This is a question I get quite often from people curious about what our foster children call us.
This is a question I had for our caseworker when we started the whole process. What in the world do I call myself to them? I’m not their mommy and since the goal is to return them to their mom and dad, I didn’t want to confuse them. Jami was absolutely too informal. And confusing and crazy when you think of it in real life. “Oh kids Mommy AND Jami loves you.” No, that does not work very well.
So, what do they call us?
In the end, they pretty much always call us Mommy and Daddy though I try to differentiate a bit and when talking specifically to one of our three littlest (our foster kiddos) and refer to myself as Momma or sometimes even Momma Jami (which feels kind of silly to me to be honest, but I do it nonetheless.)
Now with little sis joining the clan, I have been called Jami, Momma Jami, Ma Jami, Mom and Mommy by her. She has lived with her grandma nearly all of her life and always called her Mom.
The other day, while talking on the phone to her grandma, D walked up and she got very possessive (pointed at the phone) and said “MY mom. MY mom.”
Later that week, while sitting at the dinner table, she looked at me and said “MY Jami…” It was very sweet! I can just see her processing. She now refers to our home as “my home” her room as “my room” and her bed as “my bed.”
And, just the other day, she looked at me, patted my leg and said, “My Jami, My Mommy, My Jami, My Mommy.”
It is so hard because I want to take her face in my hands and say “Yes baby. I am your mommy. I will always be your mommy,” but I can’t do that because it’s not true. It’s just hard to see a little girl who has gone through so much transition in 2 short years. She has done amazingly well. She seems to really be thriving here and yet I just wonder what is going on in her sweet little head. I want to say, “All is well. This is your home forever. We are your family forever. You don’t have to worry anymore.” But I can’t.
Fortunately for all our little foster babies, one thing is certain. God is their God forever. He will never leave them nor will He forsake them. This is truth. This will never change. And HE is where they (and all of us) will find ultimate security and joy.
He is our Rock, our Safe place, our Refuge, and our Peace. In Him is life made complete. Seek Him with all of your hearts, my friends! Everything else will disappoint. Don’t miss Him today.
Jami is the founder and Executive Director of The Forgotten Initiative. Jami and her husband, Clint, are parents to seven children: two biological daughters, two sons adopted internationally (Guatemala and Uganda) and a sibling set of three (two boys and a girl) adopted from foster care. Jami shared often on her blog, Life with a Personal God, during her family’s adoption and foster care journeys, and she is now sharing them here in hopes of being an encouragement to you!
Okay, so I am pretty pumped! The Forgotten Initiative is releasing a children’s book series called Who Loves!!
I’ve never authored anything before, so this is a pretty huge honor for me. This writing journey has also made me even more grateful for the team of people I get to serve with. You guys, writing, not to mention learning how to publish and market books, is no joke!
We need each other. Each of us using our gifts, our roles, our life experiences to pour into one another. We especially need each other in the foster care world!
The Forgotten Initiative’s mission is to bring joy and purpose to the foster care community. Children in foster care typically have a lot of people moving in and out of their lives, which can make them believe no one loves them.
The Who Loves series is designed primarily for children in foster care. We hope the books will offer them a new perspective because they are loved. They matter. They have purpose!
Years ago, I was fearful of foster care and adoption. But God was faithful to bring people into my life who helped completely redefine my perspective. Now I’m a mom of seven, and five of our kids joined our family through foster care and adoption.
Maybe you can relate. I hope these books will bring you a new perspective, too! Did you know over 250,000 children across our nation come into foster care each year?
My friends, we must act on their behalf. They need our compassion and they need our action.
Will you join us in spreading the message to children in foster care that they are loved, not only by those who care for them, but by the God who created them for a special, unique role only they can fill?
We need YOU to help share the news! How? Well, I’m glad you asked! Here are a couple of easy ways:
Jami is the founder and Executive Director of The Forgotten Initiative. Jami and her husband, Clint, are parents to seven children: two biological daughters, two sons adopted internationally (Guatemala and Uganda) and a sibling set of three (two boys and a girl) adopted from foster care. Jami shares often on her blog, Life with a Personal God, in hopes of being an encouragement to you!
