From Foster Parent to Family Preservation Advocate (Podcast Episode 11)

Over the years, my heart for helping foster parents feel more equipped to support reunification efforts has grown. Recalling my own fumbling efforts to show support for the women whose children have been in my care over the years, I know how much I could have used someone to show me the way. While it is not ultimately up to a foster parent to make sure a parent and child are reunified—the onus really is on the parent to do the hard work involved with reunification—I have learned over the years that there is a lot foster parents can do to encourage and support their foster child’s parent(s) as they move through the brutal stages of reunification.

In this episode of A Fostered Life Podcast, I speak with Tonya Foulkrod, a woman whose experiences as a foster parent led her and her husband to start an organization aimed at providing wraparound-type support for parents in crisis. Three Strands is a nine week, faith-based parenting program offered by local churches and volunteers to families in crisis. It is for parents who have lost custody of their children, or who are at risk of losing custody, and are working toward family reunification and preservation. In addition to parenting classes, participants experience home-cooked community meals and mentorship from dedicated volunteers who are trained in trauma-informed care. They have moral support in court and life-long friendships with people committed to helping their family stay together and thrive.

My conversation with Tonya was pretty long, so I’ve divided it into two parts. In this episode, which is Part One, she shares about how she went from being a foster parent who was intimidated by her foster child’s mom to becoming that mom’s biggest cheerleader and advocate. In the next episode, we’ll hear more about the work of Three Strands.

I hope you enjoy this episode, and if you are a foster parent, I hope it gives you some ideas and inspiration in how you might be able to support your foster child’s family.

Stock Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash. Note: the people depicted are models and not involved with Three Strands.

Creating a “Memory Box” For Your Foster Children

One of the things I’ve heard over and over from former foster children is that they often miss out on having keepsakes and mementos from their childhood, especially if they’ve been moved between several homes. Many of us take it for granted that we have baby pictures, grade school projects, and other mementos from our early years—but not a child who was in foster care. Sometimes, entire years of their lives are undocumented because of so many moves.

I remember when our first foster children arrived. I had every intention of maintaining nice scrap books for them. But then reality hit—there was no way I was going to keep up with a scrap book! So I came up with a different idea: Memory Boxes!

It’s been nearly six years, and I still maintain Memory Boxes for each of the kids who is with us for more than a couple of weeks. This past weekend, I had a chance to speak with a woman whose children were in foster care for six months (and have been reunified). She told me that it meant a lot to her that her children’s foster parents gave her photos and mementos from the time her children were away from her. Memory Boxes are not just for the children in our care—they’re for their parents, too.

Here is my (very simple) system for keeping track of mementos for each of our kids. This video is old (no, I didn’t cut my hair—this is what I looked like in 2015!), but it’s still my practice all these years later! The boxes I used in this video are no longer available, but these* would work well!

Hope you find it helpful!

*Amazon Affiliate Link

When Foster Parents Fight for Reunification (Podcast Episode 9)

One of the things many people say when they hear that I’m a foster parent is, “I couldn’t imagine getting attached to a child and then having to give them back.” While I can appreciate that people are just expressing their honest feelings, the truth is, that sentiment shows a total lack of understanding about the main point of foster care, which is precisely to love a child to the point of getting attached and then “giving them back” to their parents.

Reunification is the first goal of foster care. When a child is removed from their parents, usually the plan is to provide a safe and loving and nurturing home for them while their parents do the hard work of getting to a place where they can safely parent their children again. It’s messy. It’s an emotional roller coaster. And it’s not always possible. Just over half of children in foster care will be reunified. The rest will be raised by relatives, adopted by foster parents, or remain in foster care until they “age out.” 

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that foster parents can play a crucial role in supporting reunification, and in today’s podcast, I’m speaking with a fellow foster parent named Lauren who did just that. The focus of today’s episode is how foster parents can be intentional and proactive in supporting the mothers (and/or in some cases fathers) of the children in their care, championing their efforts to get their children back.

Let me be very clear, though, before we launch into this conversation: this is often the hardest part of foster parenting. The emotional toll is high, and the grief a foster family experiences after reunification is real. 

I’m grateful that Lauren shared from her experiences with me, and I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

If you’re interested in supporting my work at A Fostered Life, please go my Patreon page, where you can become a patron. Just one dollar a month helps offset the cost of producing these resources and enables me to offer them freely to new and prospective foster parents, and I’m grateful for the support of my patrons.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash