Giving Back by Fostering: One Family’s Story
by johanna kennedy
One of my favorite books is Just a Minute by Dr. Wess Stafford. It consists of stories of ordinary people stepping into a child’s life and changing its trajectory. The book made me realize that adults truly have enormous power in children’s lives. We can make or break them with one comment or action toward…or against them. And nowhere is this more evident than with the most at-risk children in our community, children involved in foster care.
Currently, we have 709 children in foster care (as of February 2023) in our community. These incredible children are in your son’s English class and your daughter’s daycare. They are on the playground next to your niece and holding their foster parent’s cart as you pass them in the grocery aisle. Do you see them?
Brenton and Lucia Seymour didn’t see them right away. They were from totally different worlds when they met in Belize 11 years ago. Lucia was born and raised in Guatemala, and Brenton in Montana. They met while he was on an 18-month mission trip in Belize in the same area where Lucia had moved to take a job. Once they married, they decided if they didn’t have kids after five years, they would go serve in missions somewhere.
Five years later, they began discussing what they should do and where to go. Lucia knew poverty. “In Guatemala, people are hungry right in front of you.” They knew what they would be getting into. The more they talked about it, the more they thought about foster care. Considering fostering as a mission, Lucia affirmed, “Fostering IS going into missions. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the kids are from a different planet [because] we come from a different reality.” This wasn’t a foreign concept to Brenton. He is the fourth of seven children, four biological and three adopted.
Once their decision was made, they began looking for a house closer to Billings that would suit children. After landing a beautiful home in Laurel, they settled in and started the process of becoming foster parents. “Child Bridge got the ball rolling for us. (Child Bridge is a local organization that finds and equips foster families.) Once we finished our home visit, our social worker said we’d probably get a call in a week or so. We got a call the next day.”
Since that first call, the Seymours have had nine children in their home, anywhere from 1½ days to over a year. Their children’s stays are on par with our state’s average, as a child in Montana is in foster care for an average of 17.9 months (in 2022). Each child or sibling group who enters their home is folded into their lives. Brenton, co-owner of HVAC Mountain Air, and Lucia, a Design Program Manager for an out-of-state company, make it work. They juggle their careers, the children’s appointments, and family time because they feel that fostering is their job and mission. “People will say to us, ‘They are so lucky to have you.’ It’s actually the reverse. They are God’s gift to us; [we] are not God’s gift to humanity. In an ideal world, their parents would have them. Deep down, the parents do love their kids; they're just trapped in other things.”
They have had their difficult days, though. “We had one toddler who would scream for hours then fall asleep standing up. He was our trial by fire.” At times like these, they have to dig deep and remind themselves why they are in foster care. “At the end of the day, we’re serving the kids, not ourselves.” It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. There are only 333 foster families currently in our community. This isn’t nearly enough for the number of children who need stable homes where they are safe, loved, and cared for while their biological families do the work necessary for reunification.
I asked the Seymours what they would like prospective foster parents to know before they enter the world of loving these children. Here is their list.
- Your life isn’t about you. You’re entering a life of service to others. This was our first lesson. When we got our first placement, we immediately realized how selfish we were.
- Have a merciful outlook on the kids’ family of origin because most don’t know how to be parents; maybe they never learned. Hurt people hurt people. We all make bad decisions.
- Allow yourself to feel their pain and heal with them. Secondhand trauma is a real thing.
- When you love the kids like you ought to, you should get attached. If you’re trying to protect yourself from getting hurt, it opens up your heart to become jaded. The kids don’t deserve that.
- The goal is for them to be with their family of origin, no matter what. You might just be a chapter in their book. Even if the rest is bad, they will always have that chapter.
- Walk with the children. Be patient with them. Love them, even if it means not taking action to ‘fix’ things but just being present with them.
- Take a break between placements because it's also an emotional and physical loss for you. How much can you give if you are worn down, exhausted, and tired?
- Who are you doing it for, them or you? If you’re doing it for yourself to fill a hole in your own heart, you’re going to hit the ground hard.
- Lastly, if you’re reading this, take it as a sign. It’s definitely a calling, and discernment is important, but if you feel it, pursue it. Talk to your family about it. If you discern it’s not for you, there are other ways to help.
If signing up to be a foster family isn’t a good fit for you, there are other ways to help. You can volunteer with Child Bridge (childbridgemontana.org or 406-200-0580), be a CASA (yellowstonecasa.org), or contact Promise686 (promise686.org or 406-916-8484) to see if your church could be involved in offering support to foster families. Another great way to help is to offer support to a foster family by providing meals or offering to do respite (care for the children so foster parents can have a break). Child Bridge and Promise686 can connect you with foster families that would benefit from additional support.
One of my favorite quotes in Dr. Stafford’s book is this: I have become convinced that if God stands a child before you, for even just a minute, it is a divine appointment. This month, as you consider possible ways to give back to our community, might you consider giving back by opening your home to a child or a sibling group in desperate need of a divine appointment? Who knows, you might just change the entire trajectory of one child’s life.
Johanna and her husband Chris are parents and foster parents to five beautiful kids. Together they are the Directors of Haven Camps, which provide summer camps for children in foster care. Johanna is passionate about people of all ages, stages, and life experiences and loves to celebrate and share their stories. She spends her time teaching, parenting, writing, reading, and dreaming about the next big adventure.