God created us to connect. If that is true, then why are so many of us terrible at connecting? What many of us don’t realize is that a lot of our ability to connect with others is either enhanced or hindered in the first couple of years of our lives.
The way a parent, especially a mother, interacts with her baby while in utero, the weeks following birth, and throughout the baby first months will often come naturally. I think every new parent feels ill-prepared and inadequate when they bring a newborn home. However, all you need to do is watch how people respond when they see a tiny baby. Grown men even will begin babbling in some unknown language as they shower a baby with loving attention. Women line up to take turns holding and rocking the baby. Everyone wants to jump into action to meet every need when the baby cries the slightest whimper.
All of these actions create connection. We now know that this connection creates healthy brain chemistry. Every time a child encounters someone who meets their needs, positive synapses connect across their brain. The child feels safe and can explore their ever expanding world.
But what happens when a baby, whether in the womb or after, doesn’t receive this kind of nurturing attention? What if something even worse happens and that baby or older child experiences trauma? If a baby or child endures a stressful pregnancy, a difficult delivery, abuse, neglect, or even abandonment, then the brain chemistry takes on a much different path.
Instead of a child feeling safe and willing to explore their environment, this child interacts with their world in a constant state of fear. That alert part of their brain, or the amygdala, is over-developed and is easily triggered into a response of flight, fight, or freeze. This is how most, if not all, children that come to families through adoption or foster care tend to act.
Parenting a child that constantly reacts to their world with some kind of fear can exhaust and confuse a parent. The child’s behavior often pushes a caretaker away making it harder for the parent to connect with this child. But connection is exactly what the child needs more than anything.
A child whose behavior pushes you away is a child who needs connection before anything else.
Kelly Bartlett—Encouraging Words for Kids
“But doesn’t connection before anything else simply excuse bad behavior?” That is the common question when one learns about connected parenting. The approach seems too permissive.
Here is the reality. When a child, or anyone, is controlled by the fear part of their brain, attempts to correct misbehavior will only feed the fear behaviors—meltdowns, outrage, fighting, running away, or just shutting down.
The intent of connecting first isn’t to excuse the behaviors, but is instead to create a safe place for that child to receive correction. Sometimes they also need empowering. I wrote about this in depth in this blog post—Taking a Closer Look at Empowerment.
Understanding, Recognizing, and Responding to my child’s fear
Securing your child’s attachment
Establishing a safe haven for your child
Balancing nurture and security
There is something that each of us wants more than anything—even more than the air we breathe: Connection.
Curt Thompson, M.D.—Anatomy of the Soul
Kenneth A. Camp
I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family. Read more from Kenneth at KennethACamp.com.
We changed our world to foster Big D for seventeen months and his brother for nine. I quit my job (and luckily found a more flexible one). We put hobbies on hold and personal goals on the back burner.
Now, Big D is gone. And I’m finding my way amid the whiplash of what was and what is. Or what isn’t.
I thought I would jump right back in. Filling my weekends with projects and spare moments with plans. Staying busy to stay sane.
Instead I find myself doing an inordinate amount of very little. Holding hands with my husband. Walking around our little neighborhood. Watching birds in our backyard.
And it is good.
These few weeks my hands haven’t accomplished much. But my head has lived out more than a few lifetimes. Dreaming about adopting multiple siblings. Vowing to never parent again. Realizing neither is really my heart, but riding the emotional rollercoaster nonetheless.
Twisting and turning, I wait what will surely be many months until that rollercoaster settles and stays put. Because children come with their own rollercoasters and need a steady adult to hold their hand amid the ups and downs.
Rather than one screaming with eyes closed.
And so I’ll keep riding and resting. Not knowing who or when or if we will foster again.
But knowing deep down that more than one foster child has our hearts. Has changed our hearts.
And those hearts can’t imagine a world where we wouldn’t seek to love another, somehow someway.
Liz Block is a creative director (not quite Don Draper) and new foster mom discovering the learning curves, joys, and struggles of motherhood and foster care all at once. Opening up her eyes and heart to far more than she ever imagined. Read more of her stories at FosteringReal.com.
