Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear Sugar: Meet Dr. John DeGarmo, Foster Care Expert

Dear Sugar:

Let's just say this upfront.  I absolutely admire and respect foster parents.  They have one of the toughest jobs: advocating for children, (sometimes) fighting a broken system, and dealing with ever-changing rules and plans. That's why today, I wanted to bring you some foster care wisdom from Dr. John DeGarmo, a foster parent and fostering advocate.  

Rachel:  Dr. John, you seem to do it ALL!   So my first question for you is, why?  Why make it your mission to educate others on foster care and adoption?  

Dr. John:  Before I was a foster parent, I held many of the same misconceptions that most in society have about all things foster care today.  Indeed, as the media continues to focus on the many negative stories about foster care, foster parents, and children in foster care, these misconceptions and negative stereotypes only increase.  I feel called to not only help children in foster care and foster parents, but also to help general society better understand the foster care system, as well as the many challenges children in care face on a daily basis, in a better fashion.

Rachel:  You and your wife have fostered many children.  I'm sure one thing you hear often (I do!) is that some people claim they could "never foster" because it would just be too hard.  I know some foster parents find this offensive.  I'd love to know how you respond when someone says this to you.  

Dr. John:  My response is this; “That’s a good thing. It is supposed to hurt. My heart is supposed to break! These children need me to hurt for them. To be sure, children in foster care need stability and they need security. Yet, what they need the most is to be loved. As foster parents, we might the first adults who have ever loved the child in a healthy and unconditional fashion. Sadly, for some children, we may be the only adults who will ever love the child in this fashion, in an unconditional manner. So, when the child leaves our home and our family, our hearts should break. We should experience feelings of grief and loss. After all, we have given all of our hearts and love to a child in need.  Oh, and I do cry each time these children leave my home. I do grieve, as my heart is indeed broken. 

Rachel:  What are three things you would tell any person considering becoming a foster parent?  

Dr. John:  Before becoming a foster parent, one must determine if one's spouse/partner also wishes to care for children in need in the home.  If both in a relationship are not in agreement, marriages can be destroyed. Second, one must determine if she has a strong support system of some kind. Whether it is a church, family members, work mates, friends, or neighbors, foster parents need to surround themselves with people who will help and support them.  Finally, be aware that foster parenting can be exhausting, and may lead to emotional burn out.  It is important to take time for oneself as a foster parent as you care for children in need.

Rachel:  Oftentimes, I hear those who wish to adopt express that they'll "just go through the system" because it's a "cheaper" way to become a parent vs. adopting an infant domestically though an adoption agency.   This deeply troubles me because they clearly do not understand the goal of foster care and the trauma that many children in care have been through.   How do you respond to those who just want to adopt as quickly and cheaply as possible?   

Dr. John:  When a child is placed into foster care, the initial goal is to have the child reunified with his birth parents, or a member of his biological family. To be sure, the initial intent of placing a child into care is that the placement be a temporary, with reunification the main objective. Yet, there are those instances when reunification is not possible, and the child is placed through the court system for adoption. There are several reasons why a foster child might be placed up for adoption.  First, the custody rights of the birth parents are voluntarily terminated; secondly, the custody rights of the birth parents are terminated by a court order; and third, the child is up for adoption due to the death of birth parents. 

Rachel: Finish this sentence:  Being a foster parent means ______.

Dr. John: Being a foster parent for me has created a sense of urgency within me to make a difference in the lives of those in need.

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