Monday, December 24, 2007

I like how this reporter was respectful of the foster children's right to privacy

Gift of giving: Support foster parents, kids
Fisher, Patty. San Jose Mercury News, Dec. 24, 2007.

This time of year can be so busy and stressful, what with partying and decorating and doing our patriotic duty at the mall.

When the holiday hype starts to get to me, I dig into a folder of reader mail I collect all year labeled "inspirational stuff." The other day I pulled out a letter from a South Bay foster mom, and it reminded me about what the spirit of Christmas really means.

This foster mom and her husband take in special-needs children - babies born addicted to drugs, babies with serious mental and physical problems. Over the years they have cared for about 400 foster kids while raising three of their own.

Today they have five foster children ranging in age from 1 to 17. One of them is in a wheelchair. (I'm not printing her name because some of the kids' friends don't know they are foster children.)

At 67, this woman considers foster care a "luxury hobby." She can afford it because her mortgage is paid off and her husband, who's 70, has a government pension and a part-time job.

I asked her why two self-described "geezers" open their homes and their hearts to such difficult kids.

Her inspiration
Here's why: In 1911, when her mother was born, her grandmother died in childbirth. A kind woman saved her mother's life by nursing her for two years. Today, this foster mom still gets teary when she tells that story.

When I wrote a column about the need to raise foster-parent stipends, she responded that foster parents need something more than money: They need support and understanding from the community. And for those who don't know how to show that support, she offered these suggestions:

"Do not stare at us. Yes, we are obviously not the standard family, but we are a family, and please do not stare at us. Our kids notice it.

"Do not ask if that darling baby is up for adoption. 'No, it is not' would be the answer, and if it were, there would be a lot of people who have pre-qualified and are waiting for the legal processes to be completed.

"Let your kids be friends with our kids. Let your kids come to their birthday parties; invite ours to your parties.

"If you have the means, share something new or special with our kids. Leave a pack of diapers on the doorstep, or how about a Target gift card in the mailbox? A card of support for the foster parents would be nice.

"We have had two instances of people doing something really fun. At Red Robin one night, the waiter came over and told us that someone wanted to treat us to dinner, and for us to order anything we wanted. We were happily shocked, and as we were finishing our meal, they sent someone to tell us to be sure to order dessert, which we never do. I was in tears.

A nice gesture
"Once at Harry's Hofbrau in Redwood City, some lady came out of nowhere and quietly asked my husband if we were a foster family. He nodded, and she handed him a roll of bills and walked away as quickly as she had come up. It was within a dollar of what we had just paid for our meal.

"Kids don't end up in foster care because everything about their lives is OK. They have some difficult behaviors sometimes, but part of what we feel is our job is to expose them to the better things in life and teach them how to behave as best they can.

"When they are ready for their forever situation, whether it be back with their family or on to a new forever family, then we are ready to take on the challenge of whatever child will be coming through our door.

"Yes, we let them go - not because we don't care about them, but because we do."

Want to donate diapers, clothing and other goods to foster families? In Santa Clara County call the Foster and Adoptive Parent Resource Center at (408) 975-5309. In Alameda County call Katherine Richard of Alameda County Social Services at (510) 780-8987.


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