Ever Considered Fostering? Advice From a Longtime Foster Parent
On average, there are about 7,000 children in foster care in Wisconsin at any given time.
The need is great, and the rewards can be even greater!
Have you ever considered becoming a foster parent?
If so, you probably have lots of questions. That’s where we come in.
Andrea Dexter, a Caregiver Coordinator at Wellpoint Care Network, recently sat down with Antoinette Roberson to answer some frequently asked questions and share real-life examples of what life is like as a foster parent.
Ms. Roberson has been a licensed foster parent for 10 years and is a Wellpoint Care Champion and Mentor, helping guide new foster parents and recruit foster parents. In total, she has had 38 children in her care. She says, “Our children are our future.”
Why did you become a foster parent?
Roberson: When I was a little girl, I used to always be that motherly-type and just loved to be there for people in general. I moved to Ozaukee County when I was 21, started helping out children that needed a parent. When I would see kids that would be crying or were going through something, I would just be there to help them or to give them advice.
Why is it important to build relationships with the biological family?
Roberson: I like to keep the families involved by keeping them updated with their kids’ activities, school and also whatever the child may need at the time. Keeping the communication open, where they can call me, they are able to communicate with their child. Just making sure that the parents know everything that’s going on. And, making them feel comfortable — I’m here for them, as well as the child. I want to see them do better, so that the family can be reunited.
I didn’t like to say foster care. I didn’t like to label the children as in foster care. I would let the parents know, ‘I’m a caregiver, I’m here for them.’ And, if they wanted to come see where their kids were living, I didn’t have a problem with that. I think it really made them feel better, so that they could know I was very serious about making sure the best interest was for the child.
Just imagine if you were a parent and someone took your kids out of the home. I don’t care what the circumstances may be. We cannot judge. A lot of these kids, no matter what happened, they want to be at home with their parents. So, to me, involving the parents and keeping the parents aware of everything about the children has really been an easy process for me. I think the challenging part of that is when the parent is M.I.A., and the kids have visits. You tell the child, ‘You’re going on a visit with your parent’ and then something comes up. So, then the child is sad or they are asking a lot of questions or they act out. So, what I implemented is that I would never let my kids know if they were going to have a visit.
My main thing was keeping the child happy, because they are already feeling some type of way being with a stranger. When a child comes into your home, you are a stranger to them. You have to be able to earn their trust. You cannot be so aggressive on stating that you’re trying to help them, because they do not care about that. They want to know, ‘Where is my mom? Where is my dad?’ As long as you just keep the focus all about the children, I think everything will run pretty smoothly.
What’s the most challenging part about being a foster parent?
Roberson: The challenge is the kids not wanting to adapt to the new change. And, I think that’s more of a challenge for them than me. My goal was to make sure that this baby walked out of the house smiling, not wondering where they were going to eat at or where they were going to live.
What’s the most rewarding part about being a foster parent?
Roberson: Seeing the kids go back home happy. When the kids go back home, that just really brightens up my whole day. I know they’re happy and the parents are happy, so that makes a difference.
Do you still keep in touch with kids you have fostered?
Roberson: Most of my kids call me or they come by and have dinner with me. I do an event and welcome all the kids to come see each other. It makes me feel good to know that they are doing well. Throughout their challenges in life, it made them soar. They are doing better than they probably thought in the beginning. To see the major turnaround in these children and their parents lives is awesome, I really love it.
What is it like fostering teenagers?
Roberson: In my experience, working with teens has been awesome. Keeping them busy. Asking them the ‘W’ word — ‘What happened? What can I do to help you?’ They want someone who is going to listen to them. Once they figure out that you love them and they can trust you, they will be open. I always encourage my teenagers to be who they are. Don’t look at what other people do, don’t look at what other people have. Find their own inner-self craft, or whatever they love to do and go for it.
I had to be a role model. It wasn’t just about what they should be doing, I had to walk right in front of them. I had to be an example in front of my girls. Just building up their self-esteem, their confidence. Letting them know that they should love themselves.
Every child is different. You have to give them time to wrap their head around the change. First, they have to deal with the move — moving in with someone they don’t know. Then, they have to deal with the school. Then, they have to deal with the court system. Then, they have to deal with a lawyer and then the social worker. I mean just imagine being a teenager or a middle-aged child and you have all these different people coming into your life just to help you get home.
I have seen kids that people have said, ‘They’re not going to be anything. They’re not going to change. They’re going to be in and out of jail.’ I have seen some awesome U-turns in my time in working with teenagers.
How has Wellpoint Care supported you in your journey?
Roberson: Giving me the tools and information I need to help the children. It was so important to me to see them go home. I never thought I would be a foster parent. So, I started working with Wellpoint Care Network and it taught me so much. The trainings are very awesome. It is so important to learn. This information helps the caregivers help the parents and work together as a team. When you come together as a team to work on behalf of the child, it makes a big difference.
For much more from Roberson and her foster care journey, watch the video below:
For more information on becoming a foster parent, click here.