For me, the word ‘orphan’ makes me think of a young Dickens character roaming the streets of 18th century London in tattered clothes. I always found that image rather romantic as a kid and would pretend to be a poor orphan who would inevitably be adopted by some form of royalty. I grew up in Tacoma, but naively imagined someone would have to look far away from here, probably to a foreign country to find a child to adopt. It wasn’t until I was nearly an adult that I began to understand there are children right here in Tacoma who don’t know where they will sleep tomorrow; children in true need of families, royal or not.About a year before I moved out of their house, my parents, who thought they were nearly done raising children, found out that two little girls in their life needed a temporary home. They decided to become licensed as foster parents and take them in. The girls were a wonderful whirlwind. One was a sweet and curious eight year old, and the other a feisty wild blur of a five year old. These two burst into my life, bringing with them joy, laughter, and a heaping pile of reality. Here is some of what I learned:
Children in foster care are almost always there due to abuse or neglect. Even though it’s a good thing for them to be out of those situations, it’s extremely difficult for them to be taken away from everything familiar. Once they are removed from their homes they have to begin re-adjusting to a new living situation, new people and usually a new school, all while being totally uncertain about the future. Seeing a child try to emotionally process going through the foster care system is heart wrenching and eye opening. There is nothing quite like seeing a five year old physically sick from shear stress. From home inspections, to court mandated visitation with biological parents, foster care can be a grueling experience for kids as well as their foster families.
Foster children are more common than you think. I learned a lot during my experience with foster care, but one of the toughest things I learned was how common it is for children to be in these types of situations. In Pierce County alone there are about 1,300 children in foster care. Thats enough to fill Tacoma’s largest hotel, Hotel Murano, more than 4 times over. Unfortunately there are only about 600 foster homes to house all of those children.
There are both individuals and organizations in Tacoma fighting to keep the foster kids of our city safe and loved. Amara is a foster care organization that recently opened an emergency sanctuary in Tacoma for children in crisis. Also, the Pierce county YMCA helps foster families by offering free memberships to all foster kids. Tacoma social workers have chosen the emotionally demanding job of protecting vulnerable children and helping them cope with trauma. Of course one of the most crucial jobs you can have in foster care is opening your home and offering unconditional love to children who need it. Tacoma has some truly amazing foster parents, but there is a huge need for more. Foster care cases can end in a variety of ways. The state usually has the goal of reuniting children with their biological families, but in some cases that is just not possible. For my parents, their foster care journey ended in adoption. It took more than two years of not knowing what the outcome would be before the girls were officially part of our family. Now they are beautiful, flourishing girls, ages 14 and 11. They have had a lot happen to them in their young lives, but are now in a safe environment to process it and to just grow up. My journey with foster care is far from over. After getting a taste of it, there is a fire in my belly to be a foster mom myself. I know it will be one of the hardest things I will ever do, but these kids need people who are willing to ignore the fact that it’s hard and just love them anyway.
If you are interested in getting involved with foster children in Tacoma, follow the links below: