When Grace Kriegel and her husband started fostering children, she could never have known just how much of a whirlwind her first two years on the job would be. Then, to top it all, the carer got a call asking her to take in an abandoned baby with no name.
Fostering can be one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. But there’s no denying that taking on a child temporarily can be a challenge. As a result, potential foster parents should be ready to learn, be filled with love and have plenty of patience.
Where adoption places a child permanently with new parents, fostering is therefore seen as temporary solution. A child may come to live with a family after authorities have decided their parents aren’t suitable to look after them. However, there is always hope that a change will occur, meaning the family can eventually be reunited somewhere down the line.
As a result, foster parents must be prepared for a child they may have become attached to to one day leave the family. Sometimes it is possible to only care for kids who are ready for adoption. That means there’s a chance you could officially adopt them if things work out.
However, foster parents hoping to go down that route should bear in mind the average age of foster kids available for adoption is eight years old. So if families are hoping to raise a child from infancy, fostering might not be the right choice for them.
And the hard times are not guaranteed to end once you’ve decided that fostering is right for you. In fact, children in care have often experienced trauma. Not only have they been ripped from their families, but they might have also lived through some scary things while in the care of their parents.
As a result, to help families cope with the challenges of fostering, social carers will do all they can to prepare them. Potential foster parents will also be required to attend training and meetings to get their license. And, once they’re ready to take in a child, authorities will help to ensure they are the right fit for the family.
In 2017 reports suggested there weren’t enough foster families in the United States for all the children in care. That year alone, 269,690 entered the foster system. And it seemed that the number of kids needing temporary homes was on the rise.
One of the reasons more children were entering the care system was the increase in substance abuse among parents. Of course, the situation wasn’t helped by the lack of carers – a problem fueled by both recruitment and retention issues.
In fact, according to figures obtained by HuffPost, between 30 and 50 percent of fostering families will end up quitting the job. And a study from the Foster Care Institute revealed that most foster parents had experienced feelings of loss, while half said they didn’t feel their social worker gave them enough support.
But despite the problems facing the current fostering system, there are still some people willing to take the plunge. Among them are Grace Kriegel and her husband, Jesse Wilson. The couple live in North Carolina, and over the course of two years they had fostered eight children.
In December 2018 one of Kriegel and Wilson’s newest additions was a little girl from Pakistan. The child had been abandoned at a hospital as an infant. Her background, therefore, was completely unknown. Moreover, the poor baby didn’t even have a name.
When the couple’s social worker asked Kriegel and Wilson if they would temporarily take care of the child, they didn’t hesitate in agreeing. Later, the foster mom would share the story of how the infant joined her family by writing an article for Love What Matters.
Revealing what went down, Kriegel wrote, “We were standing in Target, trying to buy pants for the 12-year-old who was already in our care, when I took that phone call. My husband and I made eye contact. We didn’t even need to discuss it.”
Kriegel and her husband then grabbed some baby supplies, including clothes, diapers and a baby seat, and dashed to the hospital. It was there that they were introduced to what the foster mom described as “the most perfect little Pakistani princess,” who had been given the name “Safe Surrender.”
For the next four months, Kriegel and Wilson cared for the baby. Then they got a call to say that the little girl needed to undergo a hospital assessment. Doctors, it seemed, were concerned that she hadn’t been checked at birth. As a result, the family came home from vacation early to ensure Safe got examined.
Kriegel recalled, “We made the appointment. They called her legal name over the intercom – ‘Safe Surrender?’ I felt the stares of strangers as we met the nurse at the door. No one said it, but they all thought it. ‘Who names their kid that?’ Lots of tests – heart, kidneys, spine.”
The tests revealed the baby had some health issues that would require her to wear a colostomy bag and undergo surgery. “There were more tests, more appointments and more explanations to uninformed medical staff [as to] WHY this little baby has such an unusual name,” Kriegel revealed.
At this point, social workers gave Kriegel and Wilson the opportunity to give little Safe up. However, the couple were determined that they could handle her medical needs. So from that moment, they vowed to do all they could to help the baby recover.
Kriegel revealed, “We sat by her bedside as she woke up from surgeries. We held her as she cried pitifully. We learned how to care for a colostomy bag, ordered supplies and paid for them out of pocket, [and] bought new clothes. We watched her heal.”
