There are fewer than 4,000 foster families willing to provide homes for foster children in Tennessee—kids who may feel unwanted, unloved, scared, confused, angry or even hopeless. Yet the Tennesseans who are serving as foster parents say the chance to provide foster kids with a measure of safety, security, and normalcy is a tremendous reward in and of itself.
To be sure, becoming a foster parent and opening your home to a foster child (or foster children) is a big commitment, but the opportunity to make a positive, meaningful difference in a child’s life is invaluable.
Omni Vision foster parents Patty & Lynn provide insight, with Patty saying, “[Foster kids] are just so happy to be regular kids, and when we can make that happen—that’s big. Security, in so many ways, is a scarce thing to them. And when they find it, it’s huge. There’s a real physical manifestation of that and it’s profound.”
Building on that thought, Lynn recalls a foster child—a girl—who had been with them for a few weekends and at one point “she walked into the kitchen while we were cooking breakfast and said, ‘This is just like a real family.’ I had to turn away because I wept. I was overcome by that,” says Lynn, relating a single incident that succinctly communicates the potential impact of fostering a child, even when the foster relationship lasts only a short time.
In fact, prospective foster parents begin benefiting from their commitment early on, as the training and support received while navigating the application and approval process is a benefit of its own. During training foster parents have the opportunity to learn new skills from instructors and build valuable relationships with longtime foster parents, who provide invaluable advice.
Shirley Brock, who, along with her husband Antonio, has fostered upwards of 60 children in the past 13 years, advises parents to simply “Love these children like they are your own. Go the extra mile to make sure they will be able to deal with the trauma they have encountered and become successful in life themselves.”
Then, in the course of actively getting foster children away from challenging environments—not to mention modeling good behavior and teaching them life skills—you’ll almost inevitably learn lessons that will translate to your own life, and perhaps the lives of your family members. If you have children of your own, for instance, they may come to recognize that not every child is as lucky as they are—and may become more patient and understanding as a result.
Meanwhile, the community-at-large is likely to benefit from your efforts, too. That is, as you’re making a positive impact on the health and happiness of a foster child, you’re inevitably making difference in the local community, with which the child regularly interacts. You may even have the chance to mentor the biological parents of the child or children you take in.
If nothing else, you’ll likely come away with a greater appreciation of the people and challenges being experienced in your own community—with a better ability to humanize others and appreciate your own upbringing and blessings.
Last but not least, there are also financial benefits that accrue to foster parents. While the compensation, by itself, certainly isn’t a reason to foster children, finances are a consideration for almost everyone. So it’s worth noting that most states provide financial compensation to offset the costs of providing foster care for a child.
Rates may differ depending on the age of the children in question and whether there are special needs. In some states, select costs are reimbursed and you may also be eligible for tax deductions.
Thinking About Fostering a Child? “Try It”
So if you’re seriously considering fostering children, longtime foster parents Sandra Taylor and Karla Smith, who have been fostering for 20 years and 14 years, respectively, encourage you to take the leap. Says Karla, “It’s what we should all want to do in the event that you have the space and the time to raise children. It makes a big impact on some of the kids that are in need. It makes a huge impact on their lives,” she says.
Of course, one has to expect there to be some challenging times and “you’ve got to be filled with a need to give love even when love may not come back to you,” elaborates Karla.
And while some foster parents struggle with the idea that the situation is likely temporary, foster parents can remain a resource for a child long-term and some foster situations lead to a permanent placement—aka foster to adopt. In fact, fostering can sometimes be a faster route to adoption than the traditional route, and it also has the advantage of allowing the child to stay in a stable home while the adoption process unfolds.
The bottom line is: “If there’s one thing I would tell people who are thinking of fostering, it’s just to step out and try it,” says Patty, as it’s likely to bring joy to your life.
Antonio sums it up best when he says: “To see these kids succeed makes us very, very happy.”
Contact Omni Visions to Apply to Become a Foster Parent
If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky or Indiana, we encourage you to complete our information request form or to contact the Omni Visions office nearest your home.
For two decades Omni has specialized in providing training and support to caregivers so foster children can reach their fullest potential. Together we can provide a brighter future for our children. Give us a call toll-free at (800) 851-6108.