All children deserve to live and thrive in a safe home environment. There should be healthy meals on their dinner tables, cozy beds to sleep in each night, and love and encouragement spoken with each word. However, not all children have these luxuries.
Each year, there are 18,000 to 20,000 children in Florida who are not able to live at home. If these children do not have relatives that can take care of them, then they are placed with a foster family. This family provides them with the safety, love and nurturing they need to foster positive life experiences.
Devereux helps make those family connections for local children in the foster care system. Devereux Florida, in partnership with the Department of Children and Families and Community Based Care of Central Florida, serves children and families in over 35 counties throughout the state.
So what does it mean to be a foster parent? Anne Marie and Peter Smith can tell you from firsthand experience.
Loving Each Child as Your Own
The Smiths have fostered 16 children during their time with Devereux. They made the decision to become foster parents as a way to have children after getting married in a later stage of their lives.
“I wanted to do something together as far as children were concerned,” Anne Marie says. “My heart is to share my love, so I wanted to do foster care. I brought it to Peter and he was sold pretty easily.”
Anne Marie shares that she feels privileged to have been part of the solution for so many children in need of loving families, both during times of transition and in more permanent situations. The couple raised each foster child as if he or she were their biological child. Anne Marie’s rule as a mother has always been to instill values like loving each other so that each of her foster children would go into the world and love others as well.
Peter agrees that integrating each child into society in a positive way is of the utmost importance. “I think the role for me is to be a provider, protector, and just to show our kids how to grow up and just be part of society – be a positive and not a negative,” he says. “There are so many negatives out there. I just want them to set themselves apart and show people that they can be a part of society and be a positive part of it.”
Making it Through Emotional Transitions
The couple blended their families when they first got married. Peter introduced his two children to Anne Marie’s four children. While they had experience with blending two families into one, their biological children were nearly grown and out of the house by the time the Smiths decided to become foster parents.
That didn’t stop Anne Marie, Peter and their children from welcoming each foster child as a member of their family.
“It was at the tail end of raising our kids,” Peter remembers. “We just felt we could still give something to society.”
Children in the foster care system have been through a lot and can often be defiant at first, making for a tough transition from the system to a loving home. Anne Marie and Peter have had difficulties with some of their foster children but were able to help them through it with the help of advocates at Devereux.
“It’s difficult at first when the kids come into a new home,” Anne Marie says. “It’s about letting them see that we are doing it not just because we want kids in the home but because we want to show them they can be loved and they are loved. That’s one of the major things.”
Becoming a Family
Representatives from Devereux work with foster families to ensure all needs are met for local children. The Smiths called their Devereux caseworker “an ally for the foster care system” because she was there for them every step of the way and even offered emotional support when they needed it.
Do they have any advice for others who are considering becoming foster parents?
“Do it from your heart, don’t do it from your head,” Anne Marie says, noting that patience is key because the process can be trying. Knowing ahead of time that not everything is going to be perfect can help ease the stress when times get tough. “Do it with love so that when the hard times come, you can always fall back on that love.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Anne Marie wants foster children to know that they should also be patient and try to understand their new foster parents. “I know it’s very hard for you going into this new home, but give it a chance because they want to love you too.”
If you are interested in making a positive impact to a child’s life, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Florida will provide support to become a foster parent.
Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Florida
There is a great need for foster parents in the Central Florida area. We encourage our community to seek out ways to support children in foster care and assist those who have dedicated themselves to helping those in need. For children and teens without a safe, nurturing environment to turn to, the future can seem dark and uncertain. By opening your home, and your heart, you are giving kids in need a chance at fulfilling their potential and enjoying a life of success.
For more information about becoming a Devereux Florida foster parent, visit www.DevereuxFL.org or email FLFostercare@devereux.org.