I was adopted as an infant. In those days, an unmarried young woman who got pregnant typically “went away to school” for nine months, gave birth and put her baby up for adoption. That was my story. As I grew up and understood about adoption, I realized that anyone can become a mother or a father, but it takes someone special to be a mom or a dad. My parents earned the right to be called “Mom” and “Dad.” They welcomed me unconditionally as part of their forever family. They fostered me with love.
Fast forward to adulthood. I learned more about another kind of parent who provides a loving, supportive environment for a child not biologically theirs. They’re foster parents, and the children they nurture and support desperately need the influence of caring adults—parents—in their lives.
Does “foster care” make you think of a child removed from a home because of abuse or neglect? Or a teen removed from a home environment destructive to their wellbeing? There are thousands of such cases in Massachusetts. There are also children with medical or behavioral issues who require “diagnostic foster care,” which can involve frequent visits the hospital, often in Boston.
Like all children, foster children grow up. Eventually they “age out” of the foster care system. I prefer to think of them “graduating” from foster care into adulthood, like Ann did. She came into foster care at age 12. Her mother had serious mental health issues and there were signs of neglect and abuse. Ann says with CHD it was always great to know she had someone in her corner. Jen, her social worker, had a knack for taking two disparate parties and making sure they ended up on the same page. Ann “graduated” from foster care, transitioned into the Independent Living Program, and has made a life for herself. Today she works in a physician’s office as a medical secretary, lives on a farm and is engaged to be married.
Ben came into foster care in 2009 at age 16. His mother struggled with severe substance abuse and also wouldn’t support Ben’s identity as a young gay man. Ben’s foster parents took him in completely. CHD helped Ben find money so he could take driver education in school and his foster parents taught him how to drive. Ben graduated from high school and after he turned 18, his foster mother renovated a studio apartment next to her home. Ben continues to rent from her and they maintain a warm relationship. Without his foster parents and CHD, Bens says he doesn’t know what kind of path he’d have gone down. Currently he’s a senior in the Nursing program at American International College.
Could you be a foster parent? It can be hugely rewarding, but it’s not something you do for the money. View it as a vocation, as a way to commitment yourself to a young person who needs the love, care and stability you can provide. There is training involved and you must open your home to a child as well as case workers and other professionals assigned by the Commonwealth to look after the child’s wellbeing.
There’s no “perfect time” or “perfect family” for fostering. What matters to a foster child is what you can provide: a stable environment, someone to help with homework, someone who’s there after a tough day. If you can give time and attention, you can make a significant difference to a child.
During May, which is National Foster Care Month, CHD is proud to acknowledge foster parents and family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care to find permanent homes and connections. To learn more, visit CHD’s Foster Care homepage, call (413) 781-6556 or send an email requesting more information to firstname.lastname@example.org.