* All names changed for privacy
It has been seven and a half months since I took James into my home; a 17 year old with epilepsy and a history with the law and drugs. I mentioned in a previous post that it has been a dramatic change for both of us. This, I would assume, goes without saying given that my initial thoughts on fostering a child were limited to “no, not in this lifetime, I just don’t have the time.” Allow me to step into the past almost 8 months to this day, and lead you into a tale of how I became a foster parent and why.
James came to Conne River through the foster system, known around here as Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS) in June 2012. I know the people he was staying with, and so I had heard about his existence at least a month before I met him. He stayed with this person for only a few weeks before he was passed on to, Joe, a good friend of mine. This is where I met James and sort of got to know him a bit, as I spent many an evening visiting Joe over the years, and this time while James was there was no different. He seemed like a good kid; easy to talk to and willing to share stories about himself to me and Joe’s son.
Joe and I had spoken on many occasions about taking in a foster child as his sister had been doing for several years. This idea of taking in someone else’s child, who was obviously troubled or else they would not be in need of foster care in the first place, was not something either of us envisioned. I guess when it comes down to it, it is easy enough to say this, but in reality it comes down to whether or not you can say no to a child in need. James lived with Joe for a week, but was not able to stay longer because Joe had other priorities with his own son, and caring for a 17 year old who has a regular prescription for anti-epileptics was proving to be a challenge. To that end Joe had mentioned to me early into that week that he was going to give James up at the end of the week, because it was too much to handle.
Over the week of visiting I got to know James, what he was about and where he was from; Joe has suggested that I take him in. At first I was not too fond of the idea, but I did give it some careful consideration. I had asked a second opinion from another of my close friends, Janice, and she suggested that I take him in, at least for a week to try it out – I still was not totally convinced. As the end of the week drew near, and I learned more about James’ situation, including that CYFS has no placement for him if he were to leave Joe’s. This would have basically placed him back on the streets of St. John’s directly into the line of fire for a life of drugs, alcohol, sex, and very likely death soon after. This fact was a tipping point for me; Thursday afternoon I told Joe to let CYFS know that if they could not find a placement for him by the next day I would take him. I am a teacher, and I tend to put the needs of kids before my own; I could not see a 17 year old put out on the street because there was no placement for him.
It still makes me wonder: If he had been a 7 year old rather than 17 year old; would there have been a placement? Some part of me believes that this was the case for James. After all, who wants to take in a troubled teenager when they can take in a cute little 7 year old instead?
Anyway, Friday morning, July 27, I was awakened by a call from a social worker at CYFS – James would move in with me that afternoon, I just had to meet up with him and the social worker at Joe’s house.
So, that was it. I picked up James and moved him into his new room. I knew he was used to basically running free with no rules – the drinking, the drugs and the complete disregard for authority had to stop. I made very clear that I am a teacher and want nothing to do with drugs or underage drinking.
That weekend we went to the cabin with Joe. This was a nice chance to better get to know James in an environment where there would be only familiar people that only would want good things to happen to him.
This was all very new territory for me as it was, but James has a pile of pills that he needs to take every day for his epilepsy. I immediately got his prescription regulated and on a schedule, and none too soon. The first weekend I had him he had three seizures in the car while we were in Grand Falls. Not knowing what to do, I brought him to the hospital, only to find out that he had not been taking his meds properly for some time, because the drug levels in his body were too low to have any effect at all.
To this day, James is in school regularly, taking his meds properly, off the drugs and alcohol, and is even on a path to quit smoking. Not every day has been a bucket of roses, it has been a challenge at times, but James will have been with me eight months on March 24, and at the moment is in the most stable position he has been at in a few years.
People often ask me why I took in a foster child, and if I had any regrets about doing it. Honestly, I have no regrets. It has been a learning experience, and taking in a teenager makes me realize just what I put my parents through when I was younger. I took him in because I could not see him be placed on the street for lack of anywhere to go. Every child, no matter what background, deserves a fair shot at life. This one is no different.
Knowing what I know not about James’ background, my only regret, not knowing him sooner so that some of the horrible things that happened could have been prevented. However, my goal is to help him deal with his past, and move forward.
Coming from one that never would have thought about taking in a foster child before, I feel that it has made me a better person. It is life-changing, but in a good way. The feeling that you can make a difference in someone’s life is a powerful one, especially when you make an effort and see such positive changes as I have.