The Heart of a Dad

Guest post by Eckerd’s Pinellas County Foster Parent Martin Carpenter. 

I grew up in a broken home. I want that for nobody. My dad was married three times and yes, I may be a spitting image of him, but I am nothing like him.

My wife of 20 years and I began fostering after I was fixing a friend’s shower and met the two boys she was fostering. I instantly fell in love with them. I felt there were kids in the Tampa Bay area that could benefit from the stability and love my wife and I could provide.  We can’t take away the bad that has happened to them, but we can help them learn to heal.

fathersdayWe have two biological children who have also learned a great deal from the process. Maybe our kids have been a little spoiled over the years not really understanding how much mom and dad do around and inside the house. But they too have given up much and shown their foster siblings hope. My kids argue over who is going to put our youngest foster child in their car seat or who is going to push the stroller. I feel like together we are making someone else’s family whole.

I tell my kids all the time that you can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have family you have nothing. For the kids that come into our home we give them family.

To learn more about how to become a foster parent in the Tampa Bay area visit FosteringTampaBay.org 

Because I love him

Guest post by Kelly Treesh. Kelly and her husband Ted have six children, four biological children and two adopted daughters. They have fostered 17 children so far.

A sweet little boy, just 8 years old, came into our care late one night. Daniel was scared, holding tight to an Optimus Prime Transformer toy and a garbage bag that contained just a few of his belongings.  He didn’t have a suitcase, backpack or duffle bag, so a garbage bag held his entire world. This was the case for many of the 17 children we have welcomed to our home over the past four years.

I bent to my knees and asked Daniel if he was scared, and he indicated that he was. He gave me permission to hug him, and it was at that very moment, I fell in love.  I assured Daniel that we would keep him safe and make sure he had anything he needed.

Four of our children were awake with us when we greeted the young boy at our door. My 12-year-old daughter knelt on the ground and asked Daniel if he wanted to play with some toy trucks. Our new family member followed her slowly into the living room where the trucks were waiting for him. All four children played with Daniel while my husband and I spoke with his case manager and then saw her out.

My kids are always beyond excited when a child comes to stay with us. They understand that the children are frightened and scared and try to be gentle and welcoming to them. My kids have sacrificed a lot – time with my husband and me, their space, and their things.

Daniel shared a room with my 10-year-old son, and they grew close during the three months Daniel was with us. Eventually, Daniel was reunited with his sister in another foster home. When I told my son that Daniel would be leaving, I thought he would be happy to have his room to himself again. But instead he began to cry. “I don’t want him to go because I love him,” he said. We lay down together on the bed and cried.

I am very blessed still to be in touch with Daniel’s biological mom. Fortunately, Daniel and his two sisters will be going home to their mother in a week!  We will maintain close contact with the family and serve as a surrogate family to the mom and her sweet children.

Over the years, my daughter and I have developed a ritual when the kids leave. We sit down at the bottom of the stairs and talk about how we hope we made a positive impact in that child’s life.

When any of the kids leave our home, they always take a piece of our hearts with them. However, it is such a beautiful gift given to us when the kids come – THEY enrich OUR lives!

The key

keyGuest post by Sue Redfern, who has fostered more than 100 children since 1992. She has 10 children ages 57 to 21, including three biological children and even adopted children. She and her husband are currently caring for three foster children, a 7 month old who has Down Syndrome, and siblings ages 3 years and 17 months. 

I’m sitting here bouncing a 7 month old on my knee while my 3 year old and 17 month old play with cars on the rug. There have been many children who have been in these same spots before – more than 100 of them.

My favorite part about bringing these kids into my family is when they are able to find forever families. Sometimes it is with me, sometimes with another family, sometimes with their biological family.

There was a little boy in my care who had a dad working so hard to get him back. So hard. He loved that boy, but had fallen on some hard times. He needed help and he was getting it. It warmed my heart to see him running up to his dad and wrap his arms around his neck while his dad told him he loves him so much.

The 4 year old older brother of my 3 year old and 17 month old just left our home to be with his forever family in New York. We are so glad this family is in the process of adopting all the siblings. The 4 year old is blind and requires a forever home near a major medical center. His new family in New York is in a perfect location and both parents have a strong background in caring for children with special needs.

