When I became a foster parent in 2008, I assumed I was going to enter a strong community of connected foster parents who live the “It Takes a Village” mantra. I had a vision of getting together with other foster and adoptive families on a regular basis, watching their kids grow up or move on, having dinners together, supporting one another through transitions, being available for childcare, borrowing a bassinet or stroller if I was in a pinch. In short, I imagined being part of a community. A community of people spread across my region, but united with the common purpose of caring for children whose lives have been touched by foster care. My Village. I was ready to find my people.
Shortly after we were licensed, we welcomed our first child – a newborn – into our family. I was overwhelmed and awestruck with the responsibility before me, to a child I hoped would be mine forever. I was filled with simultaneous joy and fear, perfectly normal for a first time preadoptive foster parent, and I felt completely alone in the experience.
We were relatively new to the area, so we didn’t have the friendship group that might come over to “ooh” and “aah” over our newborn (and maybe bring some food for us or throw in a load of laundry while they visited). Our MAPP group didn’t grow particularly close, so we had no group of peers who might have been experiencing similar things. We didn’t have any family around, so we coudn’t rely on aunts, uncles, or grandparents to help us transition to parenthood. And even if we had those folks, they wouldn’t necessarily “get” all the emotions that go along with loving a child in foster care. Already spread thin as we parented a newborn without all the social supports we might have had if we birthed him (did you know foster parents are entitled to FMLA? We didn’t…), I hoped at some point I would finally happen to come across my Village. But it didn’t happen.
Two and a half years later, our son’s biological little brother came to us through foster care with five hours’ notice. It was completely unexpected and we were woefully unprepared… Boy could we have used that Village! But we still didn’t have it. We still didn’t know even one other foster or adoptive family in our region. Not kidding.
Eighteen months after our second son came to us through foster care, I birthed our third son. I spent three months of maternity leave in new mom support groups, family center playgroups, and reuniting with our childbirth class. The support made everything so much easier, particularly as I struggled to keep my head above water parenting a not-quite-four-year-old, an 18-month old, and a newborn (a time in my life of legit psychological torture – three kids in diapers, post-partum depression, and I was barely sleeping).
I appreciated the support I found in the new-birth-mom community. But I still hadn’t found the Village I was really looking for.
As I came out of the stupor of the baby and toddler years, I had to admit that the Village just didn’t exist, that if I wanted a community of other foster and adoptive parents, I would need to create it. So one night I threw together a facebook group – The Pioneer Valley Foster and Adoptive Family Association – and invited the handful of other foster or adoptive parents I knew by then. Within a few months, we had over 100 members (all foster or adoptive parents in the region) and scheduled our first in-person gathering attended by 66 people. I also polled the group and asked what was most challenging about being involved with foster care, what would help make it easier, and what they would say to new foster parents. In their social media posts and responses I saw reflected my same feelings of isolation, loneliness, and frustration about how little the general public knew and understood about foster care.
As the Facebook group was growing, our fourth child – another boy – came to us at 8 days old. He was supposed to stay a couple of weeks…
In the eight months he was with us, I learned even more about the challenges of being a foster parent in a difficult case, with a social worker who was not particularly empathetic or supportive, within a clearly broken system that seemed less and less set up with the best interests of these children in mind. I loved this little boy with all my heart, but the system nearly broke me in those months. And everywhere I took this delightful baby, his magnetic smile made him an accidental poster child for foster care when people would come over to greet him and chat me up. It blew my mind how little awareness about foster care was out there.
In those days, that facebook group kept me sane, and the words from other families about their own frustrations echoed in my thoughts.
The creation of All Our Kids is a response to all this – my own experience of isolation and frustration, the clear desire for support from other foster and adoptive parents, and the need for awareness raising and community engagement. When people out there learn what’s going on, they want to do something to help.
At the time of this writing, there are over 200 members of the facebook group, which is active on a daily basis. And we’re gearing up for our next in-person gathering, where we will all get together with our beautiful families and strengthen our sense of community.
So now I finally have my Village.
And guess what? It’s your Village too! Whether you’re a foster or adoptive parent, or someone who wants to make a difference in the lives of foster and adoptive families, there is a place in this Village for you. Because All Our Kids is about fostering community, raising awareness, and supporting families. Read through our website to learn more, and then contact us to find your place in this Village.