Being a foster parent ‘opens up your heart’, says Brangman
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.
Gnica Brangman cannot remember the number of children she has housed, all with relatively little notice.
It is the role she signed up for five years ago when she agreed to become an emergency foster care parent.
Ms Brangman and her 10-year-old daughter, Teragi Walker, would not have it any other way.
“I love it. My daughter loves it. It seems to be very inspirational for her because she gets a little sister or a little buddy for the time – three weeks maximum.
“It opens up your heart. It has allowed my daughter to take more value of life, value of what she has.”
She became curious about the programme after hearing about an island-wide drive for full-term and interim foster parents.
“And then I was approached by one of my friends who is a teacher,” she said. “She said, ‘Gnica, I have a child and I’m trying to find a foster for her. I know you’re awesome with children. I know your daughter will be a perfect little mentor for her also.’”
Although she ultimately did not take the child, Ms Brangman did take the first steps of her journey.
“I did undergo the full assessment – registration, police background checks and physical home checks – to be registered as a current foster.
“When you sign up to be a foster parent, they ask you what’s your preference. My own daughter is 10. So I said I don’t want anybody older than her. And I want them to be potty-trained so I'm not carrying around a pumpkin seat or something like that.”
She generally receives a week’s notice before a child is delivered to her home in an unmarked car.
Child and Family Services makes the entire process as easy as it can, which is extremely helpful to Ms Brangman, a single mother.
“They always provide the transportation for the child to and from school or to and from [any appointments] so I never have to go out of my personal schedule unless I choose to,” she said.
“As a foster parent I’m only required to see them do their schoolwork and everything that you do as a normal parent every night, until they find a full-time foster family. The Foster Association is so well equipped that it is not a burden at all to be an interim foster, or a full-time foster.”
Mindful of privacy, she is careful about her “public movement” whenever she has a child in her care. She is also aware that every child that comes into her home has not been raised in the same way as her daughter.
“Some of the children that we have had, unfortunately, they didn't know basic personal hygiene, they don’t know about house chores, some are not used to eating at a table, some don't have any schedule whatsoever when it comes to eating. It’s really shocking. Even bathing themselves, brushing their teeth, combing their hair – they've not been taught those things.
“So when [Child and Family Services] do call you, you’re like ‘sure, no problem’ because you know that there's a lack thereof. The reason why the child has come is because there’s a lack thereof, even though you don't really know the parents’ circumstances.”
As such, it is important that the children are all showered with love, Ms Brangman said.
“What I realised is that when they come to you, they're afraid. You're a stranger; they haven't met you. I think that the main thing is just always be open with love, because that's what they need. You don't know what [they’ve been through] so all you can do is just open your heart up and just teach them the right things if they don't know them, and love them and show them what to do.”
Her hope is that her efforts help “the child to just live a more fulfilling life until the parents get back on their feet”.
“I also think that what it does, it gives the [child] a boost of confidence in themselves when they go home. One young lady I had had siblings that were older and even younger and they were all split up with different foster parents.
“I taught her how to comb her hair – she had never had that before; her little sister had never had her hair combed before. Well, when the social worker saw her the next day she was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is a totally different child.’ And after a couple of weeks, she actually was able to comb her own hair and her sister’s hair. So it's also about teaching them things so they can help themselves.”
Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent should contact Selena Simons, Foster Care Co-ordinator at the Department of Child and Family Services: 294-5871; firstname.lastname@example.org