Catholic Charities Community Services of Phoenix (CCCS) provides education, coaching and support to parents who have been approved for foster care by the state of Arizona. Cheryl and Nick are one couple who have benefited from CCCS’ resources.
“We actually looked at several organizations, but chose Catholic Charities,” Nick said. Cheryl added that their choice has been proven right. They know foster care parents who chose other agencies and complain that it’s hard to get replies to questions and requests for help. “We’ve never experienced that with Catholic Charities,” Cheryl said.
The process with the state is extensive. Fingerprinting, questions about personal and familial backgrounds, home inspections, and all the paperwork help to assess the ability of potential foster parents. CCCS helps by making sure couples know what they are undertaking. CCCS also offers training on how to respond in different situations such as treating a child who is hurt, dealing with medications, and protecting children from possible dangers in the home. Still, no one can fully prepare for all that goes into foster parenting. Cheryl and Nick discovered quickly that it is definitely on the job training.
“We went into it with the initial thought that we were going to complete our family,” Cheryl said, “but that’s not what foster parenting is about.” Once they welcomed a child into their home, and experienced the awesome responsibility, both Nick and Cheryl quickly became focused on the needs of the child. So far they have fostered seven children, and they have a different motivation now for continuing in this ministry: “The point is being there for a child in a time of need because the parents are not able to at the moment. Ultimately the goal is to reunify the family.”
When asked what it’s like to have children come in and out of one’s life, Nick replied: “Of course we bond with them, but for us the most important thing has been giving skills that [the children] will have whether or not they are with us, like starting to learn their abc’s, learning colors, learning to walk, starting potty training. Those sorts of things that they will be able to take with them. So even though we’re only in their lives for a small amount of time, we’re always with them regardless of whether they remember us or not.”
Sadly, most children in need of foster care cannot live safely with their birth parents. Still, the goal remains reunification with their families. “Foster care,” Nick said, “is really about being a bridge for the kids to walk, from the trauma back to their house with their parents, and being a way that allows parents the time to get things right in their lives.” Birth parents, who have had children removed from their care, must complete parenting classes in order to have their children returned. Many of the birth parents also have to undergo treatment to address problems like substance abuse. In the meantime, foster families come to the aid of the children.
The experience of being foster parents has been so positive for Cheryl and Nick that they encourage other parents to at least consider it. Their experience has provided them with a bit of wisdom that they pass on to interested couples. Top on their list of suggestions is to work with CCCS: “They have been phenomenal,” Cheryl said. “Catholic Charities really supports foster parents with resources and advice. Really it’s like a ‘co-partnering’ relationship.”
Cheryl and Nick add that communication is essential: potential foster parents need to talk with each other, with family, and with God. Coming to the decision to foster parent deserves prayer and discernment. Why are we doing this? What do our families think? Do we have the resources to care for the children – emotionally and financially? Cheryl and Nick learned that “fostering is not about serving a personal need, but serving the need of a child.”
For Cheryl and Nick the answer to their prayers and the feedback from all their conversations, including talking with CCCS at the beginning, felt like a gust of wind pushing them forward. Doing foster care confirmed their decision. “As we have tried to listen to God, we feel that he has called us to continue because there is more need and we have the resources to do it.”
Their last word of advice is simply to be open: “If you have room in your hearts and your home, then please consider opening your doors and inviting in the wonderful opportunities that await you.”