This story is from Cindy Smith, a Family Preservation Support Worker & Foster Parent in Independence, KS. This story was a winning submission in our annual KVC Story Contest.
A few months ago, Bren*, a young girl I had cared for while she was in foster care, sent me a text that read, “Hey Lady, just wanted you to know I scored expert on my sniper test today. Feeling pretty good about that!” Just last week she completed her training for the military and I was so excited to hear her score. She also texted me to let me know that she is looking to purchase her first home. I am amazed at how far she has come.
Just two short years ago she was a scared teenage girl that had to enter foster care late one night before Christmas break. She hoped to be placed in the same home as her younger brother Joe* and younger sister Sarah* who I was caring for in my home at the time. She was worried sick that I wouldn’t accept her since she ran from her previous placement, but I was more than happy and willing to take her in. I knew that when children run away while they are in foster care, doesn’t mean they are a bad kid. Children in foster care often want to be near something or someone they know and are just looking for some familiarity.
For the next several weeks she would go out of her way just to say, “Thank you for letting us stay together!” During her young life, Bren had to be the parent to her siblings and wanted to make sure they were okay. I gave her a safe place to be close to her siblings and know that they were safe. I also helped her learn that she didn’t have to be the adult with the weight of the world on her shoulders alone. I was there to help.
Once Bren had stability in her life, she was able to focus on school. The counselor at her high school helped her complete her first semester requirements and get back on track to graduate. Bren maintained a 3.75 GPA and graduated with honors. She also received an art scholarship as well as several academic scholarships to college. I could not have been more proud of Bren for all of her hard work.
By this time, through working closely with KVC Kansas staff we were on track for Bren and her siblings to be reunified. Her father called each week and spoke to the kids. He had even signed on to take and eventually adopt Bren’s 9-year-old brother, who wasn’t his biological child. He was determined that Joe not be left behind, and with KVC Case Managers working closely with him, we were able to work with the courts to have Joe live with his sisters as one family.
Bren Gains a Support System and Enters College
In the spring of her senior year, Bren mentioned to me that she might want to stay in Kansas for college. We talked this over with her KVC case manager, who felt that this was a viable option for her. In one of our conversations with her dad, she told him she wanted to stay in Kansas to attend college in a location miles away from his home. Bren explained her reasons to her dad, and it was agreed between all of us that she would stay with me after high school since I lived closer to the college. That summer Bren and I shopped for a car, dorm décor and clothes to get her college room ready. Bren attended community college for one year then joined her family in Idaho after discovering she wanted to be closer to them. Bren texted me a few weeks after moving to Idaho and said, “I got my dream job!” I couldn’t have been happier for her.
Bren taught me so much more than I taught her. For example, her sister had this habit of mumbling under her breath when asking me something. Finally in exasperation one evening, I said, “Sarah, please speak up!” Bren said nothing until later when the other kids were in their rooms. Then Bren sat on the couch next to me and explained:
“Cindy for all of our lives we’ve been told that children should be seen and not heard – that we have nothing important to say and to shut up. If we didn’t keep quiet, we paid for it by being abused. Now you are telling us we need to speak up. Years of being made to feel stupid isn’t going to disappear overnight.”
I was very taken aback by this and immediately did a 180. From that point on I made sure to be more understanding of the trauma they had endured in their biological home with their mother and to exercise more patience with all of the children.
Joe Develops a Strong Bond with Cindy
One afternoon Joe came running into the house. He leaned over me put his head against my shoulder and asked:
“Cindy, can I call you ‘Moma?’” My heart stopped for a second. I’ve never required or even encouraged the children to call me mom because I never wanted to stand in the way of the children in my care reuniting with their parents.
I realized that, while Joe wasn’t ready to give up on the role of his biological mom and didn’t want her replaced, he did feel the need to honor me with a title that signified the mother role I was temporarily fulfilling in his life.
I replied saying, “You can call me ‘Moma’ if you want or you can keep calling me Cindy. Either one is fine.” He said okay, looked relieved and ran out the door to go play outside. He continued to call me Cindy but the fact that he asked me this greatly moved me.
The children I’ve cared for have made an indelible imprint on my life and blessed me in ways too numerous ways to mention. But I also have been equally blessed by their families. The friendships that were forged during the reunification process continue years after these children were able to safely return home.
My experiences being a Family Preservation Support Worker and being a licensed KVC foster home have been positive and rewarding. Though I get attached and am very sad when the children I care for do return home, there is also great personal satisfaction knowing that this is the best outcome for them. To me, there is no higher calling.
Today I happily continue to be a foster parent. My life is full and I’m looking forward to the next adventure.