Today is May 31, National Foster Parent Appreciation Day, and CHAMPS is pleased to shine the light on an amazing foster parent: Andrea from South Dakota.
When Andrea met J. at age 11, the girl had been in a psychiatric residential treatment facility since age eight. No one had been able to find a foster family placement for her. One family fell through. J. was angry and aggressive after years of sexual and physical abuse by various perpetrators. She had not been in a permanent home since age five.
As a behavioral therapist herself, Andrea thought she and J. might be a good fit. She became J.’s foster parent, then adopted her at age 13. There was more support for the family of two when J. was in foster care than post-adoption, although J.’s adoption as a teen-ager positions her well for college assistance, should she choose to go.
Andrea is delighted that college is a viable option for a girl who suffered so much abuse. Now 17, J. just returned from a residential treatment facility, where she felt ready to do the hard work of therapy and dealing with her traumatic past. She wasn’t equipped to do it as a younger child. In addition to the sexual and physical abuse, J. suffered blows such as losing contact with her younger brother. At 2.5 years older, J. served as her brother’s protector in traumatic settings. He and another brother, whom J. didn’t know, were adopted by a relative who considered but didn’t take J. It’s not clear whether the decision was due to J.’s behavioral problems or that she’s a half-sister to the boys, with the adopting relative unrelated to her. Regardless, the blow of losing her brother was possibly the toughest of all in J.’s young life. They aren’t in touch.
As good news, a sister of sorts recently came into J.’s life. Andrea met her girlfriend who also has a 17-year-old daughter, only four months apart from J. All four share a home now. The girls get along beautifully.
J will be a high school senior in the fall. She excels at writing, a prolific poet. Her high school is big, which required an adjustment. Cigarette smoke is a trigger. Her abusers smoked cigarettes. Students who smoke are to be avoided. Fortunately her school helped set a plan if she experiences anxiety. It offers Native American subject matter. J. hopes to take a Lakota language class next year. Her birth mother was Native American, although her tribe isn’t quite clear. J. would like to know more about her heritage, but verification has been hard to come by.
Andrea is inspired by everything J. has achieved and who she is. Andrea said parents receive much of the credit for a child’s progress but as a therapist, she tells her clients, “You’re the one who does the work and who lives it.”
J.has done the work. Andrea provided a safe, stable home, but J. is the one who visited past harms in therapy with courage that would scare off many adults. “She’s remarkable, just as a person,” Andrea said. “She’s such an optimistic kid. Even in the darkest times, she’s hopeful.”