Wednesday, December 28, 2005 | Reflecting back on her most rewarding experiences, foster parent Janet Stanley finds herself at a loss for words. The only thing that comes to her mind is that raising children has been the experience of a lifetime.

Stanley never had imagined herself as a foster parent, but supporting child after child somehow always felt like the right thing to do. It seemed to hit her all at once; she had been graced with the good and the bad of 27 children in 24 years.

Stanley is a foster parent for Special Families, a therapeutic foster family agency of the San Diego Center for Children, geared towards recruiting, training and sustaining families. From crisis intervention, supporting families, and gathering resources, this group is all about seeing families succeed.

In the past five months that I have worked at the Center, I never understood the connection this agency made with their foster parents, but Stanley opened their world to me. It wasn’t just an agency that was located on the other side of campus anymore – the Center was a place that makes family life a reality for many children.

“It’s about anything we can do to lighten the load of the foster parents,” stated Kim Wilson, Director of Special Families.

Stanley never set out to be a foster parent, however destiny had. Her first child (now 29 years old) was on a fost-adopt program, meaning she had to attain a foster care license before he could be relinquished. Soon after acquiring the license, she found herself bringing more children into her life.

Years after her son’s adoption, Stanley was approached by a social worker who felt she could offer what one girl needed the most. The social worker had a 12-year-old girl who had just had a baby in custody, and at the time Stanley herself had just had a baby. Thinking this was a great opportunity, they placed the child in Stanley’s care, knowing that she could teach the young mother parenting skills in a stable, non-threatening environment.

As a long-term foster parent, Stanley speaks with honesty about what keeps her inspired to continuously open her home to at risk youth.

“There’s chemistry between all types of people. Kids are people too and you really love some of them while others just aren’t a match. It’s wonderful when you feel like you have accomplished something, that’s what keeps you motivated. It’s a hopeful attitude with each situation when you find a match for you and for them.”

Working with physically and emotionally challenged youth whose past issues require families to help them realize their self worth, isn’t a challenge just anyone can take.

“More than anything they [foster families] are under scrutiny. It’s a lot of people coming into their homes unannounced,” Wilson said. “It takes a unique person to be able to deal with all of that pressure and still provide love and support to a child that is not their own. It just takes the right kind of family.”

Many question how Stanley stayed dedicated to being that “unique person” while accomplishing so much with all her children whether they were her biological kids or adopted kids. And how she did it all with a full-time job on top. But she never has.

“At the time it felt natural, so I didn’t think as much of it. However, keeping track of everyone was my biggest challenge,” Stanley said. “Just trying to figure out each day where everyone would be was a riot.”

Realizing that all of their foster families contribute to bettering the lives of otherwise forgotten children, Special Families remains committed to providing a solid match between every child and parent.

“A lot of time is put into getting to know the families; it isn’t about getting our numbers up and placing kids in homes,” Wilson emphasized. “We recognize that we are partners in this.”

That partnership and continuous support is well appreciated from Stanley. Recently her foster child acted out his aggressions by running off campus, requiring six staff members to aid in the situation. However, within an hour and a half, it was handled. Even after going through trying situations, Stanley holds firmly to her belief that these children need her, and that she needs them.

In all that she has seen and endured, Stanley offers prospective parents this advice, “You need to have your heart dedicated to the children, in many instances you’ve given the kids the opportunity to do things they normally wouldn’t be able to do. The fun thing is doing things with people for the first time; it’s a gift to be the person who does that for them.”

Special Families is the umbrella of three key programs. Within, you will find a general program that places children who are severely emotionally disturbed, their “DD” program through the San Diego Regional Center, which focuses on placing children with developmental disabilities and the MTFC program (Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care) through which Janet has a child. This program places high end children with families as an evidence based alternative to group homes.

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