May is National Foster Care Month, which is an opportunity to raise awareness for the thousands of children who need a loving home when they can’t stay in their own. But it’s also a time to celebrate the many families who have answered the call by opening their homes and their hearts to kids in need. We asked one such family to share their experiences, insights and wisdom.
Nathan and Tristen “Tigi” Vinson are celebrating their one-year anniversary as foster parents this month. They love the outdoors and spending their free time fishing and hiking. They also love reading. But most of all, they feel very strongly about serving children in need.
ACH: Tell me a little bit about yourselves.
Vinsons: We've been married for 5 years, and this month we will celebrate our one-year anniversary as foster parents. We own a pecan orchard in addition to our "regular jobs" and currently have "basically triplets" (i.e. a 32 month old, 25 month old, and 22 month old).
ACH: How did you first become interested in foster care?
Vinsons: We both have a parent who was adopted and knew that we wanted to pursue fostering and adoption since that is close to both of our families' hearts.
ACH: How did you come to ACH?
Vinsons: Tigi actually knew several of the workers and three families that were licensed with ACH; through that, we had heard great things!
ACH: What has been the best part about your experience with foster care?
Vinsons: Knowing that these children have experienced a safe, loving home, even if it's only for a while.
ACH: What has been your least favorite thing?
Vinsons: So. Many. Doctor. Visits.
ACH: What were some challenges you worked through?
Vinsons: Learning to recognize quickly and adjust what will work best for each kid to help them grow and flourish. Also, remembering to turn our paperwork in on time. (The fifth really sneaks up on us!)
ACH: What were some of the kids’ needs that you addressed when they came to your home? And how did you address them?
Vinsons: The most common need we see and address as quickly as possible is the need for comforting stability. Our kids have all seemed to most need reassurance that every day we will still be there for them and, moreover, that we will still love them. The next most common need we've worked with (and are still working with) is healthy communication. These sweet babies haven't been taught how to express their needs and deal with emotions in a positive way. We try to teach them sign language to help until their words progress. (We've had all toddlers.) We also work on learning our feelings, so we can deal with them in healthy ways. (Picture books have helped with this.)
ACH: What helped prepare you for having the kids in your home?
Vinsons: We've both spent a good amount of time around children, so that helped a lot. We also read a ton of books and parenting blogs.
ACH: Is there any part of the foster care process you would change? Anything you wish you would have had better knowledge of or better resources for?
Vinsons: We weren't really aware of how Child Care Management Services (CCMS) worked until we were a few months in. If we could change anything, it would be the rule that all communication with the biological parents must go solely through CPS. We completely understand and agree that CPS should have full disclosure to communication, but it seems like an unnecessary step that also creates less of a relationship with biological parents not to be able to talk to them directly.
ACH: What advice would you give to other foster parents?
Vinsons: Don't forget that love is a choice. And these children all deserve each of us to intentionally make the choice to love them unconditionally every day, especially on the hard days.
ACH: What advice would you give to prospective foster parents?
Vinsons: To make sure that their families are aware of exactly what the process looks like and are willing to take this journey as well. Everyone gets attached to these sweet kids, and they will need to be prepared if they leave. Also, make sure you have pre-planned resources and finances available, especially for the first few months you are licensed. There are always unplanned needs that come up, and they can't always be predicted.