Cornelius became a foster parent by accident.
It all started when a friend dropped off her son and promised to return later. The friend, who struggled with mental health issues and substance abuse, never returned. It took about six months for Cornelius to accept she wasn’t coming back, and that realization also left him with a choice.
The boy would either be removed from his care and placed in a licensed home, or Cornelius could become a licensed a foster parent and keep him. Cornelius calls it having been “drafted” into being a foster parent. But seventeen years, four adoptions, multiple successful placements and a career as a social worker later, he can proudly say he made the right decision.
A Need for Dads and Dad-Like Figures
“A lot of these young people grow up without men in their community,” says Cornelius. Thus, all his placements have been African American boys. He always has a set of bunk beds, for multiple young men to stay in his care at a time. He started with 6 -12 year-olds, but switched to teens as he noticed how often youth lacked life skills.
He says young men need to know how to shop for themselves, how to budget and do basic maintenance. It’s also important to prepare them for the next stage of life, which could be college, military or a trade.
For some, the life skills are even more basic. “A lot don’t know about personal hygiene,” says Cornelius. “Some of it is because they are teenage boys, but not all of it.” He learned from one of his foster sons that previous sexual trauma that had taken place in the bathroom caused him difficulty.
“I learned how to make the transition for him at a rate he could understand,” he says. First, he gave him a wash bowl and soap that he could use in his bedroom to clean his hands and face. After six months, he was finally ready to shower. “It took a while to get to that point, but we built that understanding and trust.” That bond and growth continued and two years later, the boy was reunited with his family.
Foster Youth are Kids, Not Labels
Cornelius is an African American man with long hair and good posture. He’s a chef with his own catering company and a social worker. He makes it a priority to be a good role model for those in his community.
“Being a foster parent is what catapulted me into being a social worker,” he says. As a foster parent, he often found himself lost, so to help navigate his unanswered questions, Cornelius created a binder with resources related to the diagnoses of his boys, who were mostly enrolled in Individualized Education Programs at school.
But the process also taught him to learn the person and not the label. “One source can’t meet the needs of a kid. Care needs to be multi-dimensional and collaborative.” he says.
To him, that means case workers, care coordinators and foster parents all work together. He also explains that more men should become foster parents to help guide young men who lack father figures.
“Boys need to see a community of people working together, both men and women, who will help them transition into the next stage of life.”
To become a licensed foster parent call or email us at 855.GROW.HOPE or GrowHope@sainta.org