Foster parents are a key part of the dependency system. In today's column, one foster parent family reflects on their experience.
Danny Jones, president of the Manatee County Foster Adoptive Parent Association, and his wife, Ann Marie, have been foster parents for the past five years. In the midst of their very busy lives, they have found time to foster nine children, adopting three.
Q: What type of work do you do in your personal life? Does your work experience help prepare you to become a foster parent?
A: I'm an electrical engineer and currently work as an engineering manager for a contractor. I wouldn't say that my profession has helped to prepare me as a foster parent directly. But being an engineer has taught me to not rely heavily on emotion.
My decision-making process involves looking at objective facts and data and to not get overly wrapped up in the intangible aspect of emotion. Sure, emotion plays a strong role in foster parenting, but facts are important, too. For example, the facts are that there are not enough foster homes to properly care for all the children who need foster homes, both locally and around the country. Emotion says, "I could never be a foster parent because I could never give the children back."
Q: What motivated you to become a foster parent?
A: Life experience has been the biggest motivator for me. I was abandoned by my mother when I was 3, and then was raised by a man who I thought was my dad, but I found out in my teens that he wasn't. He abused and neglected my sisters and me for most of our childhood and teenage years. We should have been placed in foster care, but never were. No one rescued us from that hellish situation. I feel called to rescue children who need lots of love and a safe place.
Q: How would you describe your role as a foster parent? Do you have difficulty becoming too emotionally attached to the children?
A: My role as a foster parent is to ensure the needs of broken children are met. This may come in the form of safety, nutrition, love, education, proper health care, etc. Yes, it is difficult when you become emotionally attached to a child who may leave next week, next month, or next year. The thing is, it's not about me; it's about them. As an adult, I have ways of coping with the loss associated with a child who is reunified with their biological family. Children don't have the tools needed to cope with a lack of love and nurture.
Q: Does the training you receive prepare you for your role? Do you feel you
have support from the system?
A: Like anything, you get out of it what you put in. While MAPP (Model Approach to Positive Parenting, which is the required foster parent training) doesn't cover every situation and circumstance you will encounter, it does paint a fair picture of what life is like for the children who come in to care. If you are assertive and ask the right questions, seek out advice from experienced foster families, and lean on the resources of the lead agency, you will be well-equipped as a foster parent.
While the system isn't perfect, it's the best the world has to offer. I've been to foreign countries where orphanages and institutional care are the solution. Our system could be better in many ways, but it's still better than what most abused children have access to.
Q: Do you have involvement with Guardian's ad Litem for the children in your home? How have you found that experience?
A: Our experiences with GALs have always been very positive. GALs bring a much-needed perspective to each case. They are truly advocates with the child's best interest in mind. The only difficult thing about GALs is that there are not enough of them. Last I heard there were several thousand children across the state without an assigned GAL. That is unfortunate.
Q: What are the frustrations and challenges you have encountered?
A: For me, the biggest frustration is a lack of good foster homes. There are 29,000 children in Florida foster care. How many strong families live in this state? How many churches? Together, we have more than enough resources to adequately care for these children. There's no reason a foster family should have 10 foster children -- except that there are not enough foster homes.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Normalcy Bill that is being proposed in the Legislature, which will give foster parents more ability to parent?
A: While I don't care too much for the name -- there's nothing normal about being in foster care -- I do like what the bill represents. Children in care should be able to sleep over at a friend's house, or play sports. That's what "normal" kids do. However, as with many things, legislation is just a start. If we wait for lawmakers to get it right, it may be too late. We need good families now, regardless of the laws.
Q: Would you encourage others to consider fostering? Why?
A: Of course, and many people I talk to have considered it. The challenge is getting folks from consideration to activation. To get to activation is a process. The process takes time and some deep soul-searching. If people will take the time to look at foster care in an objective, practical way, placing great value on the life of a broken child, then there will be more than enough foster families to care for the abused, abandoned and neglected children in our own backyard.