How I became a foster parent - AJ's journey
How I became a Foster parent AJs Journey
May is National Foster Care Awareness month and this year we are collecting stories from our Foster Parents to share with you over the course of the month. FosterVA, which is led by Extra Special Parents hopes that these stories might inspire you to get involved in your community as a support or even become a foster parent in Virginia yourself! There is a contact link at the bottom of this blog if you’d like to learn more.
Sometimes You Just Need To Meet A Foster Child
Hi, I am AJ, During my college years, I once saw a collection of photos of different children worldwide at the church I attended. I didn’t know it at the time, but viewing those photos planted a seed that will direct the rest of my life. I asked my friend that I was with if she knew anything about them, to which she replied, “Not really, but the little boy in the middle is from Brazil.” I figured she knew the photographer and clumsily asked, “How do you know?” She laughed as she said that the country names were labeled on the frame. I gave an awkward chuckle and responded, “Ha, maybe I’ll adopt from Brazil one day.” For the next two years, I would see those photos and not think much of them. Being a Sophomore in college, I was much more focused on what to do with the rest of my life than some old pictures.
Track and Field had been a major part of my life, and an athletic scholarship paid my way through college. College sports are very demanding, and you must work year-round to be ready for competition season. It just so happened that the summer before my Junior year would be the one where I wasn’t going to be involved in track due to an injury early in the season. I decided to apply for the summer camp counselor position where my buddy offered me a job and was a lead counselor. Filling out the application came with a box of pop tarts, so it was a complete win for me at the time. I never thought I’d actually get a position, and honestly, I forgot that I had applied, but about two months after I did, I received a call from the director asking me to join the team. For the remainder of the spring semester, I was racking my brain about how to handle kids. I knew absolutely zero about summer camp, and the only depiction I had of it was what I saw on TV, which wasn’t so great. With the semester over and summer beginning, I boarded a plane and traveled to a little town in Ohio to begin camp counselor training.
I won’t bore you with too many details, but I will say that summer was one of the best summers I’ve ever had. In general, I didn’t think kids would even like me, let alone spend an entire week with me in a cabin. I didn’t think I’d like kids, especially spending a whole week with them in a cabin, But as I guess it was destined to be, I learned and expressed an entire side of myself that I didn’t know I had. A calm, cool, and collected kind of guy found himself by stargazing, mud romping, pig chasing, noise-making, energy pumping, song singing, and so much more with kids of all ages. That summer had such an impact on me. I developed bonds with staff and campers alike, learned to ride a horse, ate more hotdogs than I care to admit, and most certainly never told my coach about it. It was a summer I didn’t want to end, but of course, as all good things do, it did. Wanting to learn more about how to work with youth, I started researching different career paths. This came as a shock to many of my friends and family because I was convinced that I was going to work for the FBI in cybersecurity for the longest time. I had recently declared a major in computer science and was dead focused on getting to the FBI. Junior year not only saw jaw drops from friends and family, but also a change in majors. Now I was dead set on finding a career where I could work with kids. I decided to do summer camp again the following summer. During my second summer there, I was told that the camp was glad to have me back because I was the most requested counselor that the camp had seen.
"No one sees my progress. They just think I'm a bad kid,
and no one wants me. My Heart shattered at this."
It took some soul searching, feelings of unfulfillment, and questioning if this was truly what I wanted to do, but about a year after graduation, I found my first position working with youth. I became a group counselor at a wilderness-style, therapeutic boarding school. It was there that I was introduced to foster care. It never really dawned on me how little foster care was mentioned to me by this point. If I had friends who experienced foster care, they never told me. Maybe a family member? I didn’t have the slightest clue. I will never forget a conversation with one of the students during my first year working at the school. This student had told me his story: he had been in 10 foster homes, three different treatment facilities and had seen come and go several case managers. At the end of the conversation, he had said to me, “No one sees my progress. They just think I’m a bad kid, and no one wants me.” My heart shattered at this. This kid had his ups and downs, and he was guarded, but he presented himself as a happy, energetic teen who always had a smile on his face. It was only through building a relationship with him over the course of months that he could finally be open about how he really felt. He was a teen who just wanted a family to belong to. The seed that was planted all those years ago finally took root and sprouted. I finally knew how I wanted to help kids.
I worked at the facility for four years and earned a master’s degree in Human Service Counseling before making my way into the world of social work. I landed a position in foster care case management, which I did by accident. I initially went to my agency to become a foster parent. After learning my background and experience, they gave me the option to work as a case manager instead. I gladly accepted the position but still knew that fostering was meant for me. I researched the local area agencies and decided on the best fit for me. By this point, I knew exactly what kids I wanted in my home. The older age youths from treatment facilities. My foster parent recruiter made sure I knew what I was asking for as a single parent, and I ensured her that I was fully prepared for the experience.
I’ve been a foster parent for almost two years now. I’ve had the opportunity to foster some amazing teens and couldn’t be happier to say that I am the proud adoptive parent of a 13-year-old teen with two more adoptions pending. Through my work as a social worker, I have connected numerous aspiring foster parents to various agencies and current foster parents to community resources to meet their needs. This May is National Foster Care Month, and the youths in foster care need the strength and support of their communities. Often these youth feel like they do not have a voice and are just dragged along through the process. This foster care month focuses on strengthening the connection between foster care youth and their communities, and it is more important than ever for them to find the right mix of supports. Foster parenting may not be for everyone, but it takes only moments to share the hashtag #FosterCareMonth to Facebook or Twitter, find inspiring stories to share or follow on Instagram. These youths deserve to be engaged at every stage and to know that their voice matters. Take some time this month to consider how you can help youth in foster care and help develop them to be the best they can be.
...Are You Ready To Learn More?
FosterVA is always ready to meet new families interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent. If this has inspired you to take the next step towards supporting Virginia's foster youth, click the button below and fill out the form on our contact page.