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Making a Difference: Our Journey as Foster Parents


Since 2002, my life has changed incredibly, all stemming from one decision.

My wife and I decided to become foster parents.

Since that decision, we have had the joy of caring for over 60 children who have come through our home, children that have become a part of our family.

Each child has made me a better person, better father, better husband, and better member of the community in so many ways.

I have learned to love more deeply, more openly, and without abandon. I have learned to love each child that comes into my home in an unconditional manner, and without reservations. I am no longer ashamed to tell people that I love them. I cry openly now and am no longer embarrassed when it happens.

Foster parenting has created a sense of urgency within me to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Perhaps it is due to the children’s horror stories that I have been a witness to, and that have come into my home. Now, I have much more mental health awareness than before I was a foster parent. I am now able to see the pain and suffering in others and to better equip myself to help them. To be sure, I have always been someone who has wanted to help others, but since I have become a foster parent, to children who have suffered from abuse, from neglect, and from being abandoned, all by those who profess to love them the most- their birth family members, I have felt compelled to help even more.

I have learned to forgive more. Love and forgiveness are two actions that are intertwined and cannot be separated. If we truly love others, then we need to forgive as well. Without forgiveness, there is no love.

When I was angry towards our foster teen’s mother, I was in no way sharing love. Instead, my stomach was in knots, and I was one tense parent. I was shackled by my own inability to forgive someone, a prisoner to a debilitating emotion. Yet, when I did forgive her, it felt like a weight was taken off my own shoulders. One of the amazing things about the act of forgiving others is that it allows us to better use our energies toward something that is more constructive and positive.

Forgiveness frees us from the forces of hate and evil and instead allows us to draw closer to others and gives us more strength to do the work we are called to do. When we forgive the actions of our foster child’s birth parents, not only are we showing love to them and empowering ourselves, but we are also honoring our foster children.

Now, to be sure, I firmly believe that not everyone can be a foster parent. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done — while at the same time, the most important and rewarding thing I have done. Yet everyone can help in some way, and there are ways you can help a child in need. With roughly 450,000 children in foster care today, foster care is in crisis, and there are children who are in need of a helping hand right now. There is a child, right now, who needs your help.

The statistics are grim. The dangers are real.

Children need our help, perhaps more than ever.

Studies show that up to five million children in the United States experience and/or witness domestic violence each year. Whether it’s watching an act of physical or sexual abuse, listening to threats or sounds of violence, or viewing the evidence of such abuse in a victim in the signs of bleeding, bruises, torn clothing, or broken items, the effects are damaging to a child in a variety of ways.

In addition, reports indicate that there are roughly 800,000 children missing in our nation, and 300,000 children are victims of human trafficking.

One thing I learned during leadership development many years ago is that we can all be advocates in some way. Perhaps the biggest impact one can make with those children placed in foster care is to become an advocate of change. Do your research and find out as much about foster care and foster children as you can. Then by contacting lawmakers, politicians, and publicity agents through means of emails, letters, phone calls, and other means of communication, you can then bring attention to the needs of these young adults who are facing a series of challenges after leaving the foster care system. Along with this, you can also write editorial letters, post information on social media websites, and so on. When you lobby for change, new laws can be introduced, and information can be brought forward to the general public.

While you and I cannot help every child in crisis, we can make a difference. Indeed, it is like the familiar Starfish story.

A father and son were walking along a beach at sunrise after a huge storm. When they stepped onto the beach, they were met with thousands of starfish littering the beach — hundreds in each direction. The boy bent down and picked up a starfish, throwing it far into the ocean. Again and again, he repeated the action. After watching his son for some time, the father asked, “Son, what are you doing?”

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean,” the young boy answered.

“I see. But why are you doing this?” the father asked.

“When the sun comes out and starts warming up the beach, the starfish will all die. I have to throw them back into the water.”

“But son, you can’t save all of these starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The boy stopped for a moment to take in his father’s words, then bent down and picked up another starfish in his hand before throwing it as far as he could back into the ocean. Turning to his father with a large grin spreading across his face, he simply said, “It made a huge difference for that one!”

And it can make a huge difference for each child in crisis that we help.

 


Dr. John DeGarmo is a globally recognized expert in parenting and foster care. He serves as an international consultant to schools, legal firms, and foster care agencies, and is a sought-after empowerment and transformational keynote speaker and trainer for schools, child welfare organizations, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

With an impressive 17-year tenure as a foster parent, Dr. John and his wife, Dr. Kelly DeGarmo, have received incredible accolades, including the prestigious Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. Dr. John is a regular contributor to CNN, Good Morning America, NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS stations nationwide. His 2019 TEDx talk has been viewed and shared by millions worldwide, solidifying his influence and expertise in the field. Watch Dr. John Speak!


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