A close friend of mine began fostering a fourteen-month-old little girl named Katie* not too long ago. Confidentiality prevents me from giving any identifying information about this sweet little baby, so bear with me as I try to paint a picture of her that makes sense. Malnourished, severely neglected and grossly delayed, Katie came into foster care with simply a name, a date of birth, a t-shirt and diaper. I met her that night. She sat on the floor next to her foster mother, her dull green eyes lost in a world all of her own and her soft, curly brown hair reeking of cigarette smoke despite a warm bath and clean jammies.
By morning, there was a case of diapers and some board books from the neighbor down the street who heard of her arrival. Later came gifts of clothes and a "security blanket" from friends. Several months later, random gifts for Katie continue to appear, courtesy of extended family and friends.
Material items weren't only the benefits Katie received. Thanks to the proactive work of her foster mother, within two weeks she had referrals for developmental assessments. She also had her first doctor's appointment: she had never seen a doctor before.
While other kids her age were building vocabularies of hundreds of words, Katie didn't know she had a voice. I was lucky enough to be with her the night discovered she could make noise. Silent for weeks, she suddenly began mimicking an older child. She opened her mouth as wide as she could and sound poured out. She was amazed and delighted as she soaked up the encouragement of her small audience. Katie came alive that night, and has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since. She is making great gains and has recently started crawling. When she arrived in foster care at age thirteen months, professionals diagnosed her development at age four months.
I've heard foster parents talk about when their foster babies "woke up." It seems one day, after a considerable amount of love, stability and plenty of nurturing, abused or neglected babies decide that just maybe the world is worth engaging. They start to interact with their caregivers and begin exploring their surroundings and their own abilities. However, I've never had the joy of seeing this unfold. Until now.
Kids like Katie are the ones saved by foster care and by selfless, loving people who put their hearts on the line and open their homes to children who need a safe place to land in the middle of the night. I can't imagine a more fulfilling or more potentially heartbreaking role than one of a foster parent. Little Katie was fortunate enough to be placed in a safe foster home with a foster mother completely devoted to her. She is a lucky little girl, no doubt. Those of us who have come to love her are lucky too.
If you are not in a position to foster, there are many other ways to help our most vulnerable children. Foster parents are so grateful for the support they receive from a wider community. If you know a foster parent who is doing a great job, please thank them. They are saving childhoods everyday.
I wish I could post a picture of Katie with her bright eyes and wide grin, but again, confidentiality is necessary. I wish you could see how her face lights up or hear how she babbles non-stop now. I also wish I'd taken her picture the first night she was placed in foster care. What a difference! No matter what the future holds for Katie, today she is showered with love and affection coupled with services like physical and speech therapy to help her catch up. She is finding her voice and her place in this world. And for today, that is all that matters.
*name has been changed to protect her identity.