And the couple’s efforts didn’t only help Safe’s health, they helped her heart. Soon the baby came to trust them. “We loved her, and she flourished,” Kriegel explained. “She had surgery again at ten months to reverse her colostomy and she never looked back.”
While Kriegel and Wilson were busy caring for Safe and building a bond with her, social workers were attempting to trace the baby’s biological family. They even placed an advert in a newspaper looking for the girl’s father. And when no one came forward, they decided she should go up for adoption.
Given that Safe had already settled with Kriegel and Wilson, they were given the first opportunity to adopt her. They hadn’t entered into the fostering process to find a child long-term, just to help the kids that came into their care. But now Safe was in their arms, it felt right that they should keep her.
The couple got the process rolling, and a date for their adoption ceremony was set for March 2018. They were told they could invite all their loved ones and were informed many social workers would be there too. “They want to see this case through to the end,” Kriegel was told.
At the ceremony, Kriegel and Wilson were surrounded by 75 members of their family and friends. However, the couple and their little princess were the most important people in the room. That’s because they were about to become a family themselves – and this time it would be forever.
Describing the life-changing ceremony, Kriegel recalled, “I looked at my husband, sitting there with that sweet little girl who had shared our home for the last 14 months. A little girl whose very name told the story of her birth: Safe Surrender. A little girl who had lost so much, but for whom we hoped so much more.”
In fact, at one point in the ceremony, the couple were asked if they wanted to rename the little girl. “My eyes turned toward my daughter,” Kriegel revealed. “She gave me the biggest grin as I answered, ‘Her name is Arya. Arya Hope.’”
In Kriegel’s article, she explained how it had been hope that got her and her husband through some of the biggest challenges fostering had thrown at them. Therefore, it was a fitting middle name for this incredible gift– a new daughter of their own.
Kriegel wrote, “When outsiders ask us questions about what it’s like to be a foster family, they almost never question us further. But the questions are there, in their eyes, as they look down the line of children at my side. The judgement is there, all over their faces, as they dismissively comment, ‘Well, I could never do that,’ before turning their attention back to their own lives.”
In an attempt to address some of these unasked questions, Kriegel added, “Ultimately, our fostering journey comes down to one very simple thing: hope. The practice of waiting with great expectation for things to come. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t make us saints. But it does lead us to believe there is more out there, and better out there, for broken families and hurting children.”
According to Kriegel, it was hope that enabled her to love the children in her care while knowing they would one day leave. She was confident their families would heal and they would then go on to have healthy relationships with their biological relatives.
Kriegel said she was even hopeful when her foster kids were playing up. “Sometimes, grief looks a lot like rage. And if we can get through the rage, I have hope we can get to the grief. And I have hope that, if we can get to the grief, we can also get to the healing,” she explained.
Furthermore, when it came to dealing with continual upheaval at home, it was hope that got the foster mom through then, too. “I am an adult who can rationally process sudden, unexpected change,” Kriegel reasoned. “The children who come into our home are not.”
Kriegel went on, “I have hope that, even though the abrupt disruption is traumatic, we can be a safe haven in a storm for little souls who are lost and confused. I have hope that we will all settle into a new normal and find comfort in it together.”
But while Kriegel and Wilson did their utmost to stay positive, they admitted that fostering could sometimes be hard. “I wake up multiple times a night to children crying out for me. I sit in a glider for hours, holding little bodies racked with sobs, until they finally catch their breath,” she revealed.
Kriegel then added, “I listen to a preschooler share stories of domestic violence and watch a preteen struggle with mental health. I open the fridge, over and over, to prove to children there is always food. I attend meetings and I advocate for kids. But you know what else I do? I cry.”
The foster mom then went on to explain how she would “fall into [her] husband’s arms” and break down. During these times, she questioned whether she should could continue with her cause. But with hope she was able to carry the burden, confident she was making a difference in the lives of the children she cared for.
And finally, with the addition of Arya to their family, all Kriegel and Wilson’s hard work had paid off. Not only had they comforted the infant after her traumatic abandonment and seen her through her recovery, they would also be an integral part of her life forever.
Unsurprisingly, Kriegel and Wilson’s stories touched hearts all over the world. However, even the people the foster mom counted as friends on Facebook were equally happy to learn more about how the family of three had come to be.
When Kriegel later shared a link to her Love What Matters piece on Facebook in September 2018, one friend gushed, “This is beautiful. What you guys have done and will continue to do is absolutely breathtaking and beautiful. I’m so glad there are people like you in this world.”