Why Not Us? Our Foster Care Journey

By Guest Bloggers David and Kelly Ritter

Four years ago, we officially began our journey into foster care by signing up for certification classes through Beech Acres Parenting Center. A short six months after starting classes, we had our first placement. At that time, some would say that we were naïve, others idealistic, but we had a genuine desire to help children through it. We became foster parents because we believed that children and families in trouble need a stabilizing force in their lives, and we thought, “Why not us?” If two college-educated adults with specialized training and work experience in pediatric medicine, elementary education, neuroscience, and trauma couldn’t be foster parents, then who would or should be a foster parent?

Our ideal situation, we thought, would be a case with “typical” kids we could mentor, coming alongside to help their biological family. But we quickly learned that there is no “typical” kid. We learned that sometimes kids come into your lives with medical or emotional problems you didn’t anticipate or that the caseworkers couldn’t predict. We learned that sometimes kids come into your lives for just a few weeks but change everything. We learned that “medical special needs” and “treatment level” don’t mean the same thing to any group of people (caseworkers vs foster families vs social workers vs medical professionals). We learned that ultimately, foster children simply need an adult who is there for their “maybe” days:

The days when they ask, “Will I ever move home?” “Maybe.”
The days when they ask, “Do I get to see mom this week?” “Maybe.”
The days when they ask, “Will I ever feel normal?” “Maybe.”

After our first few cases, we thought we were starting to get the emotional questions down, but then we got a curveball. We agreed to take on a medically complex situation that our Beech Acres social worker rightly thought was a good fit for us. Being foster parents for kids with medical issues was a journey that we didn’t anticipate embarking on, but it is one we have embraced.

When a foster child with medical issues comes into our home, many people ask, “Why?” Our gut response is, “Why not?” and, “If not us, then who should provide a safe place for this child?” Many people wonder if our professional backgrounds make us too close to things. However, we have found our backgrounds to be an asset, and the ability to positively impact foster children and their families to be rewarding. We are uniquely qualified to advocate for proper medical care for our foster children, bridge divides the biological family may feel in medical care, point out issues that six other homes didn’t notice, and provide a safe spot for the kids to grow and heal. Medical and education professionals often see the worst of the foster care system or, worse, don’t realize how they contribute to the emotional trauma for foster kids. Our experiences have made us better caregivers, and not just to our children.

While others see the medical complexities and not having “typical” kids as the hard part, it is, and will continue to be, the emotional questions that truly rock our world. Waking up at 3 a.m. with a crying baby we met just hours before and desperately trying to figure out what is wrong is manageable. Learning how to do g-tube care and feeds on the fly is manageable. Having oxygen monitor alarms blaring all night because the child is not dropped off with the correct equipment is manageable. Organizing schedules to take turns visiting the hospital is manageable. Being told that your child is not doing well in school at parent-teacher conferences is manageable. However, watching a foster child tense up and cringe when asked “Are those your parents?” and “Why don’t they look like you?” is devastating. But through everything, we are there to be their safe place, and we have family, friends, and social workers there to support us.

Being a parent means putting aside your personal hopes and dreams and instead focusing on the collective hopes and dreams of your family. Being a foster parent means, at times, giving up control of what those collective hopes and dreams may be. However, the rewards are immeasurable: watching children from hard places flourish, celebrating victories at school, gaining needed weight, weaning off medications, or watching them smile as they get reunited with their families. Those collective hopes and dreams are what make us who we are; they make us foster parents, and they make us human.

Read the Ritter’s story on LinkedIn.