Ashleigh Chapman is a preacher’s kid who found her life’s calling at the age of 11. Her parents worked at a homeless mission when a woman and her three children arrived, begging for safety from an abuser. Her parents quickly realized the woman was also an abuser and worked diligently to keep the three children safe. She became devoted to the cause of protecting the vulnerable. She focuses full-time on fighting the heinous crime of human trafficking in the US and around the world. Don’t miss this episode—it’s critical to the future of our children and our communities!
The overwhelming number of souls who are being trafficked in our borders, by our citizens, are our own children, and most are coming from foster care.
Ashleigh defines human trafficking as modern-day slavery that has three primary purposes for commercial exploitation: labor, sex and organs. Human trafficking is prevalent across the globe, including the United States. It is estimated that human trafficking is a $150 billion per year industry, out-earning Apple, Microsoft and other similar companies combined.
Although human trafficking is not a new evil, it was recognized throughout the world as a pervasive and insidious issue starting about 2000-2001; it’s only been since about 2008 since it’s been acknowledged as a problem in the US as well.
Shockingly, there are more slaves today worldwide than ever before—including the Dark Ages and the pre-Civil War era in the United States. More than 40 million foreign nationals, “souls,” are trafficked annually.
Lest we in the US think it only happens “over there,” the shocking statistics regarding trafficking here are sobering: “The overwhelming number of souls who are being trafficked in our borders, by our citizens, in our states, are our own children, most of them coming from foster care,” says Ashleigh. That’s 100,000-300,000 little souls who are being bought and sold in just about every community in our nation.
Additionally, it’s not just limited to big cities. Ashleigh recently worked with a community of 50 people in which a child had been lured by an adult trafficker on Facebook.
Who is vulnerable?
With the rise of the Internet, issues like pornography have lead to baser obsessions like child pornography, and perpetrators have found opportunities to act upon these impulses. At large events, like the Super Bowl, it’s very easy to pull up a search on the Internet and find out exactly how much it would cost to have sex with a man, woman or child of any age or race. The Internet makes it very easy to exploit those caught in the web.
One study revealed that three common vulnerabilities for children caught up in trafficking include fatherlessness (complete lack of a father figure in their life), self-reported abuse in their own home, and being in foster care.
Most of the children who are trafficked in the US come from the foster care system—these are the kids who have had a variety of difficulties in their lives. A composite of a typical trafficked child may have been in as many as 10 different foster homes, two juvenile centers, a regular hospital, and a psychiatric hospital.
With all these compounding vulnerabilities, the child is easy prey for someone who befriends them and offers to “take care of” them. Sadly, these children don’t know what they are entering into and it quickly becomes a nightmare situation.
Traffickers know who to look for—kids at the mall or in bus or train stations who don’t seem to have anyone else. They pretend to be someone who will love them and may even treat them well for a period of time.
The perpetrators are people who coerce, force or fraudulently trick a minor by any means. Any child who is sold for sex is a victim of child sex trafficking—there is no such thing as “child prostitution.” Traffickers control that person and all the money exchanged in the transaction.
Finding and arresting the traffickers solves only part of the problem, however. The buyers of the individuals—those who are “purchasing”—are another factor. It’s estimated that, on average, each child is sold to 10-20 (predominantly) men each night. Finding and stopping the buyers is another huge issue.
In the US, we have been fighting trafficking for less than a decade, therefore “we have so much work to do so that children in vulnerable situations don’t become prey for traffickers,” says Ashleigh.
How do kids get recruited?
While there are certainly those who are abducted or runaway from abusive situations, a frighteningly large number of children get caught up in trafficking through the Internet. They are desperate to get recognition, so they put themselves and information about their lives (inadvertently, usually) on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or other social media platforms. A trafficker will pose as a peer, someone their age, maybe from their high school who they haven’t met, and starts a relationship online.
Then the trafficker invites them to meet, or go to a party, where they might be drugged and gang raped, all of it videoed and documented with pictures that are then used to blackmail the child. The trafficker will threaten to expose them with the pictures if they don’t sneak out and sell themselves. Unfortunately, this can happen while the child is living in their own home (or foster home).
