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The good, the bad, and the growth: 2 foster families share their stories

Posted December 13, 2019 5:00 a.m. EST

"The children are the easy part," said Lores family of fostering. "Despite all the complications and the trauma that they have experienced, you wake up with these little faces who love you. It's amazing to look into those little faces." (monkeybusinessimages/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina.

Becoming a foster parent is a big decision and one that shouldn't be made lightly. For two local couples, however, it's been a choice that has no doubt both tested and strengthened them as families.

The Realities of Foster Parenting

Joyce and John Lore are five-time foster parents who are currently fostering an infant girl. No strangers to the world of foster parenting either are Chrissy and Andrew Sawyer – the parents of two adopted boys, as well as two foster sons. Both couples are licensed foster parents for the Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina.

"When you sign up to be a foster parent, you must remember that the primary goal of foster parenting is reunification of the foster children with their biological parents," the Sawyers said. "That means you have to be willing to step up to the plate and to co-parent with the biological parent."

The Sawyers added co-parenting can vary greatly from one foster placement to another.

"At times, biological parents acknowledge that they have made unfortunate choices which have led to separation from their child. They are genuinely remorseful and they desperately want to get their child back," the Sawyers explained. "In those situations, you might make joint parenting decisions during phone calls, enjoy weekly visits together with the child at the park, attend parent-teacher meetings together, and even invite the parents into your home. In these scenarios, you may mentor the biological parents as much as you mentor their child."

They added, "At other times, biological parents are upset that their child has been removed from their home, and they are not receptive to shared parenting. Here, you might simply pass a notebook back and forth that includes notes about their child's behavior and activities. You might also share photos of the child. Or they might choose to attend their child's medical appointments, while being accompanied by a social worker."

The Sawyers continued, "Since reunification is the goal, you have to be willing and able to let the child go at any time — even in instances when you and your spouse were the ones who brought the child home from the hospital as a newborn."

The Lores added, "Any time you have kids in your home for any length of time, reunification is difficult. Our first placement was with two little girls for just under six weeks, but it was still difficult to let them go. Yet, the girls were reunited with their biological family. We couldn't ask for more."

"As foster parents, we're advocates for the welfare of both the biological parents and their children," the Lores said. "We have to trust the courts to have the greater wisdom about what's right for both."

Foster parenting is about helping children to heal.

"Foster children often come into your home after having been through something awful. They come in with a lot of scars – a lot of life lived – and they may be scared, frightened or traumatized," the Sawyers said. "Some children have experienced hunger, neglect, abuse, homelessness. And since children don't have the ability to process all of that, they may express themselves through behavior or language. Thankfully, our B&GH foster training prepared us well for what to expect. We've learned that rather than try to change the child, we must change our approach to parenting."

For example, the Sawyers shared when one of their foster children misbehaved and was asked to take a "timeout" at the bottom of the hallway stairs, the child refused to go to the hallway stairs and instead, opted to take his timeout in a corner of the kitchen.

"He still experienced the timeout, but just in a different spot of the house. So, the end goal was accomplished," they said. "We've learned that sometimes you have to meet your foster children where they are."

"Every foster child assignment is special and unique," the Lores explained. "To do this work, you have to be selfless. You have to put the kids first, and you have to be there every day and every night just as if they were your own biological kids. Because, at the end of the day or the end of a placement, it's not about you. It's about the kids and their growth, their transformation and their happiness. The true heroes in any foster care stories are always the kids."

Here are a few more foster care realities shared by these foster parents:

  • Foster parents may receive limited biological histories about their foster children. Sometimes the data is simply unknown and foster parents must work with available resources such as social workers and physicians to address mental or physical issues as they arise.
  • Recordkeeping is a fundamental part of foster parenting. "It's tedious, yet necessary," explained the Lores. "These are children's lives and the Department of Social Services is doing its best to monitor the kids' lives in foster care."
  • Numerous financial assistance resources, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, are available for many foster children. Yet, qualifying for those services often requires a considerable commitment of time and effort. The Lores shared, "We look at it as 'This is what we signed up for, so this is what we have to do to get the children the services they need.'"
  • Relationships with friends and family may grow, change or become strained based on how others choose to accept your foster parenting decision.

The Joys of Foster Parenting

Given the realities and challenges of foster parenting, some may wonder why people like the Sawyers and Lores volunteered for such a job. Both foster parents said it's because the joys far outweigh the hardships.

"We want a forever family," the Lores explained. "Although a biological family has never come to fruition for us, fostering has given us a family."

The Sawyers said there is a great excitement when foster children enter their home.

"One of our boys came into our home a couple of days before Christmas. He was a real Christmas present," they said.

"The children are the easy part," the Lores added. "Despite all the complications and the trauma that they have experienced, you wake up with these little faces who love you. It's amazing to look into those little faces."

The Sawyers said the growth of the children is beautiful to watch.

"You see things that are amazing. For example, two of our foster children didn't know how to eat with utensils when they came to us at ages four and five. They couldn't tell the difference between colors," they said. "Yet, over the years, we've watched all that unravel and have seen a transformation take place."

"Plus, there's nothing more satisfying than seeing them experience something for the first time: a swing set, a family dinner in a restaurant, someone sitting with them at bedtime and reading them a story, or receiving a Christmas present," the Sawyers continued.

The Lores added, "It's fabulous to see their first steps or hear their first words. We do our best to share those moments with their biological parents through photos and videos."

In addition, both the Lores and the Sawyers are quick to share the importance of community and support when it comes to foster parenting.

"When you work with B&GH, you are going to be supported," the Sawyers said. "They are excellent in providing resources and 24-hour support. You're not going to walk the foster parenting road alone."

The Lores added, "We are not an island. Our emotional support comes from an incredible network of supporters and resources. At the top of the list is the B&GH team. They are a very human agency; very compassionate. Because of them, they make our work possible."

This article was written for our sponsor, Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina.

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