Foster Dads Are Unsung Everyday Heroes for Children
By Secretary David Wilkins
Florida Department of Children and Families
What a father can provide to a boy or girl is beyond description. A Dad helps a son become a man and a daughter become a woman by teaching values such as responsibility, hard work and compassion. As the father of three teenage daughters, I know that being there for them, listening to them and being actively engaged in their lives are the most important gifts I will ever give them. For children in Florida placed in foster care because of abuse or neglect, the presence of a caring and involved foster father is so important. I have great respect for Foster Dads who give their time and love to raise children who often have had little or no contact with their biological fathers. Foster Dads are unsung everyday heroes.
In Florida, foster fathers are encouraged to interact with biological fathers on improving their parenting skills and changing their lives so they can be reunited with their children. Many Foster Dads also decide to adopt the children they have fostered and grown to love.
Real Foster Dads say it best, so I will share their experiences with you:
Aundre West of Tampa met the brothers he fostered and later adopted when the two teens lived in his neighborhood in another foster home. He’d invite them over to help with yard work or car repairs, strike up a conversation and they would talk and drink Kool-Aid together. “Most of these children haven’t had anyone on the masculinity side giving them order and direction. I saw a need,” Aundre said. “Men always walk around with their fix-it hats on. We don’t have to have all the answers, but we have to have the patience and love to help a child be successful.” Aundre and his wife have 9 children including his adopted sons and 10 grandchildren.
Nathan Cook of Sanford and his wife went from no kids to three children last year, including a biological baby girl and two little brothers whom they are fostering. Their family life became “organized chaos,” Nathan said. “It is much more challenging to foster parent than to parent because of all the responsibilities, visitations (with the biological mother), staffings and court. You can’t just put your toe in the water and see what it’s like, you have to be totally committed. You get the reward by watching the children blossom and grow.” He and his wife want to adopt the boys, but know the kids may be reunited with their mother. “The bottom line is we’re providing a loving, caring and nurturing home for children who need it. For many children, the only solid father figure they’ll ever have is essentially a foster father.” So he and the boys get haircuts together, buy doughnuts on the weekend and he cooks dinner for them on the grill he got as his early Father’s Day present.
Mike Truffa of Tampa sweated through long nights comforting a baby detoxifying from the mother’s drug use, said goodbye to a child he fostered for more than a year, keeps in touch with four brothers he fostered, and waited for years for the chance to adopt the two daughters he fostered. Mike said, “I’ve been there, done it. It’s tough, very tough. You tell yourself not to get attached. But essentially you’re their father to care for them and show them the love they need to grow. For me it’s a fulfilling experience.”
Ray Jester of Sarasota this spring adopted six siblings, ranging from ages 4 to 16, and also is raising a biological 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. He and his wife Jody had to move to a bigger house, learn to coordinate dentist visits for six, and are thankful for the friend who brings the family dinner every Tuesday night. Ray always liked practicing his martial arts and now finds himself teaching kung fu to a class full of his own kids. “”We never dreamed we’d end up with all six of them in a forever sense. It definitely was a process,” Ray said. “From the outside, people would think parents like us must be crazy or exceptional but our kids are exceptional. They’re loving and blend into our family.”
It is appropriate on Father’s Day’s that we thank all Foster Dads for their great contributions to raising foster children, from little ones on up to the teenagers. I encourage more men to think of becoming foster fathers. The Quality Parenting Initiative under the leadership of the Youth Law Center collaborates with Florida’s community based care agencies and Department of Children and Families to transform how our state recruits, trains and mentors great foster fathers (and mothers!). Find information on becoming a foster parent at http://bit.ly/jbwOb8.