Broken heart a small price to pay for helping a child, says Jacobs
May is Foster Care Month. The Royal Gazette is highlighting people who have made the decision to “spend a season” working with the Department of Child and Family Services whenever there are children in need of help.
Sheree Jacobs “fell into” fostering 17 years ago when a girl in her youth ministry needed a safe place to stay.
Thinking she would share her home for about ten days, she agreed. Two years later the teenager was still there.
Ms Jacobs is now on her third period of long-term care. As much as she enjoys it the end is always the same: a blow to the heart when the child is reunited with their family.
“People ask me all the time, ‘How do you do it with the little ones in particular?’ And I tell people if you don’t do it because of that, I think it's kind of being selfish.
“We have an opportunity as foster parents to be in a child's life even if it's just for a season; if we could just be there for them through a very hard time, I think it’s worth it.
“Yes, your heart will be broken but I think we need to look at it as this: we have the opportunity to impact a child for a season and if they take away whatever good they’ve learnt while under our care, I think it's well worth it.
“If I could provide a child with love – some seeds of faith and hope for a season that will carry them through a lifetime – I think it's well worth it. I really do.”
Ms Jacobs, a teacher, believes she “was called” to get involved in foster care.
Her first foster child was 17, and “on the way out of the system”; the second was a similar age and also met Ms Jacobs through her work with a youth ministry.
And then came the request that she take in an absolute stranger, a little girl who was “just shy of two” at that time. Now 13, she is still in Ms Jacobs’s care.
“I was working with teenagers and so for me it kind of fit. I always said I couldn't take a young one,” she said. “And then I got the call. And I was like, ‘No, I don't do babies; I’m not a baby person.’”
Despite that, she gave it some thought and then turned to her “village”.
“For me to make the decision to take a younger child required me to speak to my family; it would have to be a joint decision because I was still doing youth ministry in the evening at that point and I’m not married, so I would need to have someone who would back me up and take care of her.
“It has been amazing. I have a village around me – my parents, my cousins, aunts, uncles, my church and close friends.
“They have really supported me through this with all my girls. It’s really allowed me to be a foster parent.”
In all instances, the Department of Child and Family Services provides a monthly stipend for groceries and allowances for winter, summer and school clothing.
Medical costs, counselling, holiday camps, extracurricular activities and any necessary tutoring are also covered.
All else is at the discretion of the foster parent.
“I have taken her on trips, on a family cruise and that’s on us,” Ms Jacobs said. “We are not getting anything from the department and that’s understandable; that’s a sacrifice.
“There are children that are in foster care who are in private schools and that is on the foster parent – because they feel like that will benefit that child. And that’s a decision you make understanding that you will not get money back.”
While foster care can “sometimes” lead to adoption it isn’t usually the case in Bermuda, Ms Jacobs added.
“In the States it’s more prevalent – I think they have a rule in that a child becomes eligible for adoption after two years. In Bermuda, that's not the case.
“Foster care is just providing a safe space with the goal of reunifying the family in terms of the mother, the father and the children.
“It's just a temporary situation. But it can be, in Bermuda, a very long term thing if parents do not get themselves in a place that they can take care of the children.”
Although they are no longer in her care, she is still “very much” involved in the lives of the first two children she fostered.
Ms Jacobs is grateful for the training she received from Child and Family Services and encourages anyone who is considering fostering to take advantage of it.
“It really has been beneficial,” she said. “I come from a two-person household; my parents are still alive and together.
“I have a family that very much supports me so I cannot understand what some of the children are going through because I don't know what it's like to not have support.”
Child and Family Services also gave insight into some of the behaviours she was seeing from children who had been neglected or abandoned.
“I can't take it personally. It's just that a child has not received something that they should have received at a younger age.
“And so the behaviours that I see are not for me personally but it's just how they are dealing with their own trauma that they've experienced.”
Most important is that people understand it is not their job “to change the child”.
“I think that's something I struggled with in the beginning. We're there to love them wherever they're at with their trauma; when you think about a child being taken away from their family that's very traumatic, right?
“You're going to get all kinds of behaviours because that child has gone through such an ordeal.
“Understand that it's going to play out in their behaviour. It also means – if you have children in your household – how you’re parenting your own children is not necessarily how you're going to parent these children.
“And if you have children in your house around the same age, it is going to impact your child because they're going to experience some of that behaviour.”
She continued: “It's really something to prayerfully consider: is this for me and my family? And before you say yes, I think you need to have a talk with Selena Simons at the department and go through some of the training, because the training will expose you to behaviours to be aware of that you might be exposed to in foster care.”
Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent should contact Selena Simons, Foster Care Coordinator at the Department of Child and Family Services: 294-5871; firstname.lastname@example.org