“Our kids don’t know there are unsafe people in the world,” says Ashleigh. “We need to empower and equip them to not engage in unsafe relationships with strangers.” It’s important to make strangers earn their trust before they are considered safe.
Once the child does what the trafficker demands, it quickly becomes something that feels as if there is no way out.
Another way young girls get trapped can be seen in Rachel Thomas’s story. Rachel came from a good home and was attending college when a man walked up to her and told her she was beautiful and could easily be a model. It seemed a legitimate business for the first several months, but one night she was asked to escort a man. At first, she refused, but he then showed her a picture of her own home and threatened to shoot the person who opened the door. She was caught in this web for 18 months until this man was arrested.
What should we look for?
How do we know if someone is being trafficked? Ashleigh gives these red flags to watch for:
The person has no control of what they are saying, or what they have.
The person is withdrawn; someone is answering for them.
The person does not control their own papers (identification cards, etc.).
The person is emaciated or bruised.
The person seems to get showered with expensive gifts (a cycle of viciousness then gifts).
The person has an older “boyfriend.”
If even remotely suspicious about the possibility of trafficking, do not hesitate to call, Ashleigh urges. “Your call might be the final piece of the puzzle for law enforcement to move.” Call both the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888 or text Info or Help to BeFree 233733) and local law enforcement.
How do we make a way out?
A frightening statistic that demands we ramp up the fight against human trafficking is the average life expectancy for trafficked people: less than seven years can someone withstand the abuse and mental, physical and emotional toll being trafficked can take.
Although the information and statistics about human trafficking are very dark, there is hope.
“Absolutely, there is hope,” insists Ashleigh. “Trafficking exists because we have allowed it to exist. That means we can stop it. Each of us is uniquely positioned to step into this fight.”
One way Healing Place Church, which created a non-profit called HPServe, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has fought back is to intercede before the traffickers get to the children. Because Baton Rouge is a popular destination for runaways, the church found out that the traffickers would get to the runaways within 48 hours of their arrival in the city. The church decided that they would, therefore, get to the kids within 24 hours—they would intercede and help kids get the services and care they need.
Ashleigh stresses the importance of communities working together to make a difference. She shares one example in which a community had passed a law that children could not be arrested for prostitution, but it hadn’t been blended with other laws to enable law enforcement to be able to remove children from these situations and take them to CFS facilities. The police literally couldn’t pick up the children if they hadn’t committed a crime.
Enter the nuns. A group of nuns volunteered to provide transportation if law enforcement officials would simply call them. They rescued more than 120 individuals.
Because each community has its unique set of variables to manage, Ashleigh suggests completing a community assessment before acting. “It’s important to know who is suffering in your community and why,” she explains, citing one community that spent time and money focusing on the wrong population. She urges you to support stronger laws about perpetrators and buyers. Look at the bigger picture to create solutions that make sense, and be strategic.
“We all have a part to play, and there is enormous opportunity to step in and work together as a community,” she says. “The Enemy is preying upon the most vulnerable; that should enrage us. We need to better than the traffickers at what we do.”
Prior to founding the AFRJ, Ashleigh served as the co-founder and Director of the Center for Global Justice, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law at Regent University School of Law; the Director of a non-profit organization serving thousands of disadvantaged and at-risk children and youth in Tennessee; a Children’s Pastor; and a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in foster care.
A licensed attorney in the state of Virginia, Ashleigh and her husband, Sloan, reside in Tennessee.
Meet Our HostJami Kaeb
Jami Kaeb is a dreamer and a coffee lover! She is married to Clint and the mother of seven—five through adoption. It was through a difficult season of waiting that Clint and Jami’s eyes were opened to the foster care community. They became foster parents to three siblings whom they eventually adopted, and in April of 2011, Jami founded The Forgotten Initiative. Follow Jami’s personal blog, Life with a Personal God.
