Two years ago, Jennifer and her husband Xavier decided to become foster parents.
It was something Jennifer always wanted to do, and as a public health nurse, she was used to caring for others. Xavier was very open to the idea, so after a year of marriage, the couple decided to start the process.
In all, they’ve seen eight children come through their home. Three were short-term and the other five were longer placements. Currently, they have two children in their care.
Jennifer has come to learn there are many highs and lows when it comes to being a foster parent.
But she also sees how challenging situations can turn into something amazing, like taking a baby home after a 226-day NICU stay. Their current foster daughter has gone through several surgeries, and while watching her go through them has been difficult, Jennifer says seeing how far she’s come is incredible.
Then, there are the millions of little things that make life easier, like the jokes, smiles and laughter that are always worthwhile moments for the family.
“It will be both the most rewarding and most challenging thing you may get to do in life,” Jennifer says. “There’s just no way to predict what a kiddo’s story is going to look like.”
Jennifer and Xavier rely on their extended family, case workers and medical providers for support. But building relationships with biological parents has also helped them on their foster care journey.
The couple spent six months supervising visits for one of their foster children. “It was transformative,” Jennifer says. “We really know each other now and no matter where the case is headed, we have a relationship with the birth family so our foster son can have everyone close to him involved in his life.”
While they don’t supervise visits with their current foster daughter, the biological mom was able to join the family for trick-or-treating and Christmas last year.
Jennifer describes shared parenting as recognizing the birth parents’ strengths, accepting that you can learn from them too and attempting to understand the barriers they encounter daily.
She adds, “Not every case will allow you do that, but you should take advantage of it when you can.”
Shared parenting is a goal for families at SaintA. It focuses on making sure children are supported by all adults in their life and are receiving all the love and resources they need.
Being an Advocate
Since becoming a foster parent, Jennifer has learned a lot about the foster care system.
“As foster parents, it is easy for us to center on the children, because they feel like our entire world, but in reality, there are hundreds of moving pieces,” she says. Through her experience, she’s learned it’s also important to understand how birth parents’ rights may have been neglected in the past, how legislation guides the judge’s decision-making process, and how caseworker’s may have knowledge that you are unaware of.
While her husband is African American, as a white person, Jennifer says, “It’s necessary to learn about and understand the oppressive and systematic injustices that parents of color encounter and do the hard internal work of unlearning racism.”
And when it comes to being the best parent she can, Jennifer says there is one thing to remember, “Parenting is about meeting your kids where they’re at.”