Category Archives: Foster

A Life Extra … Ordinary

Guest post by Jesse Wilson, child formerly in Florida’s foster care system, advocate, TV host, nationally recognized author and emerging politician. This post is reprinted with permission from www.jessewilson.org. 

jesse1Strange. Strange but … beautiful. A life extraordinary is what I have been mandated, 25 years now. I was dealt a tough hand early on and have been trying to bluff my way through since. I want to tell you about the wild card that was dealt my way this morning but realize many of you do not know my back story. So I’ll start somewhere near the beginning.

 I come from a broken, messy, disastrous family that is cursed. Perhaps due to all the horrible things they have done to themselves and others over the years. The family includes members of the KKK, sexual predators, felons and so much more.

I burst forward into this glorious family and the world on September 22, 1988. My mother was 15 and my father was 28. They would proceed to give me three younger brothers over the next four years. A situation that undoubtedly should have been cancelled from the start was given permission by my grandparents on my mother’s side.

I have sitting on the table beside me two discs compiled from a box of records. Records that detail the first few years of my life. They include all the abuse reports, medical records, and baker act documentation for my family. Around 5,000 pages of information to be shared at another time. I have blacked out much over the years and am slowly allowing it to trickle back. It all basically says how horrible my parents were. My father was the purveyor of pain and mother was the enabler who sat idly by in fear.

My three younger brothers were eventually removed from my parents and placed into foster care and I went on to live with my grandmother, grandfather and aunt. Things here were not too bad. My aunt and I developed a strong relationship. I remember going to school together, looking up to her, coming home and eating sliced cheese together. She became my very best friend.

My grandmother would attempt to be sophisticated, but she would always fail. She was helpless; she had the same abhorrent blood of the family coursing through her body. Moments of unprovoked or irrationally provoked rage were ordinary.

Eventually it led to me too being brought into foster care.

When the police and child protective investigator came to remove me from my grandmother, I was locked in a closet. Sock in mouth and vowed to silence, I sat lifeless, afraid to move. Footsteps all around. Voices of thunder.

I spent the rest of my childhood in foster care and was eventually adopted into a wonderful family. I was given a new life, though not perfect, calmer.

The first times my biological family began to come back into my life was shortly before my 18th birthday when I was contacted by my biological mother. Being a child of wonder, I wanted to know so many things and spent hours on the telephone with her and had a few meetings. I quickly realized she was not the type of person I wanted a relationship with. I have a mom and dad who adopted me and raised me, yet she insisted on calling me son and me calling her mother. The “I love yous” rang furiously and rattled bitterly in my head. The relationship became one sided. She was the only pursuer.

My father came back into my life a couple years later. I was curious and searched his name online. His picture came across the Florida Sexual Offenders database. The charge read “Lewd assault/sexual battery on a victim under the age of 16.”

What do I do with that? Like my mother, I had many questions for him but now had a daughter in my life and couldn’t imagine spending any time with a man/coward/waste like this.

I gave in and rode out to meet him at his trailer. A large confederate flag donned the window, and trucks were parked in the yard. The house was filled with pictures of family, some in KKK outfits, and art that he had drawn. The art was really good. He was talented and wasted it. The meeting was therapeutic and strange. He provided dozens of photographs from my early childhood. I had never seen one of my baby pictures until this moment. He showed me photographs of us at visitation, though I was always told he never showed. I saw myself in him physically. The way he would talk and the way he would laugh. It was electrifying.

Shortly after I met my father, one of my brothers was murdered. August 20, 2011. Six months out of a three-year prison sentence, he was on the way to restoring his life. He was still young though and spent a lot of time having fun. A long story short, he was stabbed 26 times at a party by two guys with strange stories of their own. The trial for the second one finally concluded in May. This was perhaps the toughest point of my life. I planned and signed off on a funeral for my 21-year-old brother. I kept strong for my family, both sides, and tried to keep tensions between my biological and adopted family non-existent.

Last June, my aunt was involved in a freak, still not fully explained, accident. The story is blurred, but reads something like, she was headed home with her boyfriend and their car broke down in the mountains of North Carolina. They were drunk and something happened where she ended up in the middle of the road and was hit and dismantled by a semi. When I received a call that she was gone, I wasn’t sure what to feel, or do. She was family but I hadn’t seen her much apart from the occasional Facebook post. At the same time, she was a major part of my story.

My grandmother died in July and again I find myself not knowing how to feel. Forgiveness is something I believed I had given but I could never bring myself to have a relationship with her, or any member of my biological family apart from my brothers. She would often reach out to me, comment on pictures, shares messages on my Facebook timeline. I was always quick to delete and erase any trace of her. I now sit confused. She was no longer my family but at the same time … she is. Where is the line between compassion and forgiveness drawn?

jesse3Because of her, I am here. Because of them, I am here. My story is them. The numerous additional stories I have are because of them.

My extraordinary life is because of them.

I share this not for pity but to possibly encourage someone else. Look where I was and look where I’m at.

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.

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!