Thirty-something parents Lena and Joshua Sparks didn't know what they were getting into when they decided to foster siblings four years ago. With Joshua's busy schedule as a funeral director apprentice in Grand Rapids, it would have seemed unthinkable to add more complications to their world. But they went for it, and are forever grateful for the experience.
"Fostering has changed my life tremendously," said Lena Sparks. "It opened my eyes to a whole new world. It has made me more patient, and open-minded and made me more caring for everyone and everything!"
Advice for New Foster Parents
First-time foster parents can experience a lot of mixed emotions while navigating the complicated feelings of fostering a child. It can be overwhelming even with the training and support groups Samaritas offers to help foster parents at every step of the process.
"I was so naïve, I thought it would be all butterflies and roses," said Lena Sparks. "Although there are a lot of amazing moments, there are tough moments too. Like when the court doesn’t go as expected, the kids are missing family, and feelings/emotions are high."
Coping With the Challenges
It's been said that parenting, is the hardest job you'll ever have. It goes double for being a foster parent. Lena didn't mince words when asked about the hardest thing about fostering. She said, "It's challenging when your family and friends don't understand the foster care world. And they expect your kids to be someone they are not."
Lena and Joshua love being parents to a 14, 11, 10, and 8-year-old, but they agree, "Although the day-to-day can be emotionally draining because you care so much for the kids, and you don’t always agree with the caseworker’s decisions. It is amazing to see the kiddos progress in counseling, personally, and mentally/emotionally. We work through the lows and highs together and take it day by day."
Samaritas believes in nurturing relationships between the foster child's birth parents and the foster parents. Despite myths, birth parents aren't always to blame. Sometimes, they're in a bad spot because of the lack of economic resources or being "burnt out" from life's complications. Often these birth parents just need a little help to get back on track. And fostering gives them time to get individualized help to resolve their challenges. As Lena puts it, "Keep an open mind. They are going through a lot themselves and most likely were victims of abuse/neglect or poverty as a kid. It's also important to continue training school staff and teachers on being trauma-informed in order to help our kiddos more effectively. "
Why foster siblings?
“Sibling bonds are extremely important. I had one of the four siblings by herself for over a year, and she would constantly cry for them. She missed them,” said Lena. “Siblings have been through the hard times together, and it is important that they continue to be a natural support for each other. When siblings aren’t together, they worry about each other’s safety and well-being. And wonder, where they are. Keeping siblings together helps the kids learn how to have healthy relationships.”
"The best thing about being a foster parent is the opportunity to provide kids with a safe home. It's a joy to open up our hearts to them, and give them fun life experiences!"
Check us out!
Samaritas is one of the best agencies to work with if you're thinking about being a foster parent. We'll help you at every step of the process until the foster child is ready to be reunited with their birth parents after their family's conflicts are resolved. New foster parents, especially those of diverse ethnic backgrounds, are desperately needed. In 2021, Samaritas could only place 13% of the children referred to us by the State of Michigan.
Throughout May, Samaritas leaders and advocates will "Paint the Town Purple" in communities like Detroit and Grand Rapids to talk about the joy of fostering children who need respite from troubled homes. Anyone with a passion for helping kids to visit Samaritas.org/fostercare to schedule an orientation. #SayYestoFosterCare