National foster care month
May is national foster care month, so iHope wanted to raise awareness by providing an interview with Pam Ritchie, who has plenty of experience in the realm of foster care. Read on to hear some of her personal experiences with fostering numerous children over the years, along with learning about ways you can get involved!
Pam (center) with her children in 2011
How have you seen God in your fostering journeys with your children?
I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus at the time that I became a foster parent. I grew up in the Catholic Church, but I hadn’t been in 25 years. I hadn’t picked up my Bible since I was 12. God didn’t particularly let me know that He was calling me to foster, but He used fostering to call me to Him.
When I look back at all of the trials I have endured, I see all of it pointing right to where I am.
It is really interesting to hear how God used fostering to draw you closer to Him through trials!
Are most of these trials you referenced specifically related to fostering children?
The trials are mostly related to fostering children. I couldn’t get pregnant, which was a trial in itself. I married a man who had two children, so all of the trials that go with being a stepparent, such as forming a relationship with the birth mom, were preparing me for being a foster parent. What I learned as a stepparent helped me be more successful as a foster parent.
Paul says that he counts it as a blessing when he encounters all of his trials, and I agree because I know God is getting me ready for something else. I have seen this in my own life, although at the time of the trials, I was overwhelmed and frustrated!
Is there any specific advice or encouragement you would give to families that are fostering?
Once you make a commitment to foster a child, stay with that commitment through whatever trials that child or your family may be going through. The main goal of foster care is to reunite the child with his or her family, so it can be difficult if you have to part with the child. This can be an additional trial in itself. You must stick with your commitment, though.
How long have you been fostering?
I have been fostering for 10 years! I really don’t know how many children in total I have fostered! We have fostered five children long term, but we have had many more children short term. Many of the children I would keep for the weekend or until a particular hearing in court. That was a period when I learned a lot more about how the fostering system works.
Was there ever a moment where you questioned if you were doing the right thing?
There were lots of moments. I still have those moments. Even as a stepparent, you question that. Now that I do have that relationship with Jesus, I am much more comfortable with it. I know that God has control over the situation, so I shouldn’t worry about it.
I always think, “God’s got this.” That’s what we always said about the girls we now have guardianship of because the process of acquiring guardianship was so crazy.
One of the girls came to my house when she was two and left when she was three. Then she came back and has been in our house ever since. She is now 10, and many of my friends think we are crazy for thinking we will be able to raise the children when they are teenagers since we are older. We know that God has got this, though.
Are there any moments that were so exceptionally difficult that you wanted to give up?
One of my heartbreaking moments was when our two-year-old daughter left almost a year later to go back with her family. Seven months later she was able to come back, and the turn of events was a shock, both when she left and when she returned. She came back with a baby sister, and those are two of the girls that I now have guardianship of!
Thanks you so much for sharing that. That is really sweet and encouraging to hear! I can’t even begin to imagine what it felt like when she left or when she came back and you became a guardian.
Yes, there were times where we were frustrated because the hearings took a lot of time away from other things we were doing. But it was all worth it.
My friends always say, “Aren’t you happy you have the children? Aren’t you so happy?” And I am happy, but it is also really hard because I know that when I have a child, even if it is in the child’s best interest, another parent loses a child, which is really sad. And it is sad for the child that he or she lost his or her parents.
The children are often reunited with their families, though. My first foster child was three when he came to our house. He stayed about two years before eventually living with his grandmother, with whom I am really good friends. He has a relationship with his mom, too!
It is wonderful to hear of families being reunited. Is there anything else that you feel is important to mention about foster care?
Yes, there are many ways for people to share their love with a foster child without specifically becoming a foster parent. One of the ways to become involved is through the Nanny Manny Brigade, which lets adults come sit with children who have just been brought into foster care. Many times the children have just parted ways with their parents and are really scared because they are going to an entirely new place, so they need that one-on-one attention as a comfort.
People could also volunteer to be natural helpers who can care for the children if the foster parents want to go on a date night.
The other thing is for people to get involved in Respite. Respite helpers go through the same training as foster parents, and they can care for the children if foster parents need to go visit family and the children have to stay locally. Respite homes can also care for children when they are brought in at odd times, such as the middle of the night, to make sure they have a warm bed.
There are a lot of little things people can do, such as drives for diapers, socks, and underwear.
Donating things like dressers and bunk beds are really helpful as well. It would also be extremely beneficial for people to sponsor foster kids for summer camps, for most foster parents have many children in their homes and cannot pay for all of them to attend camp. If high school or college students could offer free tutoring, that would also be a great way to help out.
The main thing is to take advantage of small opportunities instead of thinking that the only way to help is by becoming a foster parent. We do need more foster parents, so by all means consider it, but if you don’t feel called to foster, there are still plenty of things you could do to care for these children.
Here are links to websites to explore ways you could serve the foster population:
Cobb County Foster Adoptive Parent Association
May 2016 National Foster Care Month