Geovanna Alvarado’s foster parents were the ones who restored the power of family in her young life. “I ended up with a very loving foster family who restored trust in me — I had lost trust with the people that I knew as my parents because they destroyed the whole idea of what parents are supposed to be to you,” she said. “A lot of things that I value now are not things I would have valued had I not grown up with my foster family … I believe God brings everyone who crosses your path for a reason, and they were a big part of molding me into who I am. Without learning to love myself I would probably be out in the streets or something.” Alvarado lovingly reminisced about her foster family from almost 15 years ago.
Before being placed in foster care at the age of 9, Alvarado’s experience was dire. “I would end up like selling things on the street just to bring home money at a very young age or be forced to steal things — I’m like digging through trash cans to find stuff to sell, and I mean no child should have to go through that. So when I came into foster care, my foster parents were really good providers. They were very good, loving people and so over time, they showed me that’s what life with a parent who provides is like, you give them everything you would want your own children to have.”
According to the Department of Family and Protective Services website’s regional statistics, there are over 500 kids across the Rio Grande Valley who have been withdrawn from their family homes and are currently in foster care.
Anna Alvarado, family home developer and case manager for foster homes with Circles of Care, a foster and adoption agency in Hidalgo County, confirmed those numbers.
“There’s a huge need for care for children who are in traumatic situations,” she said. “We get referrals almost on a daily basis for removals. So we want to make sure that we can meet that need and what we need is more foster parents … It’s really important that we have foster parents who are willing to provide a safe and nurturing environment and able to meet the kids needs … Most kids that we’ve worked with have experienced a combination of different types of abuse and the foster parent’s role is being that supportive, responsible, caring, and nurturing individual who take on the parenting role for these children, which plays a huge part in the children’s lives.”
Circles of Care and other foster and adoption agencies alike place the safety of children as their highest priority with “permanency” being the ultimate goal achieved. Whether children return to their biological families or become legally eligible for adoption, foster families and foster agencies only want what will help keep the children thriving in a safe environment.
While there are many children in need of a home, there are even less foster parents like the one Geovanna described above. Hundreds of children in a year are circulated through foster families, and without enough foster parents, some children have to live with families in distant cities across Texas, which leads to many difficulties for the child.
Some reasons that keep families from pursuing certification as foster parents is a combination of a lack of information, the idea that working full time will hinder their ability to parent a child, a desire to pursue future goals, waiting to become retired with no kids of their own in the home, or lack of support from one’s extended family.
“There are people who want to become foster parents and they have a desire to help other children in need, but a lot of the times they’re waiting till they have more time,” said Socorro Farias, a current foster parent in McAllen. “But actually I think the time is now. There are shelters for children but those children could be in a home … If we prolong time, the perfect timing will never come because we’re such busy individuals. So I would say to any person that is contemplating becoming a foster parent or an adoptive parent, these children just want somewhere to call home, to be a part of a family, to have normal family activities, and to receive support and mentorship.”
Other parents ready to take the leap into fostering, but haven’t yet, will sometimes delay because they struggle with the troublesome thought of loving a child unconditionally with one day needing to say goodbye when they return to their biological families. “You still get attached during those months, which is a good thing. I think that’s one of the things that people always say, ‘I don’t think I could do it because I would get too attached’ and I always say, no, you should do it because you’re going to get attached. That’s exactly what the kids need, someone who’s consistent, someone’s who’s there, someone who cares,” said Christy Swaringen, a foster and adoptive mom in McAllen.
“It’s successful when they go back with their parents and you’re so happy for the children and happy for the parents as well. Even if the children become attached, they just love their parent no matter what and they need to be with their parents if it’s possible,” said Elisa Struthers, a foster mom of 12 years with over 90 children having been in her care.
While getting reunited with a family member is often best, situations outside of the child’s control sometimes mean they will never return to their biological families. This means they become eligible for adoption and foster parents like Crystal Galvan, share the joy of committing a lifetime of parenthood with their foster child. “A triumph for us was actually being able to adopt our son and finalize it because we already felt attached to him and felt like he had already bonded with us and the rest of our family.”
These stories of a victorious outcome highlight the dramatic impact every loving home could potentially show a child in need. “These kids are little and innocent and they need to know that the world is not horrible and cruel, and there are people who will help them, love them and will care for them … When they grow up, what they do with their lives, and how they treat others, will affect all of us in society,” Struthers said. And sometimes the life skills, confidence and love they learn with their foster family carves different options in life. With some biological families having taken a path of crime or addiction, a life apart from that might mean a more positive route for future endeavors.
“I think my life would be a wreck honestly. [My siblings and I] never knew my mom, we were living with my dad and step mom, and we were the poorest of the poor. You know, I honestly don’t even think I’d be going to school if I was still there. I wouldn’t be living the righteous life I am now or be anywhere close to where I am,” said Virginia Ramirez, a 26-year-old mother and former foster child, who shared how living with people who restored value in herself and helped shape her life forever. “Despite the struggles I had, it was all God — I don’t think I’d be as strong as I am now or the person I am without having to go through those obstacles. Just knowing the meaning of life now and knowing that for everything there’s a purpose. I didn’t have a mom but right now I have two.” Ramirez recalled her first and third foster families, who continue to play a vital role in her life to this day.
Both Geovanna Alvarado and Ramirez agreed that to be a great foster parent, one should have a desire to intentionally provide safe refuge and invest time nurturing the children in their care. Parents who have a willingness to help children even if they don’t get anything out of it is a plus, according to Geovanna.
“I think if you have that passion inside your heart to provide a home for someone, then be a foster parent. I think if you’re willing to not just instill love, but also guide the child. I think that would qualify someone for that … My foster mom would tell me, ‘I’m not here to replace your mom, my job here is to love you unconditionally like I love my kids, because you are worth it and because you are you,’” Geovanna said.