Foster Parents are First Responders

I wanted to take the time to write a public thank you to all the foster parents out there.

There was a point in my life where my single dad had tried everything he knew in order to get me and my life on track. After several times running away and getting into trouble.

One day my dad walked me into a social services office where told the social worker he had done everything he knew and nothing was working. Short of beating me he had done it all, I just kept rebelling and self-destructing. I felt so alone that day. As my dad walked down the hall and left me in the office of somebody I had never met before.

Have you ever felt so much anger that it made you black out or lose control? That was me. I felt like I had nothing to lose and I feared no one.

My first stop in foster care was a short-term care home, which happened to be a pig farm. Here we were waking up at five am to feed pigs and deliver babies. It was an everyday list of farm chores and I was not going to do it. Coming from the big city I was not going to go from gang banger to farmer overnight. So, I told the family there to call my case worker or I was out.

I ran from that place. I was caught shortly after in a corn field. Dogs and officers were hot on my trail, there was no getting away.

I went back to the county jail where I waited for a foster home to say “yes”. My social worker was calling around incessantly. Finally, late at night, a foster home said yes, they would take me. I was short term while everyone continued trying to find a way to get me the help I needed.

What help did I need at the time? A lot. I needed a counselor, drug treatment. I needed to be loved and I wanted to be accepted.

When the foster family said yes, I was loaded into my social worker’s car and off we were. To a lake house!?!

When we arrived at the house I was in shock. I went from the big city streets, to a farm, to jail and then to a lake house with a family that was waiting for me. I had my own room! The parents had two kids of their own. This would prove to be difficult for me. They owned their own dog boarding business and also bred dogs. So here I was, now working with dog instead of pigs.

The longer I was with this family, the more difficult it was for me to be good. I started out fine but soon met some new friends that were just like me. “Birds of feathers flock together”. My friends were not good role models and also had a negative effect on my long-term situation. After I started to get into trouble with them, began the earlier curfews and limited privileges.

My foster mom would say things like, “you’re a foster kid and have different rules”. REJECTION! This was a feeling I felt all too often. At night, I would cry for hours, missing my mom. No matter how bad she was to me, being with her would be better than a stranger who had shown her true colors.

After a few late-night run ins with the law, I was removed from their house and shipped to a group home for delinquent teens. I was there for only a few short weeks when I and another kid decided we were going to run away, stealing the group home car to do so.

One night while I was in the office getting my night time meds, I reached back to pull the keys off a hook and sliding them into my back pocket. Later that night at a time we picked to leave, thinking we would be safe to do so, I went to my window and jumped from the 2nd story to the ground.

My buddy went out his window, we met up in the driveway. Too bad the lights were working!

They lit us up. The overnight staff was alerted and were soon on their way out to try and stop us. I ran for the driver seat and started the car. My buddy jumped in and we were ready to leave.

Then the staff came around to the back side of the car made his way to the driver’s side window and reached in. As he was yelling at me to “STOP”! “YOU DON’T WANT TO DO THIS!”, I put the car in park and took off on foot. I was on the run for a week that time.

I would end up catching a felony case. I would stay 18 months in prison until my 21st birthday. If I did not do just as they asked I would get revoked and sent to prison. I was only 16 years old.

My track record was not good for completing these types of things to this point. I would end up in the Department of Corrections’ prison facility, named Red Wing. A state facility for boys (LOCK UP).

I was there for a total of 23 months. Five more than my sentence, and this, was a state facility.

I was released from prison to the streets with expectations of getting a job, going to school, paying bills etc. All things I had never been able to do.

One night I was hanging out with some old friends. When they had to go home I told my best friend I would just crash in his car in the driveway. His mom asked where I was and why I was sleeping in the car. I had a warrant at the time, as I did not meet my parole officer for a meeting, for fear I would give a dirty drug test and go back to prison. My buddy’s mom told me to come into the house and talk with them.

I explained my situation to them, the mess I was in. I told them the truth. For the first time, I was being honest about my life, with myself and others. After our conversation they decided to adopt me and make me a part of their family. I would have to call me parole officer to have them come out for a meeting and get everything figured out. was certain that I was headed back.

I went back to prison as I thought I would but my new family was there for me. They came to visit, brought me food and clothes. They told me they loved me and that what I was going through was temporary.

When I was released for what I thought would be the last time, they were there to pick me up. They bought me my first car. They helped me enroll in tech school and the National Guard. Life was good and I was doing well with a supportive family. Next, I had to deal with a judge that I had been dealing with for years one more time.

I went to my last court day in my BDUs (Army clothes).

When my judge wanted a break, I thought I had a chance. After all, I had served over the sentenced time, so if anything, she would send me to prison, but with credit for the time I served, I would be released and move on with my life.

Instead, she came back with one last bomb to drop. She sentenced me to prison for 18 months and did not give me credit for the time I had already served. She decided to revoke my stay on the fact that I was a felon on probation around fire arms.

I went from a loving family back to a prison cell.

After a year of waiting for the appeals court to hear my case, I was released Christmas Eve day 2000.

The best day of my life.

When it comes to being a foster parent it is a tough line to walk.

You answer to a broken failing system that does not always provide the best answers or outcomes. You sign up to help heal the broken and end up broken yourself. The very fact that you are willing to help the lost, lonely and broken makes you a first responder. When you get a call at two in the morning about a couple of siblings that need a place, while only getting limited info, you say yes.

