One families journey into foster parenting: An open home to many children

Mike and Claire May live in Knoxville, Tenn where they care for children as needed in their home as foster parents.

Mike and Claire May decided during their engagement that they would one day adopt. Inspired by a sermon from one of their pastors who reminded them that God had adopted them as His children through Christ they determined adoption would be one way to show God’s love to others. Through a series of twist and turns they would have never expected, the May’s are now foster parents.

Here is their story through this Q & A with Claire May.

Q: How did you come to the decision to become foster parents?

May: We began the process by wanting to adopt, so we started getting all the information we could about adoption. We went to an adoption/orphan care seminar at our church Cornerstone Church of Knoxville during that time and ended up in a session about foster care. We both came out of it saying, “Wow! That is a big need! Not for us though, let’s go find out more about adopting a baby.” And after that we began the process of adopting a domestic infant through Bethany Christian Services. There is a lot of paperwork in that! So it took us a few months. While filling it out, we had to talk about lots of things having to do with what sort of baby we would like to adopt. One of the questions was, “Would you adopt an older child? Up to what age?” We talked about it and decided that we would consider any children up to age 2. All the while, we were saying, “This is a lot of money! We want to adopt how many times?” At one point, I remember saying to Mike that if we were willing to adopt a baby up to age 2, then maybe we should look into adopting through foster care. That is free after all! So we put our adoption paperwork on hold and looked into foster care a little more. I remember the day I called one of the foster care agencies and got all of their information. It was as though I just knew that this was right. It was absolutely crazy to me, but I felt very strongly that the Lord wanted us to do foster care. But in my mind I was thinking about our initial reaction of “no!”, and how Mike had been even surer than me that foster care was not for us. I decided not to tell him immediately that I thought we were supposed to do foster care. I gave him all the information that night, and I remember that he sat there with his eyes closed for what felt like forever! When he opened them, he said, “This is right. This is just right.” Of course, I immediately told him I thought so too! And over the course of the next few months we started the process and along the way upped our age limit to 5 and then to 8. I joke that in a year or so we will probably be taking in teenagers!

It is very obvious to us that the Lord has directed our decision the entire time. There is no explanation except that He has put the desire in our hearts. And even changed our desires when they needed to be different!

Q: The process may be different for different states/cities. What was the process for you to become foster parents?

May: In the state of Tennessee the process towards becoming foster or adoptive parents begins by taking a class. It is called PATH (Parents as Tender Healers). When we went through PATH training, there were 12 classes you had to take, but now there are only 6. You can find more information about PATH classes at https://resourceparents.sworps.tennessee.edu/path.htm. The classes cover topics like caring for children who have experienced trauma/abuse, disciplining children who have been abused, and basic CPR. After completing the class, you begin the home study process. At this point you have some choices. The route most people know about is to be a foster parent through the Department of Children’s Services, which is the state agency. However, there are private agencies that contract with the state. A few that I know of are Omni Visions, Child Help, and Youth Villages, but I know there are more out there. These agencies often end up with children that are harder for DCS to place (ex. Teenagers, large sibling groups, medically fragile children, etc.). We are foster parents for DCS, so I can only tell you about that home study process, from what I can tell, it is a much easier process!

We had to fill out paperwork about our personal backgrounds, get finger printed, lock up all our medication, create an emergency plan, show we had fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, and get physicals just to name a few of the steps. The home study process took us about two months total. After that, you just wait for the state to approve everything. For us that took another month or two. But the same day the local DCS office got our paperwork, they called us with a placement!

Q:  Is there a specific age you decided to care for?

May: During the home study, you have the opportunity to be very specific about what type of children you are willing to take into your home. But you can always change that later if you want to. Right now we have said we will take any children from infants up to age 8. We also are willing to take sibling groups of two right now, but plan to increase that in the near future. You can also be very specific about behaviors and disabilities that you are able to care for. For example, we definitely do not have a handicap accessible house, so we requested not to get calls for children with wheelchairs.

Q: Do you hope to adopt one day?

May: That is our plan at this point! We are actually already on a list of pre-adoptive placements that the state keeps. That just means that when children are available for adoption anywhere in the state, we will be considered to see if we are a match. It is also a possibility that one of our future placements could become available for adoption too. I think the statistic says that about 14 percent of foster children end up being available for adoption.  We could also choose to become a pre-adoptive home only. That means we would only foster children who are already legally adoptable, or, in some cases, who will likely be adoptable in the very near future. Mike and I have talked about that, but at this point plan to continue regular foster care and pray that the Lord will bring children to our home that we can adopt.

Q:  What are the biggest obstacles?

May: There are definitely a lot of challenges, and I think the hardest challenge can change daily! One day, it might be very hard to discipline effectively with so many rules about what to do and not to do. The next day, it might be a challenge to get them to a doctor appointment again. Then another day, it might be a challenge to watch a birth parent make choices that hurt their children.  And there are days when I think I might just scream too if anyone else throws a temper tantrum!

 I do think that one of the hardest things for me personally has been to really love and invest in children who are not mine, and who will most likely go home to their birth parents. Because we want to adopt, I can get sad and even apathetic at times because the children in our home are not going to be part of our family forever. It can feel like all the teaching and training is a waste of time. Or that building a relationship is pointless because we will probably never see most of our kids again once they go home. These are things that we have to do even when we don’t feel like it because the kids need that love so much. But there are days when it can be very hard. I sometimes have to pray, “Lord, just help me love them today.”

Q: What are some of the rewards?

May: I love when I hear our foster kids talking about the gospel! It is so amazing to see how God can work in such young hearts. They are so open to Jesus and what the Bible teaches. All our kids so far have loved to hear about Jesus!

I also love to look back and see changes. Some are big things, and some are small. But sometimes the small rewards are the most fun. Kids who were unruly, starting to be kind to others. Kids who were terrified of nightmares, sleeping through the night. Kids who never owned a book, picking out their favorites for a bedtime story. Kids who only liked TV and video games, running and playing outside. Sometimes the things seem so small, but it is such a blessing for us to be able to hopefully influence these children, so that the rest of their lives will be different.

 

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4 Comments to “One families journey into foster parenting: An open home to many children”

  1. Erika says:

    Thank you so much for sharing, Claire! I had always wondered what the process looked like for you and Mike, but we never got the chance to sit down and dig into it all. I really admire you both for choosing to serve the Lord in this way. What you are doing for the least of these, you do for Him! It is an amazing thought. Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Anne says:

    Love hearing their story and the specific how-tos. Their heart for foster care is such an encouragement to us! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Caroline says:

    Thank you for sharing! My parents are new foster parents and I’m learning so much from them – here’s a bit of their story: http://musingsinmontage.com/2012/11/06/the-opposite-of-mid-life-crisis/