by Jody Kerzman
Melissa Anderson had it all: a loving husband and four beautiful children. Her life was good. But Melissa couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.
“We thought we were done having kids after our twins, who are now 11, were born,” she explained. “But as time went on and years passed, we just felt like we were being called to grow our family. Our eyes and hearts were opened to foster care and we decided we could share our home and lives with children who needed love, safety, and stability. We have been licensed for foster care for almost three years now. And our family has grown in so many ways.”
Foster care provides care for children who cannot live with their own families. Licensed foster homes, like the Andersons, provide the child with a family for a temporary period of time. The goal of foster care is to keep children safe, create permanency, and whenever possible, to reunite the family.
Jazmine was the first. The now three-year old came to live with the Andersons in June 2012, when she was six-months-old.
“She has had us wrapped around her finger since day one,” said Melissa.
Jazmine is still with them, and last year on Valentine’s Day, the Andersons officially adopted her. The family has fostered two other little girls since fostering Jazmine.
“We had another little girl for eight months in 2013, and we have stayed closely connected with her. We love her dearly and enjoy being able to spend time with her on a regular basis,” said Melissa. “We brought our current foster baby home from the hospital when she was three days old. Every day with her is a gift. It’s amazing to see how much our foster children grow and learn.”
But it’s not just the foster children who are thriving. Melissa says her entire family has grown and benefited from the experience.
“Our kids have all opened their arms to these little girls and embraced them as their own siblings,” said Melissa. “Never once has any child of ours said they wished we didn’t do foster care. A few of them even plan on fostering when they are older.“
There is a great need for foster families in North Dakota. In December 2014, 1,318 youth were in foster care in North Dakota. Children need foster homes for a number of reasons – they may be abused, neglected, or abandoned. They may have serious mental, physical, or emotional problems. Foster parents work closely with social services and other professionals provide the support children need to thrive physically, emotionally, and socially. Most of all, foster parents provide love to children who need it the most. Foster parents step in when children’s birth parents are unable, neglect, or refuse to care for them.
“The feelings I have towards our foster girls’ birth parents have been the biggest surprise on this fostering journey,” said Melissa. “It would be so easy to resent them, but I have found that I actually end up caring about them, too.”
But being a foster parent isn’t easy. In fact, Melissa says it can be frustrating at times.
“I think one of the biggest challenges of being a foster parent is the brokenness of the foster care system. Children can go for years with no permanency. Children are returned to situations that are less than ideal. Often, foster parents have little say in what happens with these children’s lives,” she explained. “My husband and I advocate as best we can for each child, give them our utmost love and protection, and some days we just have to have faith that the caseworkers and judges will ultimately decide what is in the child’s best interests.”
She says foster care is a hard, sometimes ugly, emotional roller coaster. But is quick to add, it’s also been exactly what her family needed.
“Foster care is one of the most amazing journeys our family has ever been on,” explained Melissa. “If you have space in your home and room in your hearts, I definitely encourage others to give foster parenting a try. Every smile, hug, and laugh from a foster child makes it worth all the heartache. Don’t let the excuse of ‘I’d get too attached’ keep you from fostering. Of course you will get attached, and it will break your heart when children leave. Kids need to feel that attachment and love, no matter how long they are in your home.“
But Melissa says the heartbreak is worth it, knowing that she has helped a child feel attachment and love, even if only for a few months.
For more information on foster care contact the North Dakota Department of Human Services at 328-2316 or 1-800-245-3736.
BASIC QUALIFICATIONS TO BE LICENSED AS A FOSTER HOME
Be at least 21 years of age
Be financially stable
Be single or married
Own or rent a home or apartment
Have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance
Be with or without children of their own
Have adequate space for a child
Have an income adequate for own family
Be aware that foster care is usually temporary
Have ability to work as a team with social workers & other service providers
Have ability to understand and show acceptance of the child’s parents
Have a clear background check
Can provide personal references
Jody Kerzman is co-editor of Inspired Woman. She lives in Bismarck with her husband, Brad, and their four children