THE FOSTER CARE COMMUNITy
"It was hard because you never really know what's going to happen. It's something you can't prepare for. They tell you that they could leave at any moment." –– Nika, foster mom
As #NationalReunificationMonth comes to a close, we wanted to introduce you to another one of the many parents in our program who is giving children a safe place to call home, and giving biological parents time to make the changes necessary to make their family whole again.
Nika's fostering journey began when she was handed a precious newborn baby, only two days old. "They were like, 'here you go!' and I was pretty shocked. The journey was amazing. I couldn't believe they gave me such a precious little thing.”
Fostering can feel overwhelming and chaotic. Welcoming a new foster placement is often an unpredictable experience, and parents may have as little as hours of warning before the child's arrival. Many foster parents do not know details about the child such as gender, age, how many children need placing, how many belongings they are coming with, and/or what the child's health and medical needs are. Working parents may have to adjust their work schedules with little to no notice, and quickly plan for childcare assistance.
So how can you support a foster parent who has just welcomed a child (of any age) into their home?
💙Offer to cover practical items such as paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, paper plates and cleaning supplies, which saves the parents time and money spent on errands.
💙If the child is an infant or a toddler - offer to purchase general baby items such as diapers, wipes, outfits and pajamas, and bath needs.
💙Purchase gift cards to Amazon or Walmart, so they can expect convenient delivery right to their door.
💙Help with meals - most new parents would gladly welcome assistance in planning and preparing their next meals.
Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but we all CAN do something to support the people who do. Click the link in our bio to start supporting a caregiver near you!
Lauren is a former foster (now adoptive) mom whose family was matched in our program a little over two years ago, when her and her husband began fostering two girls who had been in the Love Box program at their previous placement. Sarah, Izzy and Anna’s Love Box leader, had been matched with the girls since March of 2016, and had been with the girls through their previous two placements before following them to Lauren and Nick.
Lauren says, “Sarah has been in their life for four years now. She's been such a steady presence in their life during all of these transitions, which is wonderful--to have a stable, steady presence in your life when all of these things are changing. I love that the girls get to have an amazing, dedicated, reliable mentor that they absolutely love. Sarah just pours love into our family at every opportunity and each of us feel that deeply.” Sarah was a faithful friend to Lauren through the foster to adopt process, supporting her, her husband Nick, and their girls through a journey that can feel very lonely and stressful at times.
When asked how the Love Box program has impacted their foster care journey, Lauren shared, “I have always felt the support of the entire Austin Angels community since we became involved. I was so surprised the first time I met the rest of the staff and everyone knew my girls and their story. It made us feel loved and cared for. Anytime I have asked for help from Austin Angels they have said yes with a generous heart. The girls both received bikes, a camping trip, funding for a basketball league, so many clothes, school supplies, fun gifts––and they coordinated and funded the most wonderful adoption day celebration of all time. So yes, we have felt supported throughout our journey!”
The community and support they gained through the Love Box program left Lauren and Nick connected and empowered - something that foster parents sadly don’t always get to experience. “When the girls first came to us, it was a lot for me,” Lauren explains. “There were so many people who came into our home, we weren’t sure what all the rules were, and I relied on Sarah emotionally. I could tell her everything. She really listened to me. Nick and I knew she was there to support us and the girls. It wasn’t just all on us as a couple. We had support. We had another person who could help guide the girls, someone they look up to so much.”
Lauren says her favorite part of the Weber/Krueger family’s relationship with Sarah isn’t just the extra support, but the routine of being in someone else’s life -- hanging out and doing normal things together. Lauren says, “We consider Sarah a permanent part of our extended family… We feel so loved by her and her people. It’s overwhelming in a good way.”
In June 2016, Kathleen was introduced to B as her case manager at Austin Angels. B was placed with her grandma and Kathleen was able to match them with a Love Box group. Over the next year and a half, she got to know B and grew connected to the family. In May 2018, when B needed to be temporarily placed in a new placement, Kathleen, who had recently been licensed as a foster parent, was able to welcome B into her home – and continue to be a consistent person in her life. B's Love Box group continued supporting her at her new placement, allowing her to be surrounded by consistent, healthy adults who were continuing to invest in her.
