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I let them read about who I am

A foster mom assures the kids in her care that she understands where they’ve been. She’s been there too.

Interview with Bridgette, a foster mom who grew up in foster care

An African American foster mom with two teen girls

Looking at me today, you wouldn’t know that I’ve been through some things. That’s only by the grace of God, because I should be dead, in jail, have HIV or 10 kids.

That should be my story, but it’s not. I have to believe God has a bigger purpose in mind, that I still have work to do.

Over the last five years, I’ve had 18 children in my home through foster care. Some stayed for a few months, some for a few years. It surprises kids when they learn that I was in foster care, because they look at me and think She don’t know. So I show them my file—it’s about 500 pages long—and I let them read about who I am.

My mom’s family had a lot of issues, and she decided to put my brother and me in foster care when we were 1 and 2. My dad took us out when we were 5 and 6, and we lived with him until I was about 12. There was sexual abuse in his home, and I was removed and placed in foster care again.

At 12 going on 13, of course I was angry. I had hard behaviors. Foster parents didn’t want me, so I went into a group home until I was 19. The staff there was great, but it wasn’t a home setting, which made it difficult. So there was more acting out and a lot of running away. I was just not happy. I wondered Why me?

I truly believe that we go through hard things not because we’re supposed to teach someone else an easier way to get through it or how not to go through it, but to show them—if they go through it—how to come out the other side. That’s how I see myself as a foster parent.

My goal is to make my home a place where I know kids are safe. I lived in places that were not great—abusive staff, the condemnation of it all, or the discipline wasn’t right. More than 30 years later, I still think about that. Whoever comes into my home, I want them to know they’re safe.

I have a teen who came into my home at 17, but her abuse began at 10. So her chronological age doesn’t always match her emotional age. I had to figure out what does she know? What doesn’t she know? Bethany’s training helped me meet her where she was and move forward from there.

Bethany’s services for kids have helped—counseling, therapy, group sessions, events where kids in foster care can get together and meet kids like them without judgement. And they make sure foster parents have the support we need. We also lean on each other. If I have a child with a certain behavior I’ve never dealt with before, my Bethany caseworker will connect me with another foster parent who may have, and we can talk, like, “Hey, what did you do in that situation? Did that work?”

When people ask me about fostering, I tell them, first, understand your “why.” Fostering isn’t easy, but it’s very rewarding. Once you know why you want to foster, do it. Or if you go through the process to become a foster parent but you’re not 100% sure, you can start small and provide respite care. Respite is like back-up care for other foster parents when they need a break or when they need to go out of town and cannot take the children. And then when you decide you’re ready, jump in. You can do it.

I have kids to this day who will call me and talk about some of the things I used to teach them. It’s awesome to see a child excelling in school when they were failing before. I consider myself a parent, so like a proud mama, it’s like, My child is doing great! Look what we did! Or you see them excel in a sport they didn’t play before, or they get the hygiene routine down without you having to keep reminding them. They get excited that they did something you didn’t have to tell them to do.

When the 17-year-old first came to my home, she was in 11th grade but behind in school. She moved around so much during 9th grade that she hadn’t completed her second semester. But they bumped her up. So she had half a semester of 9th grade classes to complete online as well as her 11th grade classes. She was stressed out, and we both worked hard to get it done.

This year she was able to start her senior year with nothing hanging over her head, feeling like a new woman. These are the bonuses, when you can see a child through that. These are the wins.

Listen to Bridgette's full interview

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