Our local foster care agency requires that we accumulate a certain number of training hours each year in order to keep active status as a foster family. In addition to actual trainings, a certain number of these hours can be earned by attending a support group, reading a foster care magazine (and taking a little quiz) or reading a book on the subject (and doing a brief write-up).
Nothing has motivated me more to get my hours in than actually having a foster child in our home. Yes, because I want us to stay "active" but also because I want to know better so I can do better. I've read four books this year on the subject of foster care, three of which are worth mentioning and even recommending.
The first is To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care. Beam lays out the history of foster care in New York City as a way of helping us grasp how it has evolved throughout the United States. Dispersed between the history and politics/bureaucracy of it all are stories. I love stories. These stories are of real kids, real foster parents, real social workers and attorneys, and real birth parents. The social worker in me found the non-story sections interesting while the parent and foster mom was enthralled with how the author followed many of the children and families over the years. What happens down the road? What impact does foster care have on these children? I digested the book in small spurts, chapter by chapter. This was in part because of the whole not-having-much-time-to read factor but also because I needed to take it in slowly. It drew me back in each time, nonetheless. If you're interested in the story of foster care, in all it's parts, read this book.
I picked up Angels Passing Through: Reflections on Growing Up with Foster Babies because I was intrigued by the perspective with which it was written. The author is the biological child of a couple who took in over forty foster babies over the course of his growing up years. How did the revolving door of babies in and out of the home impact the permanent children who lived there? And what of these babies? The author talks about his parents, what life was like during those years of fostering, some of the babies themselves (and their incredibly moving stories), and how he feels this type of upbringing impacted his adult life. I won't spoil it and tell you what he thinks...you'll have to read it yourself :-).
Lastly, my favorite, is/was Another Place at the Table. I loved this book. I read it on vacation and had trouble putting it down. I think I liked it so much because I could relate to Kathy Harrison. Not because I have 13 years of experience fostering and not because I've fostered close to one hundred children in that time but because the reasons she does foster care are reasons I strongly relate to. The first chapter or so that describes their life pre-foster care parallels ours- living out in the country, growing their own food, raising animals, etc. She's a homebody who wants her family to eat healthy, simple food and she's drawn to babies in need.
Some of the stories she shares are not for the faint of heart. Not everything (or every child) has a happy ending and many of the details of what brought these children into her care are extremely hard to read and accept as real. Despite all that, Harrison left me with an honest look at the highs and lows of fostering while giving me hope. Hope that it's worth it- despite the struggles that it's riddled with. And, she made me want to adopt her as a new BFF. I'm not sure that was her intention but it happened nonetheless.
There are many ways to advocate for children in foster care without becoming a foster parent. Learning about foster care itself is a great start. If you have any other book recommendations on the topic, I'd love to hear about them.
In the meantime, do your best to make your little people feel special, loved, safe and celebrated. Not all children are so lucky.