When B was eventually reunified with her mom, maintaining the relationship between her and B was a priority for Kathleen. She began mentoring B through the Dare to Dream program in order to give their new relationship space to grow outside of her as a foster parent, and give space for B's mom to be her mom.
The beauty of our programs is that they are based on community and connection – they are not a "one size fits all" approach to foster care. We know that every family is unique, every child is unique, and every story is unique. Whether bringing a meal, mentoring a youth, or becoming a foster parent and welcoming a youth into your home – we all have a role to play in changing the way that children and families experience foster care.
To Laurie, becoming a Love Box Leader simply made sense. She had been working with children in foster care for a few years, and was aware of the hardships children and families face through experiencing it. Because she knew the need, she also wanted to make sure the non-profit organization she supported would truly be one she could stand behind. Laurie says, “Since I had previous knowledge of the multiple hardships kids and families go through in the foster care system, I knew the need for support is important and can be life-changing. Since I work in the non-profit sector, I'm picky about which organizations I choose and I investigate to see how they are sustainable, ethical, and impactful. Austin Angels is incredibly intentional in all that they do and they have amazing results with their kids from quantitative points such as their high school graduation rates to the anecdotal stories of kids having a birthday party for the first time in their lives! This organization and the Love Box program is a means where we can share support, encouragement, and hope in difficult times.”
Laurie was nervous before meeting her Love Box family, but they hit it off instantly. After a few visits, their relationships grew to feel a little more like family each time. She says, “Through the Love Box program I have gained a wonderful family that makes me smile every time I think about them. Their foster mom is so generous with her time and her home for her kids. I try to support her as much as I can.” Her favorite memory with the family is when the youngest child was afraid of riding her bike, but after time with Laurie she was riding alongside her brothers. She says, “I love watching them play, learn, and grow, and I love the gifts they draw for me to put on my fridge!” Through the Love Box program, the children and foster mom got the support they needed, and Laurie gained the family she didn’t know she needed!
June is National Reunification Month, a month which recognizes the people and efforts around the country that help families stay together. Today we want to introduce you to one of the many parents in our program who is giving children a safe place to call home, and giving biological parents time to make the changes necessary to make their family whole again.
Cassandra is an amazing single mom who has welcomed an incredible 33 children into her home in her 10 years of fostering. “Fostering was always in my heart and on my mind,” Cassandra says, “even before my daughter was born–––way before I even got pregnant, I wanted to foster, possibly adopt. Something was always pulling at my heart whenever I heard the commercials or heard the ad on the radio stations. Agencies used to be at little community events trying to recruit people. I always stopped and was like, ‘I know I'm supposed to be doing this.’ So finally, when my daughter (pictured) was in seventh grade, and it was still heavily on my heart, I thought, ‘This is something I want to do.’ I have the calling, I have the heart, I have the love. So why not?”
Cassandra went into fostering hoping to adopt, but was open to anything. After her first placement’s case moved to reunification after three years, she shared, “I didn't know what to do. You don't know how to walk that walk because no one has taught you. You learn as you go. And so I just made the choice to become as close as I could to her mom. And she would allow it so that I could help her be a better parent and be successful in getting her child back.”
Over the past 10 years and 33 placements, Cassandra has not only continued fostering, but has also continued investing in biological parents.
"There’s no question. I'm not afraid anymore. I understand culture. Everybody's culture is different. Everybody's upbringing is different. And I think I understand more now that sometimes we have to help the parent in order for them to be successful with raising their children. Maybe they need another’s guidance. Maybe they don't know they're doing wrong. Or cannot comprehend what they're doing wrong. Sometimes they just don't understand.”
Over the years, Cassandra has welcomed children for anywhere from a few days to several years, and sometimes as many as six children at one time. However, she has decided that it is time to take a break from fostering for now. “This is actually going to be my last year. I want to take a break––I may come back, but right now I can say that it's a break.” In reference to her current placement, she shared, “I've been praying about it. And I was like, maybe I'm supposed to adopt her. So, I put in to adopt her, so we'll see how this goes. I think I'm getting ready to adopt. That's weird, I've never adopted before. But, she's my very last child and she's been here the longest.”