Our first foster placement was a 2-day-old baby boy. We picked him up from the hospital on a Friday evening and I went back to work the next Tuesday. Thankfully, I had found a daycare for him that accepted babies under the age of 6 weeks. My employer also graciously allowed me to bring him to work with me, when my schedule permitted it. Besides, EVERYONE in my office wanted to hold a baby! Even with these options, it was still incredibly hard to foster a newborn while working full-time.
I recall many times just collapsing into the bed once I got home and sobbing from exhaustion. Up all night, working all day and taking care of sweet little boy was, at times, seemingly too much. My husband and I both worked full-time, and I was a foster parent trainer (at night). When people asked me, “How do you do it?” The answer was “I don’t know, we just do.”
Here are a few tips to help you if you are fostering a newborn while working:
1. Pack a protein bar in the diaper bag or your purse. I know this seems silly, but I basically lived on protein bars when fostering. Often, “new” mothers forget to eat due to being so busy. Protein bars help tremendously.
2. If you can nap, do it. My husband and I really tried to make sure each other were getting enough sleep. If the baby was sleeping, we would lie down and try to fall asleep. If the baby was at daycare and I happened to get off of work a little early, I would run home and rest for a bit before picking him up.
3. Figure out a sleep schedule that works for the both of you. Since most foster newborns are formula fed, there is a way for both of you to get a few good nights’ sleep. My husband and I switched nights off and on. I would stay up with the baby one night and the next night, my husband took over. With this schedule, we were both guaranteed to get a good night’s sleep several nights per week.
4. If you are currently fostering in the US, you might hear the term, “Prudent Parenting.” This refers to the requirements for states to promote normalcy for children and youth in foster care. This also applies to newborns. One aspect of Prudent Parenting is that the foster parents are allowed more flexibility in securing their own childcare providers. Always make sure to check with your case management team regarding who you might choose to provide ongoing or temporary childcare.
5. Speak to the Human Resources Department at your place of employment regarding taking leave from work or utilizing FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) for your first six weeks after a newborn is placed. You may not choose this, but it is always good to check your options.
6. If you can arrange a flexible work schedule or have the availability to work from home, do it. The first several months are very important for bonding and if you are a new foster parent, you will feel a bit overwhelmed with meetings, court dates, home visits, parent-child visits, and taking care of a baby.
7. Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. Taking care of a newborn is extremely exhausting, even without the extra pressures and demands of foster parenting. Remind yourself of the reason you are doing this–to love on a child, provide safety and to play a part in the bigger picture of helping others in your community.
Looking back on my years of foster parenting babies while working full-time, I really don’t know how I got through it. I did, however, choose to embrace the opportunity–as tiring as it was–to try and do better each day, to pour into other little souls’ lives, and to remember that this was what I had signed up for. If I could go back and do it all over again, would I? Yes, without a doubt. I would be so darn tired, and then, gaze into their little eyes and remember how truly blessed I was with the opportunity.
Fostering a newborn while working full-time is possible. Trying to keep it all together on very little sleep and a demanding schedule is hard, but remember, in life, the right, courageous or purposeful things to do are often not the easiest.
Caroline is a mother to three children through adoption, and a strong advocate for foster care. At the age of eleven, Caroline underwent an emergency hysterectomy in order to save her life. Since then, she has known that she would never have biological children.
In 2006, Caroline and her husband, Bruce, became foster parents and quickly accepted the placeament of a newborn baby boy. Through their journey of foster care, they learned so much about the needs of children, and were greatly humbled by the experience. They went on to adopt their daughter after fostering her, and recently adopted their youngest boy in 2013.
Currently, Caroline works for a Christian child welfare agency in Missouri. Caroline shares her life experience about foster care, adoption, barrenness, and faith on her blog, Barren to Blessed.
Residential Outreach is a program of TFI’s Mentoring Initiative. This program is a local missions opportunity for a church or group to serve and host a day camp experience in a residential facility.
Residential care programs are uniquely designed to provide a specialized, safe, structured and nurturing environment that allows healing and growth for children and adolescents.
How it Works:
Residential Outreach consists of three main areas of outreach: Workshops, Word & Worship and a Service Project. Each one of these areas of outreach is designed to build relationship between the children/adolescents in residential care and the church or group volunteers. The Forgotten Initiative’s hope is to not only see volunteers step forward to build relationships with the residents but also support the residential facility as a whole.
