By: Tiese Williams.
427,910. The number of U.S. children currently in foster care. Do you know that more than half of those children are people of color? It’s real. It’s shocking. And it’s heartbreaking. The thought of so many innocent children drifting in this world without a safe place to call home is devastating. The feeling is so palpable that I felt compelled to do something about it. There is no doubt in my mind that I was destined to be a foster parent and do my small part in tackling this massive epidemic. I decided to venture into this world of compassion, service, joy and sometimes heartbreak and it’s worth every moment of my time.
Where I’m from, it takes a village.
I was born and raised in New York in a neighborhood named Spanish Harlem. This community is also commonly known as “El Barrio,” which is slang for “the hood.” One of the beauties to El Barrio is that it has a strong Puerto Rican cultural identity. Here, the love is strong, but the need is equally as great. You see, during my childhood, nearly half of these households received public assistance. Whether motivated by decent human compassion or, quite simply, nosiness, neighbors were truly concerned about one another. Don’t get me wrong, “minding your own business” was a thing, too, but children were the exception. In El Barrio, every woman of child-rearing age had the ability to love or discipline you. There were plenty of mothers to go around, considering the 80s and 90s produced a significant number of female-headed households.
My Godmother, “Milagros Domenech (affectionately known as “Lalo”), had three biological children. However, she raised many other children and my sister and I were among the fortunate to have her as our second mother. If any mother of El Barrio struggled, Lalo stepped in. If a mother had to work two jobs to put food on the table, Lalo stepped in. And, if any child needed ANYTHING, Lalo stepped in. No questions asked. Lalo had a heart of gold and there were truly no limits to her love for children. Because I benefited from her love every single day as a child, I feel inspired to serve as a vessel of love for other children that desperately need me as well.
My mother’s story
My mother’s journey was another huge reason why I decided to become a foster parent. When she was 6, unfortunate circumstances within her immediate family unit resulted in her and her younger brother being in foster care for seven years. My mother’s foster parents lacked the compassion to care for children not of their own blood, and their abusive behavior and neglectful actions were anything but loving. My mother and her brother grew up quickly and suffered greatly, which is a common reality for thousands of foster children each year.
As sad as those years were, my mother and her brother were grateful and blessed to still have each other. They also had the love of their maternal grandparents, who had eleven children of their own. Because of their large family, the Court would not grant them custody of my mother and her brother. Fortunately, they reunited with our biological family at the ages of 12 and 13, and it was certainly the best possible outcome.
My mother reached back and pulled others up.
Years later, my mother had my older sister in 1979. Times were hard. She struggled financially, worked two jobs, and took college level courses. She needed reasonably priced childcare for my sister, so she took her to a daycare center in New York called the Hale House. The Hale House was known in the City as an orphanage, but my sister attended the “normal” daycare utilized by working parents. While doing drop offs and pickups, my mother could not help but to peak into the orphanage section, and she saw the deep sadness and loneliness on the faces of the children. It reminded her of her own journey through the foster care system and she grew a deep desire to help. She never wanted a child to feel as unwanted or unwelcome as she had when she was in foster care.My mother and father decided to become foster parents, and they fostered a little boy who was the same age as my sister. The little boy had never been outside the walls of the Hale House orphanage, and he was afraid of everything. My parents gave him as much love and stability as they could while they had him. If you ever ask my mother about this little boy, she becomes emotional. It has been thirty-five years since she said goodbye and she still misses him. I have no doubt that I inherited my mother’s heart, and my passion stems from her history.
Foster children need me and I can’t just stand by.
Of the nearly 427,910 children in foster care in the United States, nearly half of those children need non-relative foster family homes because there are no other available options. Although child abuse and neglect occurs at about the same rate in ALL racial/ethnic groups, children of color in the foster care system make up more than half. Keep in mind that, at every age level, black children are more likely to be placed in foster care than Whites or Hispanics, which is disproportionate and alarming. Let that thought sink in. I see my own children in these sweet faces. And that is my driving force.
Every single child is deserving of love.
Through no fault of their own, these children have come from families where unemployment, teen parenthood, poverty, substance abuse, incarceration, domestic violence, homelessness, and mental illness are possibly the norm. Obstacles such as these would inhibit any parent’s ability to properly raise their children. Besides the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, children need unconditional love, acceptance, guidance, discipline, socialization, and stability. Many children in foster care are either unaware or unable to communicate their needs. Therefore, we must speak for them.
It’s simple: we can, so we do.
My husband and I are incredibly fortunate. Don’t get me wrong… we are not perfect and life throws us our fair share of wild balls. However, we experience life together, we have each other, and we are strong as a team. Furthermore, we are in great health, have a nice home, three amazing children, great careers and financial stability. When Jason and I fell in love over fifteen years ago, we dreamed of having a big family with five children. My husband would always throw in, “and let’s adopt too, so we can share our love.” There was never a conversation about future children that did not include our thoughts and hope for fostering and adoption. So for us, the question was never “why become a foster parent,” rather “why not?” Sharing is caring and I love that my husband expands his love to the children that enter our home.
We are on this earth to make a difference.
Fostering is extremely rewarding. A foster parent will undoubtedly experience joy, but our focus is all about the children and what is in their best interest. When in a stable, loving, and healthy home, a child will reap enormous benefits to their mental, emotional and physical well-being. My husband and I have a rule in our house where we only foster children “younger than our youngest.” Our youngest is three and a half, so we normally foster children from infancy to three years old. We have had a few lovely children whose age was an exception to this rule, but we generally stick to it.
The benefit to fostering children between infancy and three years old is that you have the ability to make a huge impact on who they will inevitably become. The development of a child’s brain is rapid between infancy to three years old, and relationships, attachments, experiences and environment heavily influence brain development. It is a beautiful feeling to know that your love and sacrifices as a foster parent have contributed to a child’s healthy brain development. Now that is a gift keeps on giving. We are here to make a difference. We commit to being their voice, their provider, their advocate, and their strength.
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For more information on becoming a foster parent, please visit FosterCare.com