A few days a week our Mom’s pick the kids up from school and hangout with them until we get home from work.  Because our parents love our kiddos deeply, our kids are excited for these days and are always in a good mood when we get home.  Often times, the house has been tidied up, the kids are fed, and dinner is waiting for us.  We never ask for this extra effort, but they see the demands of us working full-time and caring for the kids, and they want to help anyway they can. It is extremely appreciated. Our parents have also helped us with projects around the house that go unfinished, because as any parent knows, your free time is drastically reduced when you have kids.

Aaron’s Mom is a teacher and her insight and experience with early childhood development and education has been invaluable.  It is not uncommon for children in care to be delayed in their education and development, due to neglect or lack of exposure to education.  Aaron’s Mom helps us identify some of the delays that are present in our kiddos, and even is able to provide insight on some of the services we should seek out, or strategies we can implement to help them get caught up.  She has also been instrumental in helping us navigate the Individual Education Plan (IEP) process, which is filled with acronyms and jargon that can be overwhelming if you are not used to the process. As a teacher in the same school district as our kids, we are also incredibly grateful that her schedule matches up well with those pesky days off in “No School November” and Summer Vacation.

“These kids need, and more importantly, deserve all the love they can get, and our parents have been amazing at providing this for them.”

All of our parents are amazing at providing the kids with wonderful books, entertaining crafts, exciting adventures, and healthy meals. They are also amazing at recognizing when we need respite and providing it for us.  Sometimes it is for the day, sometimes for the night or weekend, and it gives us a chance to recharge and focus on us.  Sometimes we use the time to hangout with friends or attend a wedding, but usually we just use it to clean the house, have a nice adult meal at a restaurant, and relax.  Without the respite, there is no way we could continue.

Our Friend the Nurse

We both have been friends with Audrey since high school.  We all grew up together, and each of us has changed in so many ways, but we remain very close.  Audrey is an amazing friend who is always checking in on us, making sure we are doing alright in the midst of this crazy journey.  She listens to us complain about how exhausted we are, even though she works long night shifts as a nurse.  She listens to us talk about how this is all too much, and we want to give up, and then offers us encouragement and support.  When one of us is out of town and the other is alone with the kiddos, she invariably offers to come over and help, always with a home cooked meal ready to be reheated in the oven.  Whenever she has a free day and we need a babysitter, she always volunteers, never lets us pay her, and the kids always have a great day.

Audrey is Amazing! Everyone who does foster care needs to have an Audrey in their life.  She is also a nurse, which comes in handy for us.  When she is watching our kids, we know they are safe and well cared for, even if a medical emergency occurs.  If we have kiddos with current or past medical issues, she is able to help explain to us what it all means.  If you are unable to get a prescription for ringworm the first night your kiddos arrive at your home, don’t worry, call Nurse Audrey to learn that you just need an antifungal cream…and ringworms aren’t really worms at all! She can also convince your defiant 6-year old to take their cough medicine…when you can’t.

Audrey’s Mom

Audrey’s Mom, Linda, who we have also known since high school, is a former teacher, amazing with our kiddos, and a truly thoughtful person.  She is always up for an adventure with us and the kiddos, and even will hang out with them at our home when they are sick and we need to go to work.  Every single time we see her, in her hands is a homemade frozen meal with cooking directions written on a post-it note, and it is always food that is kid and adult friendly.  What Linda does though, that the kids and us are most appreciative of, is send each of our kiddos cards in the mail (yes, the U.S Postal Service still exists), for EVERY holiday. Receiving a personalized letter in the mail means the world to these kids.  It makes the house feel like their home, it lets them know that people know where they are and that people care about them.  Every time our kiddos get a piece of mail, their faces lights up.

The Babysitter

As a foster parent, especially with a new or high needs placement, you can’t always use the neighborhood 14-year old as a babysitter.  DHS, for good reason, has a lot of rules around who can watch kiddos in care, as well as a bunch of hoops that regular caregivers need to jump through (background checks and fingerprinting anyone?), so having an amazing babysitter in your village is a must.  We wouldn’t trust just anyone with our kiddos, and since Jewell has worked for a long time in Parks and Recreation with Lifeguards, we know a few highly capable and extremely responsible young adults who we know can watch our kiddos.  Josie has been our babysitter since the beginning of our journey and has basically been a third parent.

Josie understands who these kids are, what they are going through, and what they need. Because of this, she is extremely patient with them and also incredibly helpful to us. She knows that transitions are hard for the kids, because they can be triggering, so she is patient when she picks them up from school, or when she is leaving for the day and they are holding on to her legs, trying to stop her from leaving.  Josie understands that DHS has us under a microscope, so she gives us a description of every trip, fall, scrape, or bruise that happened on her watch. She is reliable and flexible, and not afraid to take the kids on adventures.

“As a foster parent, especially with a new or high needs placement, you can’t always use the neighborhood 14-year old as a babysitter.”

