September 2020

You Are Not Alone: Reading this may lead to children!

Author: Amy Bartlett | Photographer: M.KAT Photography

For some, the idea of fostering or adoption has been dinging in your heart like a seatbelt alarm, loud and unignorable: the pitter patter of tiny feet, or a pair of size 13s by the front door, or a pantry full of Pop-Tarts for five siblings who get to stay together because you came along. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, give it 60 seconds, because the list of ways you can make a permanent difference might surprise you. Fair warning: reading this may lead to children.

We read an article … now we have two boys
Adoptive mom and local Realtor Kristy Gonzales gets misty eyed at the idea that her story might bring another family together. You can hear it in her voice still, years later. “We were at the end of a long road of fertility treatments that were emotionally and physically exhausting. My husband read an article and said, ‘Why don’t we look into adopting?’ It was a local publication about international adoptions. We made a phone call and had such a positive conversation that we took a step, and then another, and that’s how we got our two boys,” she explained.

Gonzales and her husband were among several area families adopting through the same agency, and during the process, she describes attending others’ homecoming celebrations. “Their success encouraged me that this is what it leads to. This is going to work. I had faith in the process, that at the end of it, you’re going to find your children,” she said.

You will find your children
Perhaps mother’s intuition, this is something you often hear among Forever Families. Single mom Sandra Bullock, finalizing the adoption of her two children in 2020, told The Today Show’s Hoda Kotb, “The perfect child will find you. You will find your child. I had to become the mom that I was supposed to be for the kids that were waiting for me. When Hurricane Katrina happened in New Orleans something told me, ‘My child is there.’” Turns out, he was. He was also the voice that influenced her two years later to adopt again.

Gonzales’ journey, adopting two siblings two years apart, was a near mirror image. “People tell me, ‘You’ve given these children a life they would’ve never had,’ but really, they gave me a life I would have never had. I always knew I wanted to be a mother. It’s the hardest but most important job, and they fulfilled my lifelong dream. The joy and the love the kids have given back is priceless. We may have given them a home, but they made me a mother,” she said.

Katie Belt, licensing coordinator for the South Carolina Youth Advocate Program, addresses the question of who can foster/adopt. “First and foremost, throw out the window the picture many have about who can be a foster parent,” she said. “We come in all shapes and sizes, colors, backgrounds, and financial brackets, and it takes all these different people to put together a good foster family group, because not all children come from “typical” backgrounds—biological families, mom and dad, big house, white picket fence. It’s good for them to see that diversity is out there because they come from diversity.” Department of Social Services describes potential parents as simply someone who is “stable and can provide a child with the love and support he or she needs.”

Let’s bust the shortlist of myths:
“I can’t afford the fees or startup costs.” There are no fees or costs for applying or training with the DSS through agencies like HeartfeltCalling or SCYAP.

“I don’t want to explore because once I start, I’m locked in.” Training for becoming licensed to foster/adopt is offered regularly and is a platform for asking anything in a non-committal environment. You have the freedom to learn and explore before deciding to move forward, with tons of resources and support.

“I couldn’t do it on my own.” Belt emphasizes, “one thing I wish people knew is that you’re not going to be alone in this adventure. Even single, non-parent renters. Whether financial support for foster parents from the state covering costs that come into play with a child in your home, or the huge team of community workers, no one is alone in this.”

“I can’t foster/adopt, so I can’t help.” There are countless ways to care:

Donate. Websites list needs like pillows and pillowcases, juice boxes and snacks, pajamas and toiletries, anything from bikes to Forever stamps, or care bags for kids whose belongings are sometimes confined to a trash bag.
Participate. Organizations like SCYAP need volunteers for providing transportation and other one-off services that keep kids’ lives moving.
Stand in the gap. Become a Resource Family for organizations like the Child Abuse Prevention Association (CAPA), supported by United Way of the Lowcountry. CAPA serves 15 children every night in their Open Arms Children’s Home, open 24/7/365. Recruiting just five resource families would double the number of kids they cover.

“I could never give them back.” According to Belt, this is one of the most frequent reasons given for not starting the foster process. “This hurdle is cleared once we learn to see the child’s return home as not a negative but the best possible outcome. That means the family is back together and one more child doesn’t have to be displaced.” You’re playing a key role in a great gain—a win for the child, you realize, rather than loss.

That’s the heart of fostering. “If we think of our lives, look back asking who’s that person who was in my life at a pivotal point and impacted me on a different level—teacher, neighbor, pastor—somebody who was temporarily in our lives but had a huge impact on our growth, life decisions, trajectory of where we were going at that time,” Belt said. “Most of us can think of a couple of people who really left a positive mark. That’s the foster parent role that comes in and gets to be a big player in a short amount of time.”

Gonzales’ advice for anyone considering fostering/adoption: “If it’s in your heart, go for it. We didn’t start the process knowing where it was going to go. We read an article, made a phone call, and here we are. Every adoption is a miracle. I tell my children God brought us together. We were meant to be a family.” Short-term connection or lifelong journey, made for each other or single phone call, “everybody has a different path, but everybody finds it. You only have to start,” Gonzales said.

Where? Google it, ask a friend, say a prayer, use the resources below, put it out there. There are a thousand ways to change a life, including your own.

Heartfelt Calling (SC Foster Parent Association) is the first point of contact for anyone wanting to start the process to become licensed as a regular (non-therapeutic) foster home or approved to adopt with DSS. (888) 828-3555.

The South Carolina Youth Advocate Program (SCYAP) is the “premier provider of foster care and community-based services,” specializing in therapeutic foster care and community-based services. (800) 882-5513.

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