by: Kathleen Barnes
I want to share with you my journey being part of the foster care system as both foster parent and teacher.
Somewhere around our fifth year of marriage, Jacob and I heard a sermon that resounded with us. Our pastor, Charlie Loften, spoke on our Biblical obligation to care for children in foster care. I remember sneaking glances at my husband and thinking during that sermon, “Is this pulling at his heart strings like it is mine?” The moment we got into the car, Jacob looked at me and said, “This is something we need to do.” WHEW! Big sigh of relief!
Charlie’s sermon came at a time when the CALL, was being launched in Northwest Arkansas. The CALL’s focus is to address the foster care crisis in Arkansas. Children who come into care are often moved from their hometown, school, and the only world they know due to a shortage in open foster homes. Even within the few years I had taught, I had seen this happen at my elementary school. A student in my own classroom had been removed from her home during the school day. I recall hugging this tiny, clueless 2nd grader goodbye, unsure if I would ever see her again. Could I be part of the solution? Could I open my home as a foster home and keep our students close by?
After completing all of the requirements, it was a waiting game of which call from DCFS would be the perfect match for our family. You want only God’s plan, but you get anxious waiting on His timing. The excitement of the unknown even spread to our immediate family members.
In the spring of 2014, I was finishing up my fourth year of teaching in the Springdale schools. Those I worked with knew our intentions to foster. While a few of my fellow teachers were in my principal’s office one day, she mentioned a student at our school that had gone into care recently. The student’s 2nd grade teacher, who was in the room as well, was very worried about this child. I remember she asked me, “What can I do?” Being new to this, I didn’t know how one would go about even getting a specific child in their home. Was that even possible? Did you have to be an open home? Didn’t you have to get a call?
I called our CALL county coordinator, Ann Meythaler, to find out what we could do. Thankfully, Ann knew about a DCFS policy that provided an option for educators who have students go into care. If no family is available to provide an approved home, a child’s teacher can be considered as “fictive kin” and open their home for that child.
As a teacher that was willing to open her home, I was able to help this child, Kennedy, remain at the same school. I am so thankful that we were able to spare her from one more thing being taken from her. It has to be included that she also thought it was pretty awesome getting to live with a teacher! Kennedy’s story is likely a familiar one for many in our profession: a student living in poverty who showed signs of neglect, abuse, little academic support from home, and an unknown future. I don’t want to share specific details, but her situation was discouraging. While we were very happy to provide a home for Kennedy while her biological family “did their homework that the judge gave them” (this was our way of explaining it to her), we did not anticipate that this would end in adoption. We hoped that she would be able to return to her family and prayed for them every night.
On April 8, 2015, we became Kennedy’s “forever family.” This is the official day that Kennedy was adopted. However, she has been a part of our family from day one. We all grew to love her and enjoy her silly humor. We are so glad that we were able to be a part of her journey and continue our lives with her. Our family would not be the same.
Today, Kennedy is a healthy, smart, popular 12-year-old girl. She has received multiple awards for her leadership abilities. She engages and succeeds in anything new she tries. All who encounter her quickly notices her positive demeanor; whether it is those in her school, swim team, church groups, or extended family. I admire her for the way she treats others. No matter how different from her, she shows kindness to anyone she is around.
I will never take credit for all of these positive changes. Yes, we did ultimately change the future for her; however, the woman that she is becoming is due to those positive role models she has found along her journey. I give full credit to the teachers and staff that maintained high expectations, loved the whole child, and prayed for her.
I want to encourage those who work in schools to prayerfully consider if this is a journey you are willing to take with a child. I guarantee the idea of foster care is not as scary when you put a face to it. Yes, it was convenient that our family had already received the necessary clearance to receive foster children. However, it is possible to begin this process by contacting DCFS and opening as a “provisional home,” for a specific child in care. Let your principal and counselor know that if a child at your school goes into care, you are willing to open your home to them while they go through this difficult time.. You WILL be changing a life!