I was asked in a recent television interview, “Who can be a foster parent? Do you have to be perfect?” My response was, “No you certainly don’t, but you have to have a heart of gold and be filled with compassion and energy to help these kids. There are 17,000 kids in foster care who need our love and support.” I’m pleased with my response, but that doesn’t go nearly far enough. The individuals we meet daily at Arizona Helping Hands step up to face such a complex set of circumstances.
Foster parents take on so many challenges that I find difficult to fathom. From the court appearances to social
worker meetings, from therapy sessions to medical issues and more. The amount of energy and compassion needed to help these children through the trauma of separation and the struggles of overcoming so many issues in their daily lives truly takes special individuals.
Our hearts are always stolen by the kinship providers whom we meet. Almost half of the children in Arizona’s foster-care system are placed with family members or others who have become that One Caring Adult for children crying out for help.
These families are not licensed foster-care providers and therefore receive virtually no financial assistance for providing a safe and loving home to children who have been the victims of abuse, neglect and other atrocities. Contrary to my answer to the reporter’s question, over the course of a recent week, I met two (of many) people who I would say were close to perfect in their mission to help boys and girls.
One gentleman was a mentor to a 12- year-old boy in a group home. As their relationship grew, he saw the impact he had on this youngster’s life. He stepped forward, and, never having parented, offered to provide this child a home, a safe place. And then, he went even further.
Upon learning that this boy’s younger sister was being placed in foster care, he came forward and said, “I will help — I want to keep these children together, to love and raise them in a family setting.” It does take so much more than ordinary souls can handle to change your life and put the needs of boys and girls above
And then there’s “Grandpa C.” He came to us after a two-hour drive to receive five beds for the grandchildren he and his new wife just became responsible for. The normal response to our question of “What happened?” centers around drug abuse, neglect and other societal problems. Grandpa C’s response took our breath away. He told us that his daughter’s life had been tragically taken. That he is now dealing with trying to help his five grandchildren under the age of 11 work through all the issues of loss, trauma, anxiety and more.
Through tears and hugs we bonded. Arizona Helping Hands provided five twin bed sets, backpacks to start the
school year, a present to one of the girls who has an upcoming birthday and other items to make their lives, and their current burdens, a bit easier. As we thought we had finished with everything, I asked Grandpa C one more time, “Is there anything else we can provide to your family?” The response still gives me chills. Grandpa C said, “Well, we could use some diapers and supplies for the four foster children we are caring for.” Foster care does not require perfection, but having that heart of gold and the desire to make lives better for children
may just meet a standard mighty close to perfection.
Dan Shufelt is president and CEO of Arizona
Helping Hands. Contact him at