It seems there’s a rumor going around that I’m some kind of exceptional person. Everywhere I go since we gained a housemate, I’m greeted with “What you are doing is amazing” and “You’re inspirational” and “You have the best hair.” (Okay. Not that one. But I really want good hair.) My inbox has been flooded peppered with over-the-top kindness from people telling me how great we are for fostering this darling boy. And this is causing me all kinds of anxiety because I know the truth, and it’s time to let the masses in on it.
There’s a false belief that you have to be a “special person” to take a child into your home that isn’t your own. Like we must posses some above average ability to love or parent or follow Jesus. I’ve been told how brave I am, how full of faith. And while I covet every thoughtful word of encouragement, I can’t have people thinking we’re anything special. Because we simply are not.
The faith that led us to fostering was full of ups of downs. Up days when I was excited and motivated and ready to take on whatever small and wounded soul the Lord sent. Mostly those days were on Sundays. There was something about standing with my church family and singing to the Savior that gave me the strength I needed to keep walking into the unknown. The song Oceans by Hillsong United became my theme and I sobbed like a baby every time we sang it. Sundays I was full of faith and trust in God’s guidance and provision.
But by Tuesday I was usually saying are you sure, Lord? ‘Cause I really need you to make this one clear. My motto became, “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief!” I was a volatile mixture of fear and faith.
There were plenty of down days. Days I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this. My family was happy and normal healthy and rolling merrily down the road. Our kids were becoming more self sufficient and I began to consider working outside the home. Our life was easy and manageable. And under control. We had a good thing going and I wondered if we should risk it all.
So if you think we decided to foster and then walked headstrong to the day of our first placement with little hesitation, you’re dead wrong. I doubted everything. I doubted my ability to maintain the stability of my current children while also bringing in a new child who needed extra care. I wondered how I could keep up with the endless emotional demands that come with raising kids from hard places. I fought the fear that fostering would somehow lead Titus and Anna to grow up resentful and reject Christ. I obsessed about what problems a foster child might bring into our home. What if they cracked our foundation? During the dark hours when I was plagued with doubts, I knew that I didn’t have the faith required to do this.
God would have to give it to me.
Now that we have a sweet little one in our home, there are moments of exhilaration. We are water walking! We stepped out of the boat and HE IS FAITHFUL. He is giving us what we need moment by moment to navigate this wild new way of living. And often, it’s a rush. We’re touching a life. We’re serving the least of these. We’re rocking this new adventure with Christ!
But sometimes I look at the waves and lose sight of His grip. And that’s when I plummet to the depths.
Nathan was holding him while I was fixing a bottle. He pondered out loud, “I wonder what he’ll look like when he gets older.” The first thing that came to my mind also came out of my mouth…
“What if we never know.”
My heart has never been this vulnerable, this laid out for potential pain. I get physically nauseated at the thought of him leaving us. Of not having him under my protective wing and watchful eye. I fear the day that I might have to hand him over. I worry. I grieve the unknown possibilities. It’s a daily struggle to remember that he might not be a permanent fixture in our family. That he has another mother and my rights are none. I get overwhelmed with the onslaught of new emotions that became my constant companion when he joined us three weeks ago.
And it’s not just the tough stuff, I wrestle with all the silly and selfish aspects of this new thing too. Like, where did my free time go? I kinda want some of it back. I drool at the thought of a housekeeper. And a cook. Or a babysitter that doesn’t have to be fingerprinted and background checked. And I know my sin nature is really kicking into high gear when I start keeping count of the hours of sleep that Nathan is getting verses mine.
I’m harder on my kids because there’s more to do and less time to do it. I fuss at my husband for leaving junk laying around, despite the fact that he has served me and these kids sacrificially nearly every waking minute since our new normal began. I get aggravated. I get tired. I get testy. Just ask my family.
Sweet readers, my belabored point is this. There is nothing special about me or my family. We’re weird and messy and sometimes mean. I have hang ups. I have fears. I have faults. The only thing “special” about me that makes this task doable, is that I also have Jesus.
