All children need someone to be there for them, whether to kick a ball around, empathize over adolescent friendships, or provide support for mental health issues or other adversities. They need to know that at least one person will never give up on them—no matter what happens in their lives, no matter who they are, no matter what they do. They need someone who will always love, support, mentor and care for them.
When children cannot safely live with one or both of their parents, or with another relative, a foster parent can be that person.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, foster parents have kept children healthy while facing their own health scares. They’ve supported children and youth in accessing mental health services while dealing with their own fears and worries. They’ve toiled side-by-side with children during distance learning while working from home or coping with unemployment.
And they’ve supported children to visit and maintain contact with their birth families while ensuring that they also feel accepted in their foster homes. Foster parents deserve recognition and praise year-round for their dedication and compassion—and particularly now, during Foster Care Month.
In a recent conversation with some long-time foster parents, I learned more about the realities of what they do. It can be a challenge, no doubt.
There are tough days, dealing not only with pandemic-related issues but also with meeting children’s day-to-day physical, emotional and mental health needs. Any removal from a home is a traumatic event, and these children may not readily trust and bond with their foster families.
But the foster parents also shared the great rewards they experience, such as seeing children succeed by getting a good grade, earning a driver’s license, or graduating from high school. Most importantly, they make a lifelong difference in children’s lives.
“They come in as a stranger,” said one foster mother. ”They will leave as family.”
“When they come in, they may be broken, but when they leave…they go away with the feeling of being loved,” said a foster father.
We always need more foster parents. While the numbers of children entering foster care has declined during the pandemic, on an average day Minnesota still has about 7,700 children and young adults who need foster families and providers.
To best meet children’s individual needs, we need a pool of foster parents to choose from, particularly those who reflect the racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds of children in care. We’re looking for foster parents who will not only nurture and care for children but also guide, compromise, keep an open mind, listen to their stories, show patience and tolerance, preserve and make relationships, and enable children to be their true selves.
And love. Of course, love. People who become foster parents give a child not only a home but also a temporary family, as well as comfort, safety, and welcome arms to return to over the years.
One youth formerly in foster care said it’s understandable that some may have concerns about becoming foster parents, but wisely noted that the human experience involves trauma and poor life choices as well as empathy, care and love. Foster parents can help foster children with additional positive human experiences.
As another former foster youth put it: “A lot of people in the world have good hearts, and not a lot of people get to see that part of people… A good place to start is showing kids you love them when they haven’t had that before.”
One person. One caring, supportive, nurturing adult. That’s all it takes to make a difference in a foster child’s life.
To learn more, contact your county or tribal social service agency, or visit the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ website at mn.gov/dhs/foster-parents
As assistant commissioner for children and family services at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Tikki Brown is responsible for services and policies that promote child care, child support, economic stability, child safety and permanency, and successful transitions for immigrants.