What I Didn’t Know about Foster Care

I didn’t know May was Foster Care Awareness Month. Before stepping into this role, May was notable for a host of other reasons: Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, my wedding anniversary, the end of school… and apparently fun things like National Sea Monkey Day, Eat More Fruits and Vegetables Day, and Bike-to-Work Day. 

Despite this lack of knowledge (these babies above), knew they someday wanted to foster and adopt. With a slew of health problems, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to have kids. My husband reminds me that I very boldly shared all of this with him on about date #2… and went on to share that no matter our reality, I wanted to open our home and eventually adopt.

Before working in this space, I think I had an idyllic view of welcoming children in and showering them with love, enjoying meals around a table and providing sweet nightly bedtime routines. Life would be filled with a little inside joke here, some high fives and hugs there, a happy hike on the weekend, and movie nights snuggled under blankets with huge bowls of popcorn on our laps. While this could be a reality at some point, I am now able to paint more realistic notions into this picture. 

Welcoming in a new child or sibling group will happen after an extensive licensing process and will require patience as we earn trust and navigate trauma. Meals may not happen around a table and may include dishes that remind them of birthparents, or they may happen on-the-go as we transport kids to and from appointments, meetings, after-school activities and any of the things that pop-up and throw a carefully curated schedule out the window. Bedtime could be a beast each night as BIG feelings emerge in the quiet. Knowing more hasn’t deterred us from wanting to foster, it has better prepared us for what is to come. 

I’ve heard the expression that “foster care is a complex issue” and now I see why. It is a human issue, where kids are holding more than anyone should ever hold. It is highly bureaucratic as you sift through forms, processes and policies. It is isolating when you are so committed to everything you need to do for these children you forget to take a deep breath and care for yourself… and so much more.

This is why we need all need to know that May is Foster Care Awareness Month. We need to celebrate all those working in this field and scream from the rooftops that there are nearly 9,000 kids in Tennessee who need homes, the families in those homes need support and resources to keep saying yes and the community needs to rally around foster families and let them know they are not alone.

What I love about the work of Tennessee Kids Belong is how we address all the complex multifaceted sides of foster care and do everything in our power to find more families, offer more support, and fight for changes that make it easier to care for vulnerable kids. And while we say it all the time, I believe that while everyone is not called to foster or adopt, everyone can do something. So this month, what is your something? Can you take a trauma training course, send a meal to a foster family, help stock a foster closet, encourage your faith community or business to become Foster Friendly, share stories on socials, or donate to our work? 

I can’t wait to see your something. 

Happy, May!

Liz Zinke – Programs Director with Tennessee Kids Belong

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