There’s never been a greater need for foster homes. Across the country, foster families have decreased about
24% over the past three years. Right now, there are thousands of children across North Carolina who are in need of loving foster homes. These children need stability, support, and help to meet their physical and emotional needs.
Have you ever thought about opening your home to a child in need? Foster care allows families to provide a temporary living situation for youth whose parents cannot take care of them. Nearly half of the children who enter foster care will return to their parents or primary caretakers. In the meantime, they need love and help adjusting to their new situation.
Kayleigh Connell, a 33-year-old teacher from High Point, North Carolina, shares some of the rewards and challenges of being a foster parent and explains how it can change your life.
Overcoming fears and concerns
Kayleigh became licensed to provide foster care in July 2021. As a first-grade teacher, she had worked with several students who were in the foster care system and was interested in helping them outside the classroom.
At first, Kayleigh had concerns about her parenting abilities.
She explains, “Since I never had children of my own, I was worried that I wouldn’t know how to provide what the children in care needed. I was concerned about having enough patience and being able to help them navigate the system along with their emotions and trauma.”
Overcoming her fears took a lot of reflection and several conversations with friends who had experience with foster care. One of her friends pointed out that parents often “learn as they go” after welcoming their first baby. Her friends also reminded her about her strong support system of experienced parents who could provide help when needed.
The most powerful encouragement came from a friend who said, “You love big. You show so much love to everyone around you, no matter what they need. These kids don’t need a perfect parent. They need someone who is going to love them and keep them safe. The rest will fall into place naturally.”
Supporting the whole family
In the past two years, Kayleigh has opened her home to nine children. In addition to providing long-term care, she has offered respite (short-term) care to help give other foster families (or their children) a needed break.
Her favorite thing about providing foster care is being able to support the entire family, not just the child.
“Reunification is really the whole point of fostering,” Kayleigh says. “I never want the birth parents or their kids to think that I’m trying to take the parents’ place. I reach out to the families any way I can and try to build a relationship with them.”
Physical and emotional growth
Kayleigh loves to see the physical and emotional growth of the children in her care.
“Seeing steady weight gain from a healthy environment can be very rewarding,” she notes. “But it’s also amazing to see them actively healing emotionally from whatever trauma they’ve experienced. It’s exciting when they’re finally able to pause during a meltdown and verbalize their emotions.”
Support and advocacy
Securing the right resources for the children in her care has been challenging at times.
“Kids have a lot they need to process while in foster care,” Kayleigh says. “They may need talk therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. There are many different specialists you have to connect with. And sometimes it can be difficult to get timely appointments.”
Kayleigh has always felt supported by the staff at Children’s Home Society of North Carolina (CHS), especially when trying to find supportive resources or when facing stressful medical situations.
She explains, “I’ve received calls from CHS asking about how they can support us. They even offered to send us dinner. And there have been times when I had to take kids to the ER for various injuries and illnesses. Two instances in particular were very stressful. Although it was after hours, the CHS specialist offered to sit with me at the hospital. It’s so helpful to have a third party who knows us well enough and has a clear enough mind to ask doctors and specialists the right questions about the child’s health.”
CHS has provided added support to Kayleigh as a single parent. For example, the organization has helped advocate for her full-time work schedule during the school year.
“If a child needs placement, they know to be very upfront about my schedule,” she says. “For example, I can’t transport kids for family visits during the middle of the school day. Or I might need help with day care.”
Although it wasn’t part of her initial plan, Kayleigh is considering adoption in the future. Her goal will be to establish a relationship with the child’s family members so they can maintain a family connection.
Providing a safe place
If you’re considering becoming a foster parent, here’s Kayleigh’s message to you:
“There’s a huge need for people who want to foster right now. Knowing you can become a safe place and a pillar of support for children and their families is so rewarding. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Even if you’re just thinking about it, at least ask for more information. If you decide you’re not ready, you can still learn how to support the foster parents in your community.”