“Everybody makes mistakes,” says Ellen*, a Foster Parent with Closer to Home. “We’re all only one tragedy or crisis away from doing the same thing.”
Ellen and her husband, Steven*, have opened their home to more than 50 foster children over the last 15 years. Children have come to her from all different kinds of backgrounds and situations.
She remembers taking in a 3-month-old girl named Lily*. Despite her young age, Lily had a difficult time trusting people and would arch her back away every time someone tried to hold her. Lily’s mom loved her daughter, but due to her own trauma, she couldn’t bring herself to hug her or feed her properly.
“Mom worked very hard to get her back,” says Ellen. “She wanted her back desperately, but it was hard for her.” She had to address her personal trauma before she could effectively meet her daughter’s needs.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world to help a baby go back to her mom.”
Ellen and Steven worked hard to get Lily to trust, love and cuddle. Eventually, she was returned to her mom. And the look on mom’s face when Lily cuddled into her for the first time?
“Unbelievable,” Ellen remembers, smiling. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world to help a baby go back to her mom.”
While children are in her care, she constantly has her camera out, snapping photos. When parents are ready to reunite with their children, Ellen gives them a memory book filled with photos of birthdays and special moments. “It gives parents back a piece of what they lost when they messed up,” she says. “And hopefully it helps them realize, ‘I don’t want to have this happen again.’”
“You understand there’s a part of them that just hates that they’ve gotten themselves into this,” she says. “They love their kids, they just don’t know how to be a parent. And they have to work hard at that.”
Being a Foster Parent isn’t easy, especially when it comes time to say goodbye. Still, Ellen continues opening her door to more children who need a temporary place to call home.
“Every time I think I’m not going to continue,” she says, “someone comes into my life and I realize I need to be there for them. Even if I never see them again when they leave, I know I played a little part in their life to get them home.”
Ellen says the support she receives from Closer to Home – where staff are on call 24/7 – is a big help. She recalls one incident early on in her time as a Foster Parent, when she needed guidance in a scary situation.
“If Closer to Home hadn’t been able to give us that advice on a Sunday afternoon,” she says, “who knows what would have happened.”
“We’re so grateful to them for everything they’ve done for us. The support is unreal.”
* Names changed to protect privacy