Josie is everything you want and need in a babysitter, and so much more. Josie has a been a babysitter (or third parent) for all of our kiddos, and when she is with them, we are able to relax because we know they are in good hands. She sends us Snapchats of the kids while she is watching them, so we know what they are up to and how things are going, and we also get to see our kiddos being extremely happy with their “friend”.  We encourage her to bring her friends along for longer days or adventures, and through Josie we have met other amazing babysitters, some of these friends are even able to be Personal Support Workers for our kiddos who receive those services.  Best of all, with an amazing babysitter like Josie, who will watch our children on a Friday or Saturday night, we can go to Timber’s games, or date night, and focus on each other (and the Timbers), which is incredibly important in this crazy world of fostering.

Friends

Becoming a parent changes your life and the world around you.  Having a child in Four Hours, flips your world upside down in an instant.  Every parent can attest that your social life changes drastically when kids are in the picture, especially if the majority of your friends are not parents.  Gone are the late night gatherings at someone’s house, or spontaneous Happy Hours. You can forget about fancy restaurants.  However, maintaining some semblance of a social life is important, and nurturing friendships is crucial.  We are so thankful for our tight-knit network of friends who support us on this journey. There are some of our closest  friends who we have not seen at all, or who we have seen a couple of times since our first placement. There are others who we see on a more frequent basis, but still not as much as we would like to or used to.  This is obviously not their fault, and not the point of this post. The point is, we still keep in touch.

“Maintaining some semblance of a social life is important, and nurturing friendships is crucial.  We are so thankful for our tight-knit network of friends who support us on this journey.”

It means the world to us to get a text or Facebook message from our friends that we don’t see as much anymore. For them to reach out and say “I miss you, but I am so happy for you and what you are doing”, makes a huge difference.  To have friends who haven’t seen us in weeks or months, and when we do see them, they let us rant about how exhausted and stressed we are, and they just listen, is amazing.  To receive an invite to a 30th Birthday Bash, even though they know we probably won’t be able to make it, and we haven’t made it to the last 5 parties they have invited us to, feels good, because it means they haven’t forgotten about us, and they still hope to see us. We also appreciate the times that we do get to meet up with friends, and it feels like nothing has changed and we haven’t skipped a beat. We pick up right where we left off, and for a moment, it feels like we are not on this beautiful crazy, stressful, amazing journey.

Most of all though, we appreciate the friends who accept our journey, support us, love our kiddos, and understand that we haven’t changed, but our life has changed. Our friends are amazing, we miss them, they miss us, and we appreciate their support.

Caseworker

We have had great caseworkers and not-so-great caseworkers. Having a great caseworker makes all the difference. Some of our most difficult and high needs children have only been possible because their caseworker was amazing, basically co-parenting the kids with us.  We have had a caseworker who helps set up medical appointments, and even coordinates with SSAs to provide transport during the days when we are both working.  Having a caseworker who cares as deeply about the kiddos as you do, but also cares about the foster parents can be the difference between foster parents continuing the fostering journey, and dropping out.  Although not a requirement, the best caseworkers we have dealt with have been foster parents themselves, or have stayed with kiddos in hotels when the kids had nowhere to go.  They understand the everyday struggles associated with fostering, and appreciate foster parents for what they do.

Certifier

Having a Certifier who is 100% your team member is crucial. Navigating the system without support from other foster parents and a qualified Certifier is like trying to complete a corn maze at night. Navigating the system with support from other foster parents and a qualified Certifier is like trying to complete a corn maze at dusk while it is raining… not easy, but doable. Without a Certifier who we can trust, and who can help us when things get confusing, this would not be possible.

Teachers

Hopefully everyone reading this post has had at least one teacher in their life that went the extra mile and meant something special to them.  For kiddos in foster care, school can be a minefield of awkward social situations, anxiety, frustration, and even alienation.  Being the new kid at school is hard enough, but being picked up from school and having kids ask if “that is your Dad” and you responding “No, that is Aaron”, can make things even more difficult.  Children is foster care are often behind in their academics, and starting at a new school brings a lot of challenges.  Having teachers and school staff that recognize these challenges, form bonds with the kiddos, and encourage them, can be the difference between them giving up, and them giving their best.

 “For kiddos in foster care, school can be a minefield of awkward social situations, anxiety, frustration, and even alienation.”

As foster parents, knowing teachers who are willing to listen to the foster parents, and understand the past and current trauma these kids are experiencing is crucial.  Having a partner in the classroom means the world to us.  Receiving a text from your kiddo’s teacher letting you know that your child had a great day feels amazing. When your kiddo’s teacher calls you to discuss the difficult behaviors that occurred in class that day, and the circumstances or trigger that lead to it, is extremely helpful in setting up your kiddo for success.  Honestly, we have had kiddo’s who if they were enrolled in a different school, or a with a different teacher, may have been suspended, expelled, or sent to a special needs classroom, but instead, their teacher took all of the information into consideration and developed a bond with the child and us. With this bond, we worked together to improve the situation, as opposed to creating more trauma for the child by removing them from the classroom.

