Kathy Harrison has fostered one hundred, fifty-three children. She and her husband were named Massachusetts’s foster parents of the year. In addition, they received the prestigious Goldie Rogers Award. She has three biological children and four adopted children. Kathy Harrison is the author of Another Place at the Table, One Small Boat and the “family survival primers,” Prepping 101 and Just in Case. She is known for writing gritty, in-the-trenches foster parent narratives. Her writing is accessible, effective and inspiring. Her writings helped motivate me to want to do foster care.
Foster Focus: What do you wish you knew before you started fostering?
Kathy Harrison: I wish I knew how this would end up defining who we were as parents, as a couple and within our community.
Foster Focus: How did relatives and friends react to your foster care experience?
Kathy Harrison: My relatives all had long histories of public service and were proud of the work we did,
Foster Focus: Tell us what you meant in your book, Another Place at the Table, by the phrase “ready to give birth?”
Kathy Harrison: I believe I was referring to the sense of "expecting" as in fear and excitement and uncertainty. … those emotions as similar to the ones in pregnancy.
Foster Focus: Could you explain the title, “One Small Boat?”
Kathy Harrison: The title came from a prayer. "Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small".
Foster Focus: Were there jealousy issues between your biological children and your foster children?
Kathy Harrison: We generally took kids who were much younger than my bio kids and they were not jealous.
Foster Focus: What do new social workers need to know?
Kathy Harrison: New workers should understand that foster parents are generally doing the best they can. We are often stretched and when we feel “erased” or disrespected it is much harder to keep up. Also, all of our kids have had trauma and there is no such thing as typical.
Foster Focus: What is the foster parent grapevine?
Kathy Harrison: Foster parents talk. It used to be by phone and now it's social media. We know all sorts of things that workers have no idea we know. There are no secrets.
Foster Focus: Did you ever feel so much frustration that you wanted to give up on the foster care system?
Kathy Harrison: I often wanted to give up. It was the legal system that caused the most grief. They have no idea how much the time line adversely affects our kids. 18 months is 1/2 of a 3 year-old's life.
Foster Focus: Could you tell us about one or two of your biggest heartbreaks?
Kathy Harrison: The biggest heartbreaks came from losing kids we hoped to keep and seeing kids who were wonderful little kids become broken by the system when the grew up. It was also a horrible thing to know what a kid needed and see that it was not going to happen.
Foster Focus: Could you tell us about your most memorable moments?
Kathy Harrison: Most of my memorable moments were small things: the kid who started to talk had never spoken, the child who trusted me for no good reason, the birth parent that thanked me. Small things loomed large. I do remember meeting a little girl at the hospital and realizing that I could not take of her. I was heart broken. My four adoptions ranked among my happiest days.
Kathy adds, apropos of everything in foster care:
Kathy Harrison: Most of the time foster parents are doing the best they can. They don't write curriculum that covers kids with kinds of complex trauma our kids come with.
Check out Kathy Harrison’s Amazon Author’s Page and her family preparedness blog: Practicallypreparedinfo.com.