May is a month to reflect, from celebrations of the mothers we love to graduation ceremonies for the children we cherish. Concepts of deep honor close out May as we reflect on those who have sacrificed themselves for our very freedom in our national day of remembrance called Memorial Day. May is a month for celebrating others who deserve our deepest respect. Of note, May is also foster care awareness month.
Some will stop reading. Others will feel queasy, bored, overwhelmed or generally pained as we decide to read further. The phrase “foster care” is loaded and isn’t easily associated with warm emotions that touch all of our hearts. A reason for this disconnect is because we view it all wrong.
Let’s begin with facts. South Carolina has 4,081 children in foster care and 2,401 foster homes. Each of the children entered abruptly because of abuse or neglect from their primary caregiver and an inadequate safety net, ready for action, from the larger family unit. Moms feeling immense shame, children confused and angry at toxic loss, relatives trying to restore the bond that has frayed. Everyone, from family to social services to school to faith groups to judges and volunteers, is trying to keep a child safe and cared for. This is foster care.
See foster care in a fresh, new way in the month of May. Embrace the foster parent. Let go the idea of the mean-spirited parent who only does this for money. Honor the steady foster mom, with patience and empathy, striving to provide a stable environment. Consider the foster dad worrying for the child in his care every night, hoping the birth parent finds help, wanting the child to flourish.
As we honor the foster caregiver, so we must honor the child. Yet, we label them “foster kids,” and so status quo remains impenetrable. We must stop using this derisive term. These are first and foremost children. These are 4,081 children in our state, each one beautifully and wonderfully made. Each child deserving to eventually walk across the threshold of graduation during a May celebration. Yet of those who leave care at 18, only 56 percent will take that important step, nationally.
See each child anew with tremendous capacity. Believe in each child. Accept his or her anger and denial and sadness as symbols of what you would show if you had also lost your family, community and culture. See each child as having an innate value, remarkably resilient in the face of adversity, worthy of respect, by every adult in our great, rich nation.
Celebrate foster care this month. Is your heart stirred for more? Consider dropping the “round to it” and stand up for a child today. Become a foster parent this month. The need is great here and across our land.
Enjoy the May flowers, late spring ball games, the surge of summer opportunity, the remembrance of those before us and those who have sacrificed for our very freedom. Reflect and begin to realize that sacrifice may be the key to a life fulfilled. Consider the children in need, and act as you know you must.
David White is founder and CEO of Fostering Great Ideas, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of children as they struggle in foster care.