Local foster parents are
Until You're Strong Enough" (acrylic and oil pastel on canvas),
courtesy of Sacramento artist, Joe Zaniker (JoeZaniker.com)
A Place to Call HomeBy Genny Heikka
Am I equipped to be a foster parent? Is it the right decision? These are questions most people face when they consider foster parenting. The Morgan* family did. In fact, when Melissa’s husband, Don, brought it up, her first reaction was, “I can’t be a foster parent.” Then the local couple began doing research; they attended meetings at Koinonia Family Services, a nonprofit, private foster care and adoption agency, and Melissa became open to the idea. Not long after, they got a call about three siblings who needed immediate placement—two brothers (one a teenager) and their baby sister.
“I was scared,” Melissa recalls. “I didn’t feel like I was equipped to handle three kids, especially a teenager. But these kids needed a home.” Melissa and Don said yes, and their family grew from two to five.
“The first 90 days were hard,” Melissa says, “but little by little, things got easier. We were nervous, but the kids were more nervous. You go in thinking about yourself and whether or not you can do it, but when you get involved, you shift to really trying to understand what the kids need.”
*Names have been changed to protect the family's privacy and confidentiality.
There are over 80,000 children waiting for good foster and adoptive homes in California and Nevada. “The majority of those kids are teens, kids in sibling groups, or kids with special needs,” says Bill Richardson, District Administrator for Koinonia. “Homes that will take teens,” he adds, are most needed.
“Almost anyone with an open heart and flexibility can make a difference,” says Richardson. Koinonia provides foster parent training, adoption training, and other resources to help families through the different processes. In addition, Koinonia foster children are given professional counseling, medical and dental care, and a monthly spending and clothing allowance. The agency also provides 24-hour service to families and is available for emergency response.
It’s been a year and the siblings are still with the Morgans, who are now open to adoption if that becomes a possibility. “By being willing to foster parent a sibling group, our lives have been blessed,” Melissa says. “We adore these kids. The fears we had about a teenager… we’ve forgotten them. He’s an amazing kid. He talks about wanting to go to college. He’s a different person now.”
Melissa’s story is a perfect example of how local foster parents are helping transform lives, but, whether intended or not, foster parents like the Morgans are also helping thwart the sex trafficking industry in Greater Sacramento.
“Fostering a child helps prevent child sex trafficking by keeping kids off the streets,” explains Jenny Williamson, Founder and President of Courage to be You, Inc. (C2BU), an international, nonprofit organization that helps children who have been victims of trafficking. That’s because kids who have a place to call home, kids with college ambitions and protective parents, kids who know their own potential, are far less likely to end up victims of traffickers.
It’s a problem close to home. Sacramento’s geographic location has made the region an attractive area for child sex traffickers. Law enforcement officials agree that increasing the number of available foster homes is one crucial step in fighting sex trafficking.
To Find Out More
Koinonia Family Services hosts a free, 2-hour information and orientation meeting Tuesday, October 12. For more details, call 877-244-5374 or visit KFH.org.
Courage House (C2BU) offers training and orientation sessions for interested volunteers. To find out about the next available session, visit C2BU.org.
In an effort to create more foster families and help in the fight against sex trafficking, Sacramento Parent will be highlighting a different local foster agency each month for the next year.
Foster parents can make a difference, but they need to be equipped. Dr. Rebecca Johnson, Licensed Psychologist and C2BU’s Clinical Director explains why families, especially those with foster children who’ve been rescued from sex trafficking, need resources. “These children have experienced many of life’s horrors—up close and personal. The depth of trauma is hard for most to fathom. We need to provide education and equipping that increases empathy, awareness, and effectiveness in the healing process of these youth. As we provide informed help, hope begins to grow."
Even when Courage House—a Northern California home built by C2BU for children rescued out of sex trafficking in our area—opens this year, there won’t be enough beds to meet the need. “If a family thinks they might want to foster one of these rescued children, our training is a good place to start,” says Williamson. “We’ll be talking more and more about foster care. Our dream is to be a resource—to be able to have a child who is in a foster care family come to Courage House periodically and take advantage of the equine therapy, education, and other resources.”
Foster parenting isn’t for everyone, but families not quite ready to take that step can still make a difference through donations or fund-raising. (Both Koinonia and C2BU have donation and volunteer opportunities, as do other local foster agencies.) Williamson also mentions what she calls Courage House Families. “Some people may not be ready to bring a child home, but might be willing to be assigned a child who lives at Courage House. These families would take that child back to their home occasionally and spend time with them, whether it’s once a week or on the holidays.”
“Everyone can make a difference,” says Williamson.
Genny Heikka balances her time between motherhood and writing—and loves both. She’s an author, book reviewer and coffee lover. Stop by her blog, MyCup2Yours.com, and share a cup, or follow her at Twitter.com/GennyHeikka.