Kids, they’re not easy! They need food, drinks, attention, clean clothes, medicine, and they need it again and again, day after day. They can be so much hard work, so demanding, so needy, dammit. Never a moment to yourself, to relax and have some peace. And there’s not enough money, or time, or help to give them everything they are asking for, and they are always, but always, asking for something, and it never ends… It’s all too much! Dad did a runner, Mum’s on her own and got her own drug problem to keep her busy. And gradually, the dirty-faced, sniveling, hungry kid that cries all the time just gets ignored. ‘Just going out for a while’ becomes a few hours, overnight, all day. Until a neighbor worries and calls the police…

A lot of professionals get involved, procedures, paperwork, government departments etc. but at the end of the day, there’s a child that needs a home.

A shidduch is made for this child with a family who are on our books as potential foster parents. They have been carefully screened and selected, having interviews and meetings, every aspect of their lives discussed and explored thoroughly. They have been to lots of workshops, lectures, preparation talks, and they’re ready. They pick up the child from the emergency foster care, and take him into their home.

Foster care is very complicated. It’s not adoption. Adoption is straightforward, once you adopt a child, they become yours, for life.  Foster is different. The parents are looking after the child, on behalf of the state, giving him a warm home, love, hugs, everything he needs – but he doesn’t belong to them. Foster parents are carers, it’s a temporary arrangement, but one that can last for many years, until the child is 18. Sometimes it can end in adoption, but that’s not common. So the foster family brings this child into their home, welcoming him into their family, taking him and all his problems, and pledging to love and care for him as one of their own.  One of the brothers will share a room with the small, shy, boy with big brown eyes, let’s call him Ben. At the start he’s like a kitten, overwhelmed and afraid, unsure of his place in the family, flinching from every touch. And gradually he learns about real family life. Meals appear on the table, clean clothes are given to him, he’s warm at night in a big clean bed. But he has to follow a new set of rules too – taking showers, eating with silverware, doing what his new parents tell him. Suddenly he is expected to go to school every day, and stay there for the whole day. It’s all new and a little scary. Sometimes Ben is angry and confused, and will be violent and destructive, he might steal things, break things, hurt himself and others. It’s not all roses!

Foster children need a lot of therapy, social workers, extra tutoring, and that’s just the child. The parents will expect to spend a lot of time meeting with the professionals who are working with the child. They are paid a monthly stipend to cover some of the costs, but this is only a fraction of what the parents will need to lay out – like any other kid, Ben will need clothes, after-school activities, dental care (probably a lot), summer camps, toys, school supplies, bus rides, birthday presents…  impossible to calculate. But this is the ‘deal’ that they agree to when they decide to foster a child. When they go out for the day, or on their holidays, or to the cinema, or out for a meal Ben comes with them – of course he does, he’s part of the family.

But Ben still has contact with his mum, his real, biological mum, and dad, aunts, uncles, grandparents… all his family, because he is still part of their family. Research and experience over the years has shown that children need to have contact with their parents – however abusive they have been. Every child has the right to know who they are and where they have come from, what are their family’s roots, traditions, beliefs, and on a more personal level, how did they come into the world, what were their first words, when did they take their first steps etc.

So once a week Ben has a visit with his mother.  This is usually at a ‘neutral’ place such as one of Orr Shalom’s foster care centers. (Children can even be taken to prison for visiting time with their parent)  It will be supervised by social workers, and followed up afterwards by therapists if necessary. Ben’s mother will also be getting professional help, learning parenting skills, having therapy, being taught how to run a home and manage her life.  Sometimes Ben will meet his Dad, and other relatives, perhaps he’ll go to their family simchas and celebrate with them, and then go back to his foster parents that night.

So many emotions, so difficult to understand. But at the end of the day, Ben is being loved and cared for by a wonderful family, who want the best for him. There are 820 children like Ben being looked after by Orr Shalom’s wonderful foster parents – amazing people who have made a commitment to change a child’s life. I am in awe of these people who I am honored to work with.