There are approximately 9,000 children in foster care in New York City. In many cases, kids are removed from their homes because they have been subject to neglect or abuse. The NYC Administration for Children’s Services contracts with JCCA to recruit and train foster parents to care for these children until they are reunified with their parents or adopted into to a new “forever family.”
We regularly publish stories featuring longtime foster parents with a wealth of experience who have cared for dozens of children. But how does one begin the process? What makes a person decide to open their heart and home to our kids? Katherine Iglesias-Garcia recently completed her JCCA training and certification as a foster parent, and with her partner, Juan Torres, is currently fostering a child. She has generously shared her experience with us.
JCCA: Why did you decide to become a foster parent?
I was first exposed to the idea through my aunt’s experiences as a foster parent. She then went on to adopt two of the girls she fostered. My own personal reasons to become a foster parent include the hope to adopt a child one day.
JCCA: Why did you choose JCCA?
My aunt’s positive experience working with JCCA as a foster parent seemed like it would be an easier transition for me in becoming a foster parent. Also, working with Nereida Colon, a JCCA Foster Parent Advocate, was amazing.
JCCA: What was your experience with JCCA training and staff?
I found the training to be insightful, and learned many things I would later implement. The training also helped create a space where I felt comfortable and could speak freely. I could share my own perspective without fear of being judged. Also, I could ask questions that were on my mind without thinking about whether they were right or wrong. JCCA staff members were really there for us.
JCCA: In what ways is the experience of foster parenting affecting your life?
It has affected my life in so many ways! Definitely through communication and discussion with people like my co-workers, who care and want to hear about my experiences. It has also affected the way I shape my day and share time with my partner and family, who are also participants in this experience.
We were told that foster parenting was going to be a lot of work. It can be exhausting, but whoa, is it rewarding! “Whoa” is the best word I can think of to describe this experience. It’s both sad—the situations the children are coming from and the challenges that arise during foster care—and happy, all wrapped into one.
It is wonderful to be able to offer a home for a child to feel safe and protected in every single way, to give them something different from the environment they are coming from. Hopefully, it is a place for them to think and begin to try to understand what is going on in their life. We do our best to offer a safe, clean, and nurturing environment for these children who we hope can one day go back to their parents.
JCCA: Do you have any advice for others who are considering foster parenting?
You have to try your best to come in with an unbiased way of thinking as to what a child should be like. For example, it’s not useful to think, “A child this age should be able to do this or that…” In actuality, there is no simple way to determine how what a child has been through might affect the way they express themselves. You can’t judge them based on the way the world has shaped them or how they put their thoughts and feelings out in the world. You also have to stand firm with conviction in the rules you set for them, while at the same time practicing patience and understanding.
We have used many of the things we learned in the JCCA trainings in practice, such as trying to be responsive rather than reactive to a situation. Trying to think about a situation logically and going through the process of figuring out what’s best for the child and for you.
You must remind yourself not to take things personally and try your best to be a beacon for patience and understanding. Trying to keep these things in mind helps in offering a safer place for these children than they might otherwise have during a turbulent time in their life.
JCCA: What did you learn in the JCCA training you received that was most significant for you?
Many things! For example, good communication with your partner and other caregivers helps make a great team in assisting a child to succeed in life. Support from your peers is also very important. And you always need to give yourself time to process what is going on. If you don’t make quality time for yourself, it makes it harder for you to be present in parenting, and trying to rationally and logically process what is going on.
Setting and keeping clear your child’s goals is also necessary, not just for the child, but for yourself as well.