You are answering the calls when they come. I know that, as a teen, I could eat the money the county paid for me to be in foster care. Not to mention the clothes I tore through.

I know you do not do this for the money.

I want you to know that as a child with a bad past, the one thing I always wanted was to be accepted and loved for being me. Not for living up to an expectation of someone else. I was a kid on medications after being diagnosed with ADHD with depression. It was hard for me to string a few good days together.

I did not know why I self-destructing. I was hurting and the drugs covered the pain. I knew that by being a jerk I got attention. To me, good, bad, it was all the same. Better than none. I had been rejected so many times and spent so much of my time alone in a cell or small room that there was not much that scared me anymore.

I want you to understand this…

Today, as a saved Christian, I am thankful to the moon and back for the work you all do.

I am thankful for the kids who need a family that you are willing and able to offer that and so much more.

I understand that there are times when you ask yourself, why? Why me? Why did I do this? The late nights, the sleepless nights, the fights and hurting, the battle over how to deal with certain situations. The county, their rules, your house and your values. Yet you still find ways to power through and give those kids the love and attention they deserve.

I am one of many reasons why you do what you do.

I am a volunteer full-time, 24/7 365, firefighter/first responder. I am married ten years with three daughters (Karma!). We own our home. And nobody handed this to me. I had to work harder than most to stay clean, hold a job, pay bills and care for my kids, myself. I did that with a support network and with tools in my toolbox planted in me from folks like you. The compassion I was shown in foster care is part of the reason I am moved to share my story, to lift your spirits with real truth and show you how your work pays off.

I am a firefighter because I first want to help others to serve God and our community. My story is not about me, but how your never-ending fight to be that one person in a broken child’s life, to not give up on them. My tests and pushing the limits were tests for my foster parents to see if I could get them to give up on me like everyone else had.

Then I found a family by mistake, was honest with them and they said yes to making me a part of their lives. They were willing to take me with all my baggage. That meant a lot to me. There were times that I would cry and have bad days. My adoptive Mother would lay on the floor with me and let me feel my feelings in a safe and private manner.

This brought me comfort and built trust.

When I say be that one that does not give up on them. I mean that. Instead, let them be who they are and nurture them back to their happier selves. Show them love and compassion. When they are having a rough day, and need to be disciplined, give them the whole picture and show how it relates to you. If you had these behaviors as an adult, what would happen? As foster kids are often looked at or categorized as less than equal to many. The more you are able to relate, the easier it is to have them truly understand and reason with you on issues related to bad behavior.

I was also one to push buttons and try and play the system. The one thing I still do to this day, that was introduced to me in foster care, was structure, a schedule.

The weekends were open and free for family fun. Weekdays were work, school, sports, homework, and family time. If I was off my schedule for too long I became a mess. Fall apart find myself angry. Kids like to know what’s next. They find comfort in knowing their routine. Also with this, find something that the kids are good at. Maybe a sport or afterschool activity. If they do well and like it, fill most of their free time with likewise activities. This will expend energy in a positive way. It will also give them encouragement and complements for doing a good job. Lastly, this will limit their free time for bad friends and free time to get into trouble. Realistic goals and expectations are a big one.

When there are biological kids and foster kids in one home, it tends to be harder.

What you expect from your biological son should not be a standard for how your foster son behaves. They are not the same. They should not be compared.

My bio dad would never watch me swim at our apartment complex pool in the summers. I begged him and cried. Just throw a few burgers on the grill and when they are done, I’ll get out and we could eat together.

I asked for an hour of his time. His reply would be to yell at me and tell me “if you can put together five good days in a row, I will THINK about it. But not until then!”

That was his way of saying “I’m tired after working all day.”.

So, what does a bored teen do when his dad won’t even spend an hour with him?

Hangs out with whoever he wants, and he does whatever he wants, because it is better than staring at the walls in my room.

When you set the expectations too high, all hope is lost and the child’s spirit inside is crushed. We need to bring ourselves into their world and use empathy when rebuilding trust with their little souls.

Set the goals so there are easily achieved at first and have something that makes it worth it as a reward.

Maybe they like video games? When they do things right, they earn more play time. As they meet each goal, make it a little harder each time. Maybe make the reward a little more enticing?

When they do not meet the goal, do not discourage them, rather, tell them how close they were or what they did right and what they needed to do better.

Having a dialogue and open communication is a big part of their behavior.

Before coming to you, who knows where they have been? You are there to shelter and repair.

I honestly would not be where I am today without my faith and the foster families that stepped into my life who helped put me back together. You all are great caregivers and deserve to be thanked for all you go through.

Thinking back on my experience in foster care makes me smile.

I went to church and kept asking God to use me. I am already a fire fighter, but I wanted to help others all the time. I asked that if it was in His plan for me to share my story, that I would need strength and courage.

Months passed and things that needed to happen just started falling into place. My story is unique and I have been through Hell and back. I wanted to share my story and wisdom with the parents who go the extra mile and rarely hear about how former fosters are doing.

When you show a child unconditional love and compassion, when you never give up, over time, that child will build trust with you and feel safe. Your work turns lives around. Maybe not today or next year, but the skills, tools love, time and attention you give helps build them up and heal from the pain.

Counseling is a must for kids who have been through trauma. Just getting taken away and placed is trauma enough.

Please know your work is truly appreciated and not unnoticed. Thank you for all you do!!!!