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May 04, 2018

Q&A with Julian & Stacey Goodson, Foster and Adoptive Parents since 2012, and Brian & Liz Jirous, their Foster Allies

As foster parents, how important is it for you to know someone has your back?

Stacey: Before we agree to a new placement, we text Brian and Liz and ask, “Can we do this? Are you with us?”

Julian: It’s the difference between us saying yes or no.

These couples have known each other for just a few years, but their mutual interest in coaching youth sports made them fast friends. Their children are close in age and attend the same school, and they are part of a trusted network of about 12 people who share an intentional friendship.

Within this network, Brian and Liz (left) were especially interested in supporting Julian and Stacey (right) in their foster parenting journey.

How does your network work?

Stacey: It’s nothing organized; it’s just a group of people who trusts each other and takes care of each other. If we need an evening out, someone will look out for our kids.

Liz: We operate with the understanding that there’s no such thing as “other people’s children.” I can text the group at any time, and five people will be right there to pick up my kids from practice or help with whatever I need.

Julian: We’re “framily”—that’s a word we made up that means friends who are family.

What are some specific ways Brian and Liz help your family?

Stacey: One Friday night, a young girl was placed with us whose birthday was the next day. I called Liz and said, “I need you to get me a cake!” Liz showed up with a cake and candles to help make this girl’s birthday special. Another time, our daughter was playing basketball, part of Brian’s team, when I got a call about a girl who was waiting at the agency. I knew Brian and Liz would give our daughter a ride home and make sure she got dinner so I could go and get this child settled in to our home.  

Julian: Helping a foster family isn’t always about helping with the child who is in care. Often it’s helping with the family’s other children, possibly children you already know. This allows the foster parents time to help another child feel safe as they transition into the family’s home.

Liz: The things we do for their kids are the same things they would do for our kids—giving rides, letting them hang out at our house, making sure they get fed, and making sure they go to bed on time.

Brian: … that last one never happens.

Stacey: When we began the process to adopt our daughter through foster care, we had to identify alternate caregivers who would be willing to take custody if something happened to us—that’s a big commitment. Brian and Liz stepped up and said, “Sure!”

Julian: That’s when we decided, They’re crazy. Let’s be friends! They threw us a surprise “baby” shower with gifts for her and gifts for us.

Liz: When you’re pregnant and expecting a child, there’s a lot of excitement, gifts, and time to plan. They needed similar support and supplies for their new child who happened to be 13. We have kids the same age, so we had an idea of what she might need.

Julian: … like a gift card to the Nike outlet. 

What’s the special ingredient that makes this work?

Liz: When new kids come into Julian and Stacey’s home, we have no expectations for typical behavior. We understand there’s a back story. People often make assumptions about kids in foster care when they only see hard behaviors and don’t know what’s behind them. We try to approach each situation without judgment.

Stacey: And understanding this, they don’t judge our parenting choices. Kids with a trauma history need a different parenting style, and until you’ve lived it, it’s hard for anyone else to understand. It’s so helpful to know they are in this with us and not judging us.

Would someone have to be friends first to help a foster family like this?  

Brian: We knew each other before, but our friendship deepened when Julian and Stacey began fostering their daughter. She was part of my basketball program. We had no previous connection to foster care, so this was the first time we were seeing the foster parent experience up close.

Stacey: If someone wanted to help but didn’t have an established relationship with a foster family, they could contact their the principal or school counselors at their local school. They would know about local families who could use help. You could meet for coffee and start a conversation about how you’d like to help. See if something clicks. Just be aware that each foster family will have different routines and different needs, so if the help you can provide doesn’t click with that family, no hard feelings.

Julian: Just don’t be afraid to ask. When we started fostering, we didn’t know who our village was. It grew up around us over time as we got to know more people and they got to know us.

What are some of your typical needs when you’re fostering?

Stacey: We figured our out-of-pocket costs with each child who is placed in our home. Needs can range from clothes, toiletries, and school supplies for the child to increased transportation and groceries to a need for a new bed. If the child is playing a sport, there are usually fees to keep them enrolled. The monthly foster care stipend helps but never fully covers all the costs. If someone comes along and says, “Here’s $100 for Speedway,” that meets a real need.

Julian: Just don’t send a casserole. We understand and appreciate the intent behind the gesture, but here’s the truth: so many kids have negative experiences around food, what they like or don’t; what they will eat or won’t. If you’d like to help with a meal, send pizza. We’ve never had a kid say they don’t like pizza.

Stacey: Anything that takes an errand off our plate and gives our family more time together is helpful. Culturally, we tell each other, “Let us know if there’s anything you need,” but the truth is most of the time I don’t know what we need. It helps when people can anticipate a need and just do it.

Brian and Liz, what are you learning about foster care that you didn’t know?

Brian: This has opened our eyes to the number of kids in care and the different things kids need. Sometimes Julian and Stacey have a child in their home for a few days. Other times a child has come to their home and stayed forever. I didn’t know foster care was like that.

Liz: I’m learning about the situations kids come from. Right in your local school, there will be kids who have experienced tough scenarios at home. Helping Stacey and Julian has given me a general understanding of trauma-related behaviors without assuming what various behaviors are communicating.

Stacey: Sometimes, in the thick of it, when a child is showing hard behaviors (and I’m having my own emotions about what’s happening), Liz will ask, “What is she trying to communicate?” Her question makes me stop and think: What IS this child trying to communicate? It brings me back into the moment to separate the behavior from the person and re-enter the scene with more empathy and understanding.   

Liz: For anyone thinking about helping, take the next step and dive in more. You don’t have to be a foster parent to help kids in foster care.

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