Beth is Mama Bird to the four chicks in her nest–two bio children, one adoptive daughter, and one foster son–and Wife Supreme to one good-looking pastor. She’s quick to say that nothing in life has ever refined or challenged her more than fostering, and is passionate about sharing what she is learning with others. She loves writing at www.justbethlawrence.com.
*Door Prize Donations For Foster Parent Appreciation Event
Would you like to encourage families caring for children in foster care? One of our local agencies is hosting an appreciation event for their foster families this May and would like to make some nice themed door prize baskets. If you would like to donate an item or service to bless these families, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to include items like gift certificates to restaurants, movie theaters, etc. as well as things like pampering items, kitchen/baking items, candy, etc. If you need additional ideas or have some of your own, shoot us an email or message us on Facebook.
*New Pajamas and Underwear
Kids entering care often don’t come with many things to call their own, so a new pair of pajamas or necessities like new underwear can be a practical comfort in the transition. If you would like to donate new pairs of PJs or underwear (all sizes) or if your group would like to host a drive (think breakfast party or “Wear A Pair, Share A Pair” PJ theme day at school/daycare), please email email@example.com to arrange the details.
*Journey Bags for Ages 10+
While our agencies can always use Journey Bags for all ages, there is a specific need for some bags for older children (10 and up). These backpacks filled with hygiene items and other necessities as well as a few comfort items help ease a hard transition for children coming into foster care. If you or your group would like to help assemble some Journey Bags, please let us know and we can get you a list of suggested items to include. Columbia.firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Goody Bags for Social Workers
We are looking for a group to make some thank you goody bags for six social workers (5 ladies and 1 gentleman). These workers spend a lot of time on the road, so things for their cars like air fresheners, cup holder coasters, travel mugs, pens, hand sanitizer, snacks, and gift cards for gas or coffee would be a wonderful way to encourage them and let them know they are not forgotten as they care for our community’s vulnerable children. Contact us at email@example.com if you want to take on this special project!
*TFI Team Members
We are looking to grow our team! Do you have a heart for the foster care community and some extra hours in the month to help us serve? We would love to talk with you about joining TFI Columbia. We are particularly looking for people to help coordinate volunteers and check in with our agencies in person on a regular basis. If you are interested, email Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Worker Appreciation Teams
We are looking for churches or groups that would be willing to partner with us to do something special on a regular basis to care for and encourage workers at the agencies we serve. Simple things like baked goods, goody bags, notes of encouragement or a special breakfast will let workers know that they are remembered and appreciated as they do the important work of caring for children. We serve agencies of different sizes, so even if your group is not big, you can still be involved. If you are interested, please email email@example.com so that we can discuss the possibilities and help get your group connected!
I feel your heavy stares as I pull out my government issued benefits card to pay for the few groceries I have in my cart full of home goods and clothes. I know what you’re thinking, “This is what’s wrong with America!” We give food stamps and welfare to people who use and abuse the system, just like you assumed I was doing. My cart wasn’t filled with necessities to feed my family, it wasn’t overflowing with diapers, wipes, and formula, so you must have thought that I was working the system, taking the hard earned tax payers’ dollars and using them for my own benefit.
If I could afford new clothes and home decor, then why couldn’t I afford to pay for the $3 milk and $2 bread that lie in my cart? But there’s so much you just don’t know. There’s so much I want to turn around and explain to you, but I can’t, but if I could this is what I would say to you.
I would tell you the $5 I used of tax payers’ money was going to a foster child who has spent almost half his life in a stranger’s home. I would tell you the outfit I just purchased was the first thing I’ve bought for myself in months, a treat of sorts, for making it through the hardest 4 months of my life caring for abandoned and neglected children. I would explain that those adorable bows and bibs aren’t for my own biological daughter but for a sweet 5 month old who never once knew stability or love until she arrived on our doorstep in the middle of the night.
But most of all I would tell you I used to be so much like you, casting judgment on the first sign of someone unlike me.
I have made more judgments since being a foster parent than I ever thought I could. I have sat in the County Health Department and wondered how much these people really need these benefits the state is providing when they look as if they can’t even take care of themselves.