Co-Workers

We both have fulfilling, but sometimes stressful and demanding jobs.  If we are being honest though, there have been many times during this journey that work, no matter how difficult and stressful it is, has felt like respite from the craziness of our home.  Part of the reason it can feel like that is because of our amazing co-workers. Our co-workers take the time to listen to us, to try and understand the ups and downs of our journey, and are genuinely supportive. When we show up late, or have to leave early, they understand, they don’t judge; some of our kids have a lot of appointments, and others have rough days at school and need to be picked up. Nothing feels better after a rough morning to have a co-worker genuinely ask you “how was last night and this morning”, and then listen and care about the ups and downs you and your kiddos are going through.

Bosses/Work

We both work for the City.  Part of the reason we knew we could be foster parents is because of our employer. The year we began the certification process, the City approved 6-weeks of paid parental leave for new parents, including adoptive and foster parents! Not only that, parents, including foster parents, are allowed 40-hrs of “dependent care” a year, to take time off to care for sick children or take them to appointments.  Sure, we may have been out of “dependent care” two months after a placement, but at least we had “dependent care”. We also are allowed 6-weeks of paid parental leave for each placement. Although we do not use all of it for each placement, the option to spend the first week creating a bond with your placement, as well as setting up your house to reflect the needs of your new placement is wonderful.

Having bosses that try to understand the journey you are on, allow for flexibility in your schedule, and last minute leave requests because of childcare needs is a must to be a working foster parent. Without an understanding boss, and a progressive employer who gives the same rights to foster parents that they give to bio and adoptive parents, being a foster parent would not be possible for us; two working parents who enjoy our careers, but want to help kiddos.

Hopworks

Hopworks Urban Brewery is our neighborhood brewpub (we live in Portland…the stereotypes have truth to them), and we frequented this establishment before becoming foster parents… and we probably frequent it more often since becoming foster parents.  The staff there knows us, and they know that we are foster parents. It is a little like Cheers for us, everybody knows our name, we know them, and it is a family friendly place where they love our kiddos. We don’t get questioned when we have toddlers one week and adolescents the next, they treat all of our kiddos as our kids. They understand that manners may be something we are working on, and maybe we need a glass of apple juice while we wait for our table because being patient is difficult.  The servers take the time to make our kiddos feel special, but also understand that sometimes, we may need to leave at a moments notice, and just need to pay and leave.  Having a restaurant that knows you and accepts your family and your journey is amazing, it takes away some of the stress of going out to eat, and allows your family to enjoy a night out, and treat the kiddos to something they may not have experienced before. A big bonus is that Hopworks has the cutest little fro-yo on a sugar cone, which is hilarious to watch toddlers smash into their face, and is a nice treat for the adults too, even if it is technically only on the kid’s menu…

Bio-Parents

Our first placement was a rollercoaster ride. While we struggled to learn the ins and outs of DHS, we quickly learned  that our kiddo’s bio-family was on the same learning curve as us, as it was their first interaction with DHS too. When we have had our doubts and wanted to give up, our first placement’s (Ava) Mom has talked us down and encouraged us. It is incredible to hear from bio-parents, that they feel we are doing good for people that need it, and are appreciated. In times of struggle and doubt, wondering how much “good” we are actually doing, how much tangible help we are providing to these children and families, Ava’s Mom and Dad have been incredibly supportive. “J” (Ava’s Mom and Dad) have become good friends and a huge encouragement to us. We wanted to throw in the towel many times and Ava’s Mom has been one of our biggest cheerleaders. We are so proud of her and her family, and what they have accomplished. We now consider them all family.

Organizations

Part of navigating the System is finding organizations that can support you. We wrote a post about a few of the organizations we love, and we have no doubt that there are many others in Oregon and across the nation that provide vital support to foster parents and kiddos, as well as bio-parents. These organizations, from providing material support, like diapers, formula or clothes, to providing respite and visitation locations outside of DHS, as well as emotional support, serve a vital role in the foster care journey. We are so thankful for all of the support these organizations have provided us and other foster parents, but more importantly, the support they have provided the children in foster care and their families.

It Takes A Village

This is a long post, but it needed to be. The list of our Village is probably a disservice to our actual village.  It is difficult to put into words the support we receive from the village described in this post, and the vital role they play in our ability to be foster parents. We also definitely forgot to mention numerous people and groups who provide us a tremendous amount of support…like our neighbors who don’t complain when state vehicles block their driveways.  The point is, whether they are bio-children, foster kids, adoptive kids, step-kids, it takes a village to raise them, or at the very least, a village makes it easier to raise them.  We are so thankful for our village, and we know this amazing journey we are on would not be possible without them.  If you can’t be a foster parent (which not everyone can, and that is perfectly alright), maybe you can try and be part of the village that supports a foster parent and their kiddos.

 

Thanks for reading, if you have questions or comments, feel free to post them in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you.  To receive updates when a new post is published, click the “Follow” button, we appreciate your interest in our journey.

We would love to hear your thoughts!