If you’re a parent, you might recognize the signs of news that is forthcoming. The once vocal child becomes fidgety or avoids the family as if they are quarantined. Parents often know the sign of distress and collaborate on the intervention by organizing family time or the quiet knock on the door followed by “do you want to talk about it?” For children in a group home, temporary parents are tasked with recognizing the signs of distress from children that are often unknown to them until they are teens. It often takes months of spending time together before a child feels comfortable enough disclosing details that could be problematic. Right about the time we have built a relationship to stand the test of time, our girls are aging out of care. In our home, aging out of care simply means changing the mailing address.
As our girls leave the system to head off to college, marry, join the military, or enter the workforce, hundreds of them remain in contact to share news each days. Social media allows us to send a Marco Polo to touch base or messenger to check in and see how our girls are doing across the country. Through these sites we have organized weddings, funerals, graduations, baby showers, college entrance exams, mock interviews for the upcoming jobs, or simply listened when life has taken an unexpected turn.
It’s not unusual for us to learn that “we’re having a baby” or “guess who got married!” years after our girls leave. We have sprung into action when a horse was being starved in Florida and one of our girls was living in the neighborhood organized a rescue, we’ve funded transportation to girls who left the state and later learned their resources were here, celebrated Basic Training for several girls who joined the military, attended weddings and stood in as family, and organized funerals for children who have suffered a loss. We’ve stored clothing and photographs for years as girls got on their feet and had a place to call home and provided job references and advice to hundreds of our girls post departure.
Many people take a job after college and move on when a better opportunity arises. After all, working in a home with so much responsibility and gratitude that does not surface until years later yields a high turnover in our field. But for those of us who stay the course, there is no better feeling on earth than to be the first call made when good news is revealed. The hustle and bustle of the everyday crisis gets moved to the back burner and the feeling of accomplishment moves forward.
If you are ever in a position to work, mentor, teach, or serve those who are in the foster care system, I encourage you to commit to it. You will never know the investment that your time and sleepless nights have made in another until you are the person who gets the call one day from a child who thinks you won’t remember them. That one call is “Worth Its Weight in Gold.” And on that note, I leave you with this, the greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.