When Crystal, now age 35, was in her 20s, she signed up to be a Big Sister through her local Big Brothers/Big Sisters (BBBS) chapter. She always knew she may be able to make a difference in a young life, but she had no idea how significant of a role she would play for one young woman in particular.
Nine years ago she was matched up with an 8-year old girl, who we will call Natasha. It didn’t take long for their sisterly bond to form. The two have strikingly similar personalities, which has always felt familiar.
“I’m amazed at how well Big Sisters matched us; we are so much alike that I have always called her my mini-me,” says Crystal.
They spent a few hours together nearly every weekend for years. Sometimes, Crystal’s boyfriend (and now, husband) Justin would tag along. “I’ll never forget the first time I introduced them,” recalls Crystal. “She ran right over to Justin. She was immediately comfortable with him.”
Relationships Built Over Time
That strong, nearly-decade long bond led Crystal and Justin to become even more involved in Natasha’s life when she was 16. Last year, they learned she was going to be moved from a foster home to a group home and they sprang into action.
“She was on her third foster home, through no fault of her own, and we didn’t want to see her go into a group home,” says Crystal. “We already cared about her, we had the means, the support of our family, and a strong marriage. We knew we could make it work – even with three-year-old twins at the time,” she adds.
So, they started the process for what’s known as a child-specific license. “Child-specific foster parent licensing is more common than you might think,” says Rachel Castillo, SaintA Director of Foster Care. “It means the parents take this step specifically to provide foster care for a child with whom they already have a relationship.”
Often it’s a relative, but it could also be a teacher, family friend, neighbor, or in this case, highly trusted adults who happen to already be in the child’s life.
According to Castillo, already having a relationship with the child prior to placement has its advantages. But, it can also have its challenges. “Navigating from whatever the relationship was before to a parent/child relationship takes time for both parties,” she says.
Navigating Changes Together
Natasha was excited to be able to call Crystal and Justin her parents and began referring to them as such right away. However, it has taken some time to accept what the change in roles actually means.
“It’s been hard for Natasha and me because I went from being a friend to being her parent,” says Crystal. “It’s definitely an adjustment for Justin to go from being the father of young boys to parenting a teenage girl.”
Once a Family, Always a Family
“Child-specific foster care for a teenager often provides a stability they have might not always been able to enjoy,” says Castillo.
In this case, the plan is for Natasha to continue on as part of the family indefinitely. “Even though it took a while for her to really believe us when we said that this wasn’t just temporary, she knows she is welcome to stay with us long after she exits foster care and all through college if she wants,” says Crystal.