I have wondered if the biological mothers of my foster children really even deserve to have their children back, despite the full forth effort they are putting in to get better. I have judged them and their circumstances more than I ever care to admit, many times getting angry at them for being able to bear children so easily (something I can’t do), and expecting me to care for them. I have formed opinions about them based solely on the 60+ page court documents that detail every mistake they have ever made as a parent. I have looked down upon them because they got themselves into this situation and now they are expecting me to pick up the pieces of their hurting children.
These judgments are so easy to cast, yet so much more difficult to have put upon you. Until I stood in that Target checkout line, I never really understood what it was like to be on the other side. I never knew what it was like to be in a situation where my circumstances dictated others’ views of me. I never knew how much it hurt to feel a stranger’s look on my back as I tried to provide for the needs of my family.
Being a foster parent has made me realize so much about myself and the system than I ever thought possible. My once skewed views on welfare and government assistance have taken a 180 degree turn. I now realize just how difficult getting these programs are. I spend hours on the phone just trying to get an initial appointment only to be told I need document after document just to prove I qualify for the assistance, and that’s just the beginning.
Once I’ve finally gotten to the appointment it is over an hour wait before I’m even seen, and of course I’m required to bring the children with me, which doesn’t make the waiting any easier. Over an hour and a half later, I’m finally walking out of the building with a cranky baby and a 3-month supply of minimal food benefits. I now completely understand why so many people don’t take advantage of the programs that are supposed to help those in need. There’s so much red tape many times it’s not even worth it.
The system isn’t the only thing I’ve had a heart change on. I have found myself coming to the defense of the bio parents more than once when others tell me they deserve to never have their children returned to them. I find myself having compassion for their situations, being reminded that it could be me in their shoes if my life circumstances had been different. I feel hurt for them when I see them take another fall or see the system fighting so hard against them when they are trying so hard to get better. Getting better isn’t easy, but getting better with zero support is an accomplishment I don’t think I am even capable of making.
When one of our children’s bio parents finally engages in visitation and stops cutting every visit short, I celebrate. When she brings cold tablets for her daughter because she remembered it helped her when she had her, it reminds me that she does love her daughter, she just doesn’t know how to care for her; for that I celebrate.
When I see my foster son’s mom persevering through treatment and not giving up each and every time the courts tell her it will be another month before she even has a chance to get her children back, I celebrate. I still have moments of judgment, I still have moments where I want to throw in the towel on these human beings that have put these poor babies in this situation, but even through all of that I am finding compassion, something I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to do.
Fostering has opened my mind to so many things. It reminds me when I stare at a beautiful, round, pregnant belly, I shouldn’t look upon that woman with anger and jealousy, because I have no idea how hard she had to work for that child. When I see a panhandler on the side of the road, begging for change, who am I to think they’re only going to use that money for drugs or alcohol?
When I see my foster child come home from his visit dirty, in clothes two sizes too big, and a note of complaint from the mother, I have to remind myself that she is doing the best she can in the circumstances she’s been given, and she really isn’t trying to do any harm. When a caseworker calls me 2 hours before she wants to make a home visit, I have to take a deep breath and tell myself she is overworked, underpaid, and just trying to do the best she can in the chaotic system that is her job.
These are the daily reminders that have helped me change my outlook on this entire process. I have found that when I give compassion instead of judgment, I become not only a more positive person but a happier person as well. When I see things through the eyes of others, I am not constantly in a state of despair for the future, but hopeful for the things to come. I am reminded that even in the trials and tribulations of our journey through fostering, infertility, and loving and losing there will be times compassion is extended to us, and if we are able to feel the love and compassion of others, then who am I to not do the same towards the least of those?
Bailey and her husband have been married 4.5 years and live in South Florida with their foster children and crazy dog, Nessie. After suffering from infertility for over a year, they felt the Lord calling them to a life of fostering. They began their fostering journey in September 2015 and took their first placement in January 2016 and have had eight placements over the two years since. Bailey shares glimpses into their life on her blog, Whichever Shoe Fits.