The two remaining siblings and I recently flew up to New York to see the family and older brother. My 3 year old always carries around a photo of his brother – he misses him so much. As soon as he saw him he ran up to him and gave him a huge hug. He did not let go of his hand the entire time we were there. I am overjoyed that they will be able to spend the rest of their lives together.

Wonderful reunifications and adoptions like these remind me that I am making a difference in each of these children’s lives. We can’t give up. We have to keep going to help these kids. Foster parents are the key to their futures.

Standing Tall

Guest post by Brandy Ingram, youth coordinator at Federation of Families.  This is part two of her blog post series. The FOF is an organization focused on the issues of children and youth with emotional, behavioral, or mental health needs and their families.

As a follow-up to my previous post, here are two more stories of hope from the children in our leadership program. Their struggles are real and their recovery inspiring.

Joshua,* 18 years old

My story, well, I was a young kid my family moved. I was thinking that was gonna keep me out of trouble, but everything went downhill when I met some new guys.  We used to go and steal the rich kids’ bikes and sell them. We would split the money between all four of us.

When I was in the fourth grade one of my friends got 35 years in prison for murder.  When I was in sixth grade, one of my best friends that I was close to got sent away because police found drugs and guns in his mom’s house.

I got into robbing people, selling drugs, stealing cars and breaking into houses and then I got caught. I got sent to a program and they told me I have something wrong with me called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and don’t know if I really believed them, but I learned that I didn’t want to be a victim and that I had to change for the better.  I have accepted God as my savior, so now I am older and trying my best to stay out of trouble, even though I get mad a lot.

Note: ODD is a condition in which a child displays uncooperative, defiant and hostile behavior for more than six months. The behavior is often disruptive to the child’s daily life, interactions and activities.

Leila*, 16 years old

Hi, I am Haitian American.  I have at least 20 brothers and sisters, half of which I don’t get to see today.  Life for me has been a struggle.  Dealing with my mother’s death two days before her birthday has taken a huge toll on me.

When I was 11, I was sexually molested, causing me to feel very insecure about myself. Things happen and life goes by, but sometimes it’s just hard for me to spread my wings.  Since then, I’ve kept my guard up, not letting anyone in, trying to figure out what lies within.  After that, I fell into a deep depression, causing me to harm myself in various ways.

But that all changed when I started going to Federation of Families.  It helps focus on the mental health and well-being of both child and parent.  Not only did I have a shoulder to lean on, but a helping hand when times were hard.  Federation of Families gave me hope, courage, and a chance to make the right decisions in my life.  In a nutshell, life has been hard for me, but in the end, Federation of Families will always stand tall for me.

*Names changed for privacy.

Hello Kitty

Guest post by Keith Best, a foster parent and Southern Regional vice president of the Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association.

Party time!

Party time!

Our house looked like Hello Kitty had attacked it. Hello Kitty table cloths, center pieces, balloons, banners, a custom cake, and everything was pink! It was the day of my foster daughter’s 7th birthday party.

The party literally became a family affair. We try to help the kids in our care keep a connection with their biological families. It isn’t always possible, but we try. Siblings need to see each other; they like to be able to see that everyone is ok and in a good situation. In my foster daughter’s case, this included inviting all eight of her siblings, who were in care with two other foster families, and her birth mother. The mom was actually the one who brought all the decorations and we were so glad she was able to attend. This was in addition to my foster daughter’s many school friends, other foster families, etc.  – we had about 40 people there!

My foster daughter hadn’t seen her 15-year-old sister in a very long time and was overjoyed when she saw her walk in the door. She ran over to her, grabbed her hand and didn’t let go for the whole party. She dragged her around introducing her to everyone – “This is my sister!” she would tell them VERY enthusiastically. I thought my heart was going to melt.

Every child that comes into our home is seen as a part of our family, which includes celebrating their birthdays just as we would our biological children’s. They are isolated from their friends and family and need us to be there for them during their time with us – my biological children are more than happy to fill that role. There are many afternoons that all the kids just hang out, have nerf gun and ball fun in our back yard, and build forts in the living room.

It is nice to have a BFF with you right in your house. It makes every day a party!