A feel-good story just in time for National Foster Care Month
If you want to feel inspired by another mom, look no further than Lacey Dunkin. The 32-year-old from Fresno, California opened her heart and home to six little sisters under the age of 10, whom she first fostered then adopted. Her incredible story especially resonates now, as May is National Foster Care Month.
"That's the beauty of being a foster parent," says Jeannie Imelio, chief operating officer of Aspiranet, a family-services agency in California with a special focus on foster care and adoption. "You get to do something extraordinary."
Lacey was considering embarking on parenthood as a single mom when her mother first suggested the idea of fostering a child first, leading Lacey to reach out to Aspiranet, as I reported in the May issue of Parents. There were many things that made becoming a foster parent, increasingly becoming known as a "resource parent," attractive to Lacey, including the idea of helping a child or a sibling set in need, and bypassing many of the financial hurdles of private adoption. (Most adoptions through foster care are free.) She was also drawn to giving a child a chance to be loved within her multigenerational family—her parents are extremely involved in her girls' upbringing and lives. While in her care, Lacey also cooperated with the girls' birth mother, as they explored reunification. Ultimately, the girls' birth mother made the decision that they would be better off with Lacey permanently.
"She had what we really want from all of our families: a heart to keep those siblings together, an openness to working with the birth family and the process, and the desire to do what was in the best interest of those children at that time," says Chad Valorosi, a core program director at Aspiranet.
There are 250,000 children who enter foster care in the U.S. every year; about half will eventually be reunified with their families. Today, there are 108,000 foster children in the U.S. in need of loving homes and waiting to be adopted by their forever family. If you've considered becoming a foster parent yourself, Valorosi offers some advice:
"I'd suggest to anyone exploring this that they do their research, to talk to other families who've experienced the process, and to make the most of the opportunities presented during precertification training," he says. "Also, don't go with the first agency or person who goes to your door and asks if you want to be a foster parent. You want to feel comfortable with who you're working with, and to surround yourself with a support network so you don't have compassion fatigue and burnout, and to prioritize self-care. When you're in a good place and that child comes into your home, she'll be in a good place." He adds that being open and flexible are also key, but to also recognize what limitations you might have.
"However, don't let finances be an obstacle—there are a lot of things to help and assist, and insurance is covered," adds Valarosi. "Deciding whether to become a resource parent is less about the cost and more about the support—the agency you're going to work with, and the support you'll have from family and friends."
Learn more about National Foster Care Month.
Gail O'Connor is a senior editor at Parents.