Foster care gives children and teens a home they need and deserve. It gives them hope to see that there is a world where love, safety and security exists.

Children come into foster care for a number of different reasons. Often they have experienced abuse and neglect, but sometimes the situation requires that a child has more needs than his or her family can meet or the child needs to be on a different path to succeed. Whatever the reason, the underlying needs are the same–a home where each child can be supported, guided and accepted.

Foster parenting is a special calling. “We are always in need of strong and caring foster families who can meet the challenge of parenting children with difficult backgrounds and multiple needs,” says Toosdhi Jackson, Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC) Foster Care Director.

One of CCC’s current foster parents has expressed her foster care experience this way:

“Years ago, I kept seeing the UNICEF pictures of children in need, I wanted to take them all home. I had two children of my own and my husband was not interested in fostering. In my early fifties, I became a single woman and determined that it was the right time to pursue fostering, as I was the sole decision maker. I learned about CCC through one of my coworkers who was fostering through them. It’s been a wonderful ten years of fostering, I wish I had done it a lot sooner. It’s such a rewarding thing to do, the children are so good, they’re wonderful. To give safety and security is a nice thing to do for another human being, especially a child.”

If you accept youth in a trusting and loving way, they respond. If you have fear, doubt or any apprehension, they’ll pick up on it. Just give love. Treat them like your own children.

Admittedly, the process to become a foster parent is not an easy one. There are many steps and screenings to go through to be sure that the fit is a good and safe one. “Once the heart is open to the possibility of fostering a child, then the steps required to become a foster parent are easily understood,” says Jackson.

Foster parents never undertake the fostering journey alone. CCC’s Foster Care staff provide ongoing support, extensive training and workshops, and 24/7 emergency assistance. Foster parents receive compensation for this dedicated work, which includes medical expenses.

According to Jackson, one of the most frequently asked questions we get through the initial screening stage is, “Do I need to be Catholic to foster a child through you?” And the answer is that we work with anyone who has a heart for nurturing and caring for children. We not only work with families of any faith, we need families of all faiths to help children and youth from diverse backgrounds feel comfortable in their home.

The day to day of being a foster parent isn’t easy, but neither is parenting any child. “Our staff goes out of their way to make sure that foster parents have what they need so they can be the kind of parents that foster children need them to be,” says Jackson.

What makes for a good foster home?

A Safe Environment: A foster home should present an environment where a child can be safe from harm, where their needs will be met and where they can feel secure and at ease.

A Comfortable Home: A place where a child might have a private bedroom, a comfortable bed, and the understanding that they can treat the home like their own. Equally important is a sense of structure and consistency, where the family eats meals together, the child attends school, has a consistent bedtime and has time for socializing with friends.

Effective Discipline: This involves a foster parent being firm but fair and always being patient rather than resorting to shouting. Helping a child learn about acceptable boundaries and what is accepted within the household is an important role that a foster parent teaches.

Support and Guidance: Some foster children may have special needs, and support should be provided for these. Many will have gone through a very difficult time, and will need guidance to help them deal with these issues.

Communal Activities: Going for walks, going to the park, worshipping together, and playing sports are all ways for a child to feel part of a family to increase their sense of belonging.

Taking an Interest: How was your day? Can I help you with your homework? Simple yet caring questions show that a foster parent cares for a child.

Provide a Happy Environment: A joyful home helps to create a more positive experience for everyone.

May is Foster Care Awareness month. More information about Foster Care parenting through CCC is available online at www.cccofva.org and through regional Foster Care offices:  Richmond: 804-285-5900, Roanoke: 540-342-0411,  Norton: 276-679-1195.

The mission of Commonwealth Catholic Charities is to provide quality, compassionate human services to all people, especially the most vulnerable, regardless of faith. The vision of Commonwealth Catholic Charities is to empower individuals, strengthen families, and build communities through faith and service. Commonwealth Catholic Charities is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating human suffering and restoring hope, dignity and opportunities to Virginia’s residents since 1923.