Written by: Luisa Whipple
Hearing that our county has an overcrowded foster care system is enough to burden any compassionate citizen, but when Karen McBride caught wind of the real numbers involved, she couldn’t help but act.
It didn’t take long on the internet to discover that there were four thousand children in the county who were at the mercy of the system.
It also didn’t take long for Karen and her husband Michael to clue in: they had an extra bedroom, and they loved kids.
They knew they could help.
Memories of drowning in paperwork and scheduling their weeks around parenting classes are fresh in Karen’s mind as she sits to chat for this interview. “It seemed like a lot at first,” she remarks, “but we believed this is what we were being called to do.”
The stress was temporary – the good they’ve done has an eternal impact.
When I ask her if she felt ready for the commitment they were taking on, she laughs. “You can’t be fully ready. You can’t know what’s coming.”
The McBrides have both worked with children for most of their professional lives, but there were several other learning curves to overcome.
“First of all, Michael didn’t even want to (become a foster parent) at all. He didn’t know if this was something he could really pour his heart into.” Karen touches on a common fear for couples considering this route. Won’t it feel impossible, some wonder, to care for a child and invest in their lives, only to develop an attachment and have to eventually say goodbye?
I asked Karen to weigh in. It was obviously not the first time she’d been asked.
“Of course it feels impossibly difficult,” she speaks with compassion because she’s familiar with this apprehension. “But as an adult, you can handle those emotions.”
Children who are placed in the foster care system are being ripped away from everything they’ve known. “Aren’t they in a much worse position for potential heartbreak than us?” All at once, I find myself convicted about much of ourselves we truly have to give away.
Attachment doesn’t scare Karen anymore.
“They deserve someone who will love them enough to get attached.”
Besides, it was inevitable: “It was easy to fall in love with the kids. We loved them immediately, and we knew we wanted to do whatever we could to love them well.”
Not always, but often children in the foster care system come from traumatic backgrounds and problematic homes. “They were tough at times – but they were also sweet, funny, and caring.” There were hard moments, she recalls. “But it was worth it to love them.”
Caring for the kids turned out to be endlessly rewarding, but navigating the ins and outs of the foster care system became its own challenge. “We quickly discovered there were a lot of people invested in the children’s success. Between the birth parents, the caseworkers, guardians ad litem, and doctors’ appointments, some weeks left us feeling as if being a foster parent is its own full-time job.”
“There was plenty I was anxious about, but I thought for sure that co-parenting with the biological parents would be the most difficult part of the process,” Karen reflects on the fears she and her husband shared that there would be major differences of opinion in what was best for the kids. In a moment of candor, she admits that it felt awkward to get involved.
But meeting the parents of the first set of siblings that were placed with them transformed and redeemed the way the McBrides felt about the process.
“In getting to know them and hearing their stories, we felt the love they had for the children and how desperately they wanted them back.” They watched the biological parents fight ruthlessly to overcome challenges in order to have the kids back in their arms as soon as possible.
They decided to let their guard down and fight with them by doing everything in their power to help the parents succeed. “Restoring a positive relationship between them and the kids became our first priority – we attended court hearings, meetings, home visits, and everything in between.” She shows me a text thread between her and the biological mother, packed with pictures and videos so she wouldn’t miss a thing. “I wanted her to know I was on her team.”
Their placement only lasted four months and it’s obvious: Karen misses the kids.
“Even if it was for a short period of time… We knew they needed to be loved. And we knew that we could love them.”
The goal of foster care is to reunify families – Karen and Michael knew they were getting attached only to give them away. But it was a worthwhile heartbreak, a privilege worth repeating.