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Shannon Casas: We’ve been fostering five years, and it’s so worth the hard work, pain
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

Nothing about fostering is easy.

There was the child sitting in the backseat of my car who told me she wished I’d run over someone so I’d go to jail and she could live with someone else.

There was the time I rocked a child sobbing from the deepest place inside him because he was now with me and not his mom.

There was the time I dropped two little ones off at day care knowing they were moving to an adoptive home that evening and would no longer call me mommy. I walked out, trying to hold back the flood of emotion but failing.

My husband and I have been foster parents for five years as of the end of March. We’ve cared for 11 children total in that time, usually sets of two siblings.

Some of them stay more than a year, some just a month. We never know how long it will be, but they all leave their imprint on our hearts.

We jumped in to this world in 2014 without knowing much about how it worked. I knew there was a need for foster homes in Hall County. My husband and I had been trying to conceive without any luck. Our goal wasn’t adoption but simply to fill a need.

Since then, we’ve learned some of the ins and outs of the system. We know a case can change on a dime. We know the acronyms: TPR for termination of parental rights, GAL for guardian ad-litem, CASA for volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocate.

We also know most kids love their parents. We know most parents love their kids; whether they’re capable of parenting them is a separate question.

And we know the need is still there and growing every day.

We started fostering with two children in diapers who changed our world. We learned their story and saw the brokenness that can exist in people, in a family and in the system. We loved them, and then their time with us ended.

We sat in a courtroom where a judge decided their future. And we sat in a courtroom again as their forever family was created through adoption.

Making something whole from shattered pieces is incredibly beautiful, and the hope of doing that is what keeps me going.

There was the moment we watched two children, smiles stretched across their faces, run toward their mom as she turned the corner toward their apartment and they were home again.

There was the moment we drove two little ones to reunite with their family, and the oldest sat in our backseat telling us how he was so excited. He hugged my neck and kissed me to say goodbye. And then they were gone.

One of the most common comments most foster parents hear from others is: “How could you say goodbye?”

It’s hard.

For me, it’s easier when they’re older and you can see that going home is what they want. Their connection to their parents can be complicated, but in my experience, most kids want their parents to be healthy and capable of caring for them. When that can happen, the goodbyes and our struggle to get to that point is worth it.

The struggles are real, though.

Kids scream. They don’t listen. They hit. They spit.

I could tell you that getting what we need from the Division of Family and Children Services is the hardest part. For some foster parents, that may be true. Communication can be tough in this overburdened system.

Handling their behaviors wears me down quicker. That’s not to say their behaviors are worse than other children. I don’t have biological children so I can’t comment on that.

I can say I don’t react well when a child screams (and screams and screams) at a pitch and volume that’s sure to damage my ears.

I don’t react well when an angry child kicks the back of the seat in my car, throws things in the house or spits defiantly on the floor.

Another comment I often get when people learn I’m a foster parent is some version of: “That’s so admirable. You’re a saint. I could never do that.”

When I dumped a child, barefoot and crying angrily, in his day care class, I did not feel like a saint. I left the shoes he’d kicked off with him, and then ran out of the building — on more than one occasion.

Screaming in a child’s face isn’t very saint-like either. I can’t say I’ve never done it. And then slammed the door, too, for good measure.

Sometimes I can keep my cool. Sometimes I lose it.

But these kids teach me to be a better person — to love deeper.

I’m not always good at it, but foster parents don’t have to be saints. Foster parents have to care for children, providing a safe, loving home.

In Hall County there are now almost 400 children in foster care. That’s more than double what it was five years ago.

If that number — and these stories — blow you away, do something about it.

Be a CASA. Volunteer to help a foster family by bringing them meals or helping to take their kids to appointments. Or be a foster family.

If you don’t know where to start, shoot me an email.

Five years in, I can’t imagine stopping. As hard as it is, I won’t ever look back and wish I hadn’t loved a child.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.