Peeling back the layers
Lawreene’s advice for someone considering being a foster parent sounds simple: Be prepared for the unexpected. Plan, but be ready to pivot.“It is definitely going to test your patience, but it is going to be absolutely rewarding. The kids have been through so much. There are so many different levels of their trauma that you are going to deal with.
“It’s totally different from raising your own kids. I tell people all the time, I could not have done this while I was raising my sons. God knew that, and that’s why he didn’t put it on my heart at that time. It requires so much of you emotionally, physically – you are pulled in a lot of directions. But if you are called to do it, God is going to give you the grace to do it.
“People might look and think, ‘Gosh, that’s easy,’ but they don’t see all the behind-the-scenes. You deal with everything you had with your biological kids, but with the addition of all the underlying trauma. A lot of that is peeled back in layers. All kids are complicated. You throw in the other things they have gone through, things they have not even shared with their caseworkers. Those things slowly come out the more they are comfortable with you, the more they feel like, ‘I belong, I’m part of a family, I feel safe.’ Then whole layers start coming off and they start sharing. Then you can really help them.”
Keep them together
Angels’ Arms’ goal of keeping sibling groups together is important to Lawreene. “I grew up in a large family with six kids. When I think about being torn away from them, I don’t know how I would be able to navigate and handle that. I would have been looking for my siblings. That’s why I like keeping sibling groups together. I have six boys, ages 6, 7, 11, 11, 12, 14, and that includes two sibling groups.”
One of the 11-year-olds has been with Lawreene since he entered foster care 3 years ago. His brother came about a year and a half ago because he was bouncing from house to house. “We got him stabilized and he was so happy to be with his brother. They really connect. Once he got here he could breathe a sigh of relief – there’s something familiar for me now.”
Helping the parents
In the world of fostering, Angels’ Arms has made a tremendous, positive impact on Lawreene and her foster families. But what would she change if she could change foster care to make it better for the youth?
Lawreene believes providing resources for the biological parents of the children on a state level may be the best change that could be made. “Some funds should be allocated to the parents to try to help them get their kids back home, to reunify them. That would be a big help. Sometimes they are just stuck in a cycle. They are struggling, working minimum wage jobs. They are told they have to take a parenting class. But they need their job, and they can’t take this day off work to go to this parenting class. But they can’t get the kids back home without the class. But if they lose their job they still can’t get their kids back home.
“Sometimes it’s something that simple that prevents the kids from going back home. Deep down, what the kids want is to be with their parents, or whatever family looks like for them. And there are times when this would be best for the kids and for their mental health. The parents feel like the whole system is against them. But our goal is to reunify families when it’s possible and healthy for the kids. Extra resources could make a big difference.”
I See You, I hear you
Lawreene is well aware that every child is unique, but she knows they all have one thing in common. “They all need to be seen. They all just want to be seen and heard. No matter what their trauma, if you just let them know, ‘I see you, I hear you, I’ve got you.’ Sometimes when they start opening up and talking to you, they are not looking for you to solve anything for them, they just want to know that you hear them. Finally, somebody sees me and hears me. You might not have a solution for me right now, but you hear me, you see me. That’s what’s common in all of them. I think that’s how I’ve been able to connect with all of them. I just let them know, I see you, I hear you.”
One thing Lawreene has learned is that her foster kids won’t be with her forever. “My very first placement came to us in 2013, a sibling group that was with us four years. It was the hardest thing in the world when they moved back home. It was like a piece of me left with them. I learned from them.”
And just as Lawreene learned from her first foster kids, she uses that knowledge to positively impact every child she touches. She’s a mom who knows that goodbye is sometimes the best answer, but she will ALWAYS see, hear and be there for her foster children.