Courtney was a preschooler when her parents, Carrie and Dan Collins, assumed the responsibilities of foster parenting. It wasn’t a decision they came to lightly. In fact, Carrie and Dan, who parent eight biological children, considered the commitment some 15 years ago. “We went to an orientation meeting to learn more,” Carrie says. “That’s when I realized it wasn’t the right time for our family.” Carrie and Dan’s passion for becoming foster parents never wavered, however. In 2007, along with their children, ranging in age from 4 to 22, the couple opened their hearts and their home to this new adventure.
“We wanted to share our lives with other children,” Carrie says. She and Dan met all the requirements, including completing the 27 hours of training, and were approved as licensed foster parents for children infants through 5 years of age. “I quickly learned the best fit for me and my family was to foster children who were younger than my own.” Charity, their first foster child, was six months old. After one year, Charity’s brother, Emmani, joined the household. He was four when the Collinses adopted him in 2010. During that time, Charity went back and forth between the Collinses’ home and her mother’s. However, in June 2013, Carrie and Dan were granted guardianship of Charity, now 7.
Carrie and Dan became foster parents with no intention of adopting. “But when we saw the need for permanent homes for children we decided that’s what we would do,” Carrie says. In a span of seven years, the couple has fostered 15 children—some for short periods like a month and others for as long as 18 months. “Everyone wants a baby, but there are many older children and especially sibling groups and children with special needs who need adopting,” Carrie adds. “Two of the children we have adopted are on the autism spectrum. Our kids have been wonderful at accepting these children as part of our family.”
Families like the Collinses offer traditional care, but foster care comes in many varieties, including emergency/shelter care, medical/therapeutic care, relative/kinship care, respite/short-term care and tribal care. In all its variations, foster parenting is a commitment to be meaningful in the lifetime of the child and family. Those who choose to take on this responsibility are rewarded in many ways. For Carrie and Dan, one of their delights is showing a child what it is like to live in a loving family. “It’s not the big things, it’s the little stuff that matters most, like having consistent meals, being tucked in bed at night, having clean clothes for school each day,” she says.
Most children (70 percent) are united with their biological families. Seeing a child reunited with his family and witnessing the positive changes undergone to make the family whole again is rewarding and reaffirming. “We cared for a young girl until her mother completely changed her life. Over the course of the year, the mother was reunited with her daughter. Three years later we still get together, socialize and revel in their success.”
Carrie cautions that first and foremost, foster parenting is a program aimed at helping troubled families help themselves. “Your heart will be smashed into a million pieces if you forget that. The primary goal is reunification.”
Broken Parents, Broken Children
Carrie knows the importance in addressing the needs of the biological parents as part of a complete solution. “I would love to teach a class to biological parents,” says Carrie, who has been honored twice as a Foster Adoptive Parent for her support of biological families in the program. “I would teach them how to do visits with their children better, how to groom their kids, instruct them in ways they can interact better,” she says. “Often the parents were foster children themselves, products of bad situations. By mentoring them maybe we can end the cycle.”
A Little Bit Better
The Collins family knows they can’t help every child in need. “But we found two cases where we could make a difference,” Carrie says. In addition to Charity and Emmani, Carrie and Dan are in the final stages of adopting Sici, 7 and Mariah, 5. They are also in the process of obtaining guardianship for Charity and Emmani’s 16-year-old sibling. “Courtney, our 11-year-old, is the key. If she hadn’t been on board, the whole thing wouldn’t have happened. It’s her nature to be very giving. She shares everything she has—every toy and every doll.”
Carrie’s advice for anyone considering becoming a foster parent: “Don’t expect these children to be like the children you’ve raised. They are hurt and broken. They need patience and they will take a lot of your time.” In fact, Carrie said you will spend more time with these children than your own. “Foster parenting is not an easy adventure,” Carrie adds, “but it has been worth it. We started as a way to bless a child’s life but the truth is, they have blessed our lives.”
Foster and Adoptive Family Resources in San Diego:
County of San Diego HHSA Health and Human Services
Walden Family Services
Koinonia Family Services
Lori Bolander Law Group
Adoption, Trust & Estate Law
How to Help if Fostering is Not an Option
Many San Diego children have been neglected, abused or abandoned, and need the care and understanding of foster-adoptive parents until their own families are able to care for them again. If you want to help, but becoming a foster parent isn’t the best choice for you, consider becoming a volunteer court-appointed special advocate (CASA) through Voices for Children. Guided by professionals, CASAs become information gatherers who advocate for foster children in the courtroom, classroom and in the community.
“CASAs get to know their child, facilitate communication with the child’s case team, and make recommendations to the Court,” says foster parent, Carrie Collins. “It’s the most valuable way you can help these children.”
Claire Yezbak Fadden is an award-winning freelance writer and mother of three sons. Follow her on Twitter @claireflaire.
Published: May 2014