May 2019Vol. 20, No. 4Families Are Worth Fighting For
Written by Ashley Malefyt, foster parent, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (Ottawa County)
I remember sitting down in the apartment of a mom I had just met in what would be considered a "hard" part of town. This was one of the first times that I stepped outside of my comfort zone in an attempt to really connect with the family of the children I've been asked to parent. The challenge made me feel uncomfortable. However, what I was feeling couldn't cast a shadow on the anxiety, grief, and complexity of the emotions I'm sure she was feeling.
We talked about the hard stuff. I told her about my family, showed her pictures, and offered to take her to my home so she could see for herself where her kids would be living. I remember telling her, "My family is your family now. My support system and my resources are now yours."
I remember the look in her eyes said, "This is too good to be true". She seemed uncertain that she should—or could—trust this strange White woman that a social worker had brought into her home to talk about where her children would be placed. But, I meant what I said, and I think somehow those intentions translated to her. You see, the heart of true fostering is in fostering the whole family, not just the child.
You could see the relief on her face when we talked about the goals she wanted to set for herself and how this hard thing might actually be a blessing in disguise. We talked about how she was important and how she would like for her children to be cared for while she cared for herself. Over the next 6 months, she completed her GED, got a driver's license and a car, and went to school to learn how to style hair.
Did things turn out perfectly? No. This is real life, and life is messy.
But, I think, for that moment, all it took was someone treating her with dignity for her to make the hard choice of letting someone else care for her babies. She knew that this would enable her to care for herself in a way that would allow her to care for her children in the future. And this is how every foster case should start—because children belong in families, and their family is worth fighting for.
As foster families, we need to take the time to recognize the humanity in ourselves and acknowledge our privilege. We need to extend that same grace we expect for ourselves to the parents whose children we are caring for. As foster families, we aren't called to replace a child's family. I challenge foster families to consider this radical idea to work alongside birth parents as an extended support system—an extended family.