[as published in the June 7, 2019, issue of The Journal in Seneca, SC]
If you just heard an awkward tumbling noise, it was probably me tripping as I climbed on my soapbox. I don’t get up here often, so it’s unfamiliar territory.
You see, May is Foster Care Awareness Month and I didn’t say a word about it in my column. But today, even though it’s June, I will. The month may have ended but the need for foster has not.
Even though my license became official in late February, I haven’t said much about foster care in general. Part of that reason is I didn’t feel qualified. I’m so new and there are families who have been doing this for years and would be much better resources for those with questions.
But you know what they don’t have? A weekly column in The Journal where they can write about anything they want.
And I want you to know about fostering. I want you to know you can help without hours of training or opening your home to those in need. I didn’t realize those options existed ahead of really diving into this.
In May, I had 10 kids — aged 18 months to nearly 17 — in my house for a total of nine nights. Most of them were around for 12 hours and spent half their time in my home asleep.
The majority of my placements are “emergencies,” but I’ve also agreed to do respite care. Respite is essentially babysitting for a foster family who needs a break for an anniversary trip or class reunion.
Emergency care is a one-night agreement for a child, or children, to come stay with me while DSS looks for long-term placement options.
I usually get a phone call or text message later in the day when DSS realizes a long-term placement isn’t available that night. If I’m available and have the energy, DSS will drop the kid(s) off at my house and pick them up the next morning.
It almost feels like a lie to say I “fostered” these kids for a night. They walk in the door just before bedtime and I usually have to wake them up to leave in the morning.
Teenage attitudes and toddler meltdowns are now as much a part of my life as county council meetings and watering the garden before work. I cry nearly every time I change the sheets, which is about twice a week, and when I’m told a challenging placement has found a full-time home.
However many tears fall on those sheets is worth knowing a child felt safe and loved enough to snuggle up in that very spot for a good night’s sleep. Whatever fleeting heartache I have in those quiet mornings is nothing compared to what these children, their biological parents and foster parents will feel in the coming weeks and months.
But here’s the thing: I’m not amazing. So many of my friends have told me that as I’ve opened up about bringing these children in my home, but it’s just not true.
I’m completely average. I work at least five days a week, try to cook more meals than I grab from a drive-thru, attempt at least three trips to the gym every week, chase my hobbies, invest in my friendships and am always late to church.
I’m not much different than you, and everyone can do something. You can take a meal, pick up some groceries, volunteer as a guardian ad litem, donate diapers, tackle some yard work for a busy family or show up and support them at court hearings.
It’s as simple as asking yourself, “What would I do for my kids or grandkids?”
Then that’s what you should do.
And with that, I’ll step down from my soapbox. Hopefully I’ll be a little more graceful getting up here next time.
Caitlin Herrington is an award-winning journalist, haphazard adventurer, pseudo-gardener, possible future chicken mom and actual human foster mom. She can be reached at email@example.com.