By Nicole Esselman
Victory Family Services
2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
There are many reasons to welcome a foster child into your family. They can be a source of immeasurable joy in the same way that any child can, and the love for them will grow in fertile hearts. Knowing that you’re helping a child or youth in need is truly a rewarding experience. However, if you don’t know much about the child welfare system, you may not be aware of how uniquely qualified you may be to care for these children who, through no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times.
You may have heard the term “resource parent” or “resource family” before, or maybe not. In California, this terminology became the official nomenclature in 2013, replacing the terms “foster parent” or “foster family”, after the passing of SB 1013. According to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), this change represents a new and different approach. The goal is to more holistically account for the varying needs of children and to ensure permanent, stable solutions for them are more readily available and prioritized. The main difference between a foster parent and a resource parent is that resource parents are able to adopt the children they foster, if the desire and opportunity presents itself.
I work for a foster family agency and am blessed every day that I know I can make a difference in the lives of children. As I reflected on this, I began to think about how we, as residents of Kern County, nurture, care for, and protect one another. I thought about how for generations our local agricultural community has fed the nation through hard work and dedication, and how even in uncertain political and economic times, together we always weather the storm. I thought about the Grapes of Wrath, that wonderful novel that highlights our valley specifically, and how the dream of California has been at times aspirational; when times were hard, people packed up and headed for the opportunity that awaited them out West.
Farmers and ranchers are already necessarily caregivers. It cannot be otherwise. They are also steady, of a reliable temperament, patient, honest, forthright, and duty bound. All of those qualities are of paramount importance for any parent. So, what else does it take to become a resource parent? The following elements, which I believe to be intrinsic in this community:
It is hard to imagine setting forth on a new project and not having a plan. None of us started out as we are today, we grew in accordance with the morals and values passed down to us from our families. As with any seed, a child is a tightly packed powerhouse of potential. They will grow up one way or another, but they will only truly flourish if given the proper guidance. They need people who can see a future for them and can help them to see it too.
We all know it takes a village to raise a child. As a resource parent, you have the support of social workers and other professionals who can assist you on your journey. You will also be provided with an initial training and will attend ongoing trainings throughout the year. You will help to create a Needs & Services Plan that addresses any specific areas of concern for the individual child. Communication is key throughout the process. If you have a church or other religious organization, the congregation can also be a valuable resource for moral support.
Just as a seed needs high quality soil to reach its potential, so too do the children who arrive in the foster care system need a home suitable for sustaining them. I ran across a quote from a guy named Alexander Den Heijer that said, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” Children require the same kinds of care and cultivation as does the flower, and also face environmental threats. Our environment is critical to our survival. Love and understanding are vital nutrients.
Caring for your herd, you need to build a fence to keep livestock in and predators out. Growing crops, you need to keep the weeds at bay. We must protect what we love. With children who have been traumatized by abuse and/or neglect, this often entails helping the child understand what has happened to them, that it wasn’t their fault and that they deserve better. It can mean advocating for them in a medical or school setting and showing them someone genuinely cares. Protecting them can, at times, mean protecting them from themselves when they start to make bad choices and travel down the wrong path.
The work of parenting isn’t always easy, even in the best of circumstances. You must be brave. We all know we can’t control the weather, and many factors that have affected your foster child will also be entirely out of your control. Children who have been traumatized may present special challenges, but they are not beyond hope. Often, the hardest ones to love are the ones who need it the most. It isn’t for the faint of heart.
I would encourage anyone who has room in their heart and in their home to consider becoming a resource family. Setting a good example for and providing guidance to a young child who is struggling is invaluable. Hard work and determination are not natural and inherent skills, but rather they must be taught with words and modeled with actions. It may be that you would make a fantastic role model, and you can join us in our mission as a vital partner to give hope, help and healing to children, families and communities.
To learn more about becoming a resource family, visit VictoryFS.org or call 661-912-0111.