Celebrating Foster Families during National Foster Care Month
My first job after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies was as a housemother for school-aged children living in a children’s home in Lubbock, Texas. This was my entrée into the messy world of the foster care system.
I quickly learned that my 21 years on earth and four years studying child development had not equipped me to effectively support these children, who were processing trauma and separation. The experience opened my eyes to many things, including a new passion for helping children and families, and the realization that I could serve them better in a different role.
After about eight months, I moved out of the house and entered graduate school. Fast forward down a meandering path, and I had finished my PhD, gotten married, become a licensed marriage and family therapist, joined the faculty at NCU and moved to a new city for my husband’s job. I knew it was finally time to return to the world of foster care – this time as a foster parent.
Our first long-term placement was a two-and-a-half-year-old boy. He stayed with us for almost a year before moving across the country to live with his grandparents. Whenever possible, reunification with family is a priority. It was a success story. You can probably imagine the mix of emotions we experienced. As many foster families do after a child leaves, we decided to take a break. We said no to several subsequent placements and weren’t sure if or when we’d be ready to foster again.
A few months later, while on vacation in my husband’s home country of Mexico, we got a text message with a picture of a three-year-old girl. The case worker had placed her with a foster mother but was seeking a bilingual, Spanish-speaking family. When we returned, we called the case worker to learn more. The knowledge that the little girl in the picture couldn’t communicate with her foster mother stirred our hearts. We decided it was right for us to foster again, and a few days later she moved in. Many things transpired after that, but two years later, we were thrilled to adopt that little girl.
There are many things I could say about the experience of being a foster parent. We were energized and humbled by the love and generosity of other foster families we connected with – some of whom had fostered for years and even decades. It tested me, and my marriage, in ways I did not expect. We came out of the experience weary but stronger; knowing ourselves and each other more deeply and proud of what we were able to contribute and gain.
- Elaine Willerton, PhD, LMFT
Director of Assessment, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences
May is National Foster Care Month, a great time to learn more about the foster care system and ways you can support foster children and foster families in your community.