Celeste S. was nearly in college the first time she was introduced to fostering. “My aunt was the first one that exposed me to foster care,” she says. “She fostered two boys that she and my uncle later adopted. That was when I first learned about the system and the need in the system. … After I left college, I started working at a preschool in Tampa where I met another person who had experience with foster care. … I mentioned how I would love to help but I didn’t have a house or a spouse to do it with. When she told me that I didn’t need either, that is when my real journey began.”
As a single foster parent, she only had to set her mind to it to start her fostering journey – her friends and family were supportive, beyond the usual questions and concerns that stem from needing more education around foster care, and Celeste’s education background was a great foundation beyond her babysitting experience. “I started my preschool teacher certification when I was in high school and have been working in preschools since then,” she says. “By the time I was ready to officially start fostering, I felt very confident in my abilities with children.”
Now three years into her fostering journey, Celeste already has a collection of memories that shine brightly as favorites. One that stands out, however, is a reunification that hit this preschool teacher hard, but also revealed much about the impact foster parents have on the families they support.
Celeste was having trouble developing a relationship with the mother of a young girl in her care – something she admits is unusual and as such, their reunification felt tough for her. However, Celeste told the mom that “I knew she hadn’t had the best experiences with foster parents but if she ever needed anything at all, she had my phone number and I would always be available for them. … A couple months later my phone buzzed, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw her name pop up.” The same mom was reaching out to check in and ask for help. Now a year after that reunification, they are still in contact and have happy visits. “Getting that text from her mom is one of my most treasured memories thus far — her leaning in and choosing to trust me is why I hold it so close.”
When it comes down to it, Celeste says, she hopes foster families remember that the parents of children in your care are people too and deserve communication and support. Something as simple as having a way to text or call you, or receiving a craft their child made in school, can make a huge difference in their progress toward reunification.
“Not having contact with or information on their kids can be one of the parents’ biggest setbacks. Losing hope is dangerous,” Celeste says, adding that the idea that parents in the child welfare system shouldn’t need impetus to reunify is a misconception. “As human beings, we need support and recognition and reasons to keep moving forward. Give them that.”
The children Celeste cares for have a big impact on her life as well. That’s sort of the point, she says.
“I wish people would stop saying ‘I could never, I would get too attached.’ … We build bonds, we get attached, we raise these children as if they are our own, and that is the whole point. These kids deserve attachment, and they deserve to be loved wholly just like any other child. Not only do they deserve it, they need it in order to have successful relationships throughout their life.
“Fostering has become more than just something that I fit into my daily life,” says Celeste. “These kids and their families are everything to me.”
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