A Q&A with Brenda Harris, a SAFY foster to adopt parent
Adopting a child is one of the greatest gifts an individual or couple can give to the more than 100,000 children and teens waiting to be adopted in the U.S. November is National Adoption Awareness Month and we wanted to hear from some of the amazing people who chose to become adoptive parents. We sat down with one of our foster to adopt parents, Brenda Harris, to learn more about her journey to become an agent of hope.
When did you first know you wanted to become a foster parent?
At first, I was apprehensive. I was babysitting my friend’s foster kids but I wasn’t really interested in foster care at the time. I thought I was just doing my friend a favor but the kids really gravitated toward me.
What was the first step you took to become a foster parent? What did the entire process entail?
I contacted SAFY and went through the foster parent training process. It consisted of attending 12 classes and the people there became more like a family unit. We discussed concerns about becoming foster parents and how to deal with different situations involving the kids and their traumas. We learned not to take it personally when a child expresses anger and frustration. What person wouldn’t be upset if they were removed from the people they loved? These children have to learn to trust all over again. They will test your love and commitment, to see if you will give up on them. The training I received through SAFY brought to light that you have to have the desire to become a foster parent. They don’t promise it will be easy, but they are committed to being there to help foster parents be successful in raising the child placed in our care.
How long have you been a foster parent? What is the most rewarding part?
I’ve been a foster parent since 2002 and have fostered 14 children over the past 17 years. I mostly foster teenage boys. They are the hardest to find families for within the foster care system. But teen boys need love and guidance too. If we don’t love, protect and guide them, the odds such as homelessness and not graduating from college become nearly impossible to overcome. One of the best feelings is when I’ve been able to help a child succeed. One former foster youth I cared for is now a social worker living in Chicago. Another one is currently raising foster children and helping them go to college in Alabama. Many of them are working and taking care of themselves and have come a long way. I’m proud that I’ve been able to play a small part in helping them become successful adults.
Did you intend to foster to adopt from the start or is it something that happened during your journey?
It happened naturally. One of my children came to me and asked me about adoption. He wanted to become a permanent member of the family and he became one in 2015. I adopted a second child in 2016.
What was the foster to adopt process like?
I talked with a social worker who handles adoption. I had to go through a home inspection and then I met with an attorney. The next step was to go before a judge to officially adopt the child. The entire process took around two months.
Are there any challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Some of the children I’ve cared for over the years have experienced severe trauma prior to coming into my home, and they’ve required more intensive care for a temporary period, like a group home. It’s important to assess individual needs and fight hard for the kids so they have what they need to grow and develop. If you have a good team like SAFY, plus social workers, teachers and fellow foster families, it makes it an easier process. In the end, it’s about doing what is best for the child.
What advice would you give to someone considering foster care or adoption?
If you have a loving heart for children, patience, willing to learn new skills, a good spirit and are there for the child, you will do just fine. There will be some challenges but don’t give in so easily. Just do what’s best for the child and everything else will work out. There will be some children you aren’t capable of helping but just make sure they get the services they need. My advice would be to just do it!
Why did you choose adoption?
They were my sons already. When a child is in my home, I don’t think of them as a foster child but as a child; my child. The adoption process was just the official paperwork.
If you’re considering becoming an agent of hope like Brenda, and making a difference in a child’s life, take SAFY’s 30-second assessment to see if becoming a foster parent is right for you or learn more about fostering to adopt.