I had been his doctor for a few years before he was placed in foster care. He was curious, charismatic, funny and very smart. I used to think he’d either make a really successful CEO or a really successful drug dealer. The difference will be who cares for him, and how.
That’s why, when he was bounced from home to home, I started thinking about being his foster mother. There was just something about him; he was so full of possibility. I called his caseworker to ask; there would be paperwork and training and some hoops to jump through, she said, but there was a good chance they could work something out.
So I went home and talked to my family. Reactions were mixed. We had four kids then; one was a toddler and didn’t care, two liked the idea, but one adamantly did not want to share living space, stuff (toys) and parents with a stranger. My husband blanched when I started talking about therapy appointments and the likelihood that the boy’s behavior would be a bit tough, at least for a while. We have our hands full, he said. We need to think about our kids first. I wanted to argue—I really wanted to help that boy—but my husband was right. I called the caseworker back and said: never mind.
The boy kept bouncing from home to home. He dropped out of school and fathered a child. He stayed in foster care until he “aged out” at 18, then went back to live with his mother. I don’t think he’s a drug dealer, but I don’t think he’s going to be a CEO either. I don’t know if I could have made a difference—but I’ll never stop being sorry I didn’t bring him home.
There are currently about 380,000 children and youth in foster care in the U.S. Some need care only briefly—the hope is always to bring families back together—but around 100,000 are available for adoption. These are children who just want what every child should have: a family who loves and cares for them.
I’ve seen success stories. I’ve seen kids who, with love and patience, blossom. I’ve seen lives turned around. Sure, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes the damage of abuse or neglect is very hard to undo. But even if it can’t be undone, it’s a great gift to give a child a home and a respite; to let them know that there is good in the world and grownups can do the right thing. Sometimes that makes a difference in ways you don’t expect, in ways that show up later.
That’s why, this Mother’s Day, I ask all of you to think about foster care. As we think about all that mothers give children, let’s think about giving it to children who need it very badly. Think about opening up your home. Think about being a safe haven for a child, about giving a child a chance at a new life. The National Foster Care Month website has lots of information and resources.
We ended up with five kids and no space in our house for a foster child. But someday, as our older ones move on and out, we’ll have space again, and life will be less complicated. And when that happens, I’ll be talking with my family again. I’ll be saying: let’s share what we have and give a child the love he deserves, even if it’s just for a little while.
I can’t make a difference for that boy anymore. But I—and you—can make a difference for someone else.