The day Joseph* would be reunited with his biological mother was a bittersweet moment for the Smith* family. After all, Joseph had been placed in the Smiths’ home since he was only a few months old.
The Smiths had known this day was coming. They were prepared for Joseph’s transition from their home back to his mother’s home. However, as Mr. and Mrs. Smith looked at the now 1-year old Joseph, they wondered what his future would be like. What would his favorite subject be in school? What kind of activities would he enjoy as a teen? What type of man would Joseph become?
The Smiths fully understood that their call to foster involved many relationships with many children and families. Each relationship would be different from case to case. The Smiths also knew that no matter the length of the stay of a child placed in their home, the impact that it made on that child and each individual involved in the case would be long lasting.
During 15 years of fostering children, Mary and John witnessed the high school graduation of five children who were placed in their home, the college graduation of two children whom they fostered, and the enlistment and proud service of three children who were once placed in their home.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith knew that the work they were called to do with children in need of a loving and safe home was a mighty call, one that required much responsibility. The call also required patience, sacrifice, and perseverance. Most important, the call to foster required unwavering love and compassion—not just for the children they served but for the biological families that those children came from.
In the moment of Joseph’s reunification, the need of compassion towards his biological mother was made ever clear to Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The Smiths knew that Joseph’s mother was in need of support, guidance, and assistance. More than anything, she wanted to be reunited with her son.
With Joseph’s placement in their home, Mr. and Mrs. Smith knew that their call to foster was even deeper this time. Their call to foster was not only to foster Joseph, but to be additional support to his mother. Mr. and Mrs. Smith accepted the task to provide additional support to Joseph’s mother with great humility and grace. They knew that they had to operate within the parameters allowed by the Department of Social Services and offered support within those parameters.
Additional support for Joseph’s mother included contacting her to learn about the family Joseph came from, including Joseph’s mother in some decision making, inviting Joseph’s mother to doctor’s appointments, and being sure that Joseph attended all scheduled visitation appointments that he had with his mother.
The Smiths and Joseph’s mother exchanged a notebook between them. In this notebook, the Smiths would document anything that happened that week. Joseph’s first tooth, first steps, and Joseph’s first words were documented in this notebook.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith also shared leads on job openings that they knew would interest Joseph’s mother based on conversations that they had with her in the past. Additionally, Joseph’s mother shared her job interviews, when she finally gained employment, updates on her search for housing, and when she finally obtained housing.
The last entry in the notebook written by Joseph’s mother read, “Will you be Joseph’s godmother and godfather?” The Smiths agreed to Joseph’s mother’s request with great joy. They were honored to be considered for the opportunity to remain connected to Joseph and his mother.
Joseph’s reunification was indeed bittersweet. The Smiths would definitely miss his presence in their home. They would miss his laughter. They would miss discovering the new abilities Joseph would develop and the new words he would learn as he continued to strengthen his language skills. They took comfort in knowing that although Joseph was leaving their home, he was not leaving their lives.
Fostering Impacts Not Only the Child
Your Support Can Help the Parents As Well
Times like these—bittersweet but rewarding and satisfying nonetheless—affirmed the importance of the Smiths’ call to foster. Joseph’s placement with the Smith family helped fuel Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s desire to foster many more children after Joseph.
The Smiths went on to support Joseph’s mother as she completed her education and as Joseph entered kindergarten. Joseph’s mother would then go even further with her education and earn a post graduate degree—all while the Smiths continued to rally for Joseph and his mother and provide assistance when needed. Joseph and his mother truly overcame and beat the odds that were against them, and the Smith family remains delighted to have been a party to this process.
This story is a testament to how truly important fostering is and how impactful a loving, compassionate, and unwavering foster parent can be to not only a child in need but his or her parents as well. The old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” However, we could take it a step further and say, “It takes a village to raise a family.”
All cases are not like Joseph’s, some children who come into care may never reunify with their biological families due to different circumstances. This story is a true story that is unique to this case. However, it does not take away from the impact that a foster parent has the ability to make.
Currently, in the United States there are more than 450,000 children in the foster care system. This number equals an amount large enough to fill six football fields. There are more children in care than there are homes to care for them. The need for foster parents is great. Each day, a child enters the foster care system and the task to place them with loving and safe homes is difficult due to this shortage.
Fostering may seem intimidating. Being connected to the child’s family may seem challenging as those families may have different backgrounds. However, the positive lifelong impact fostering can have on the child and his or her family is well worth the challenge.
Consider the story of Mary and John and the lifelong relationship they developed with Joseph and his biological mother. Consider the positive agent of change Mr. and Mrs. Smith became to Joseph and his mother. Being a foster parent is sometimes difficult but not impossible. Remember the village.
*The story of Mary, John, and Joseph is a true story. Names were changed to protect the identities of the people involved in this case.
Jennifer Gilliam is program director of the Virginia Beach office of The Bair Foundation.
For more information about becoming a foster parent, please, contact:
• The Bair Foundation
184 Business Park Dr., Ste. 200
Va. Beach, VA 23462
(United Methodist Family Services)
1300 Diamond Springs Rd., Ste. 401
Va. Beach, VA 23455