May is National Foster Care month and there are over hundreds of thousands of children living in Foster Care in the United States. Toys for Tots is committed to providing support to children in need beyond the holiday season through year-round Programs like our Foster Care initiative. We want to be champions for those in Foster Care, but we are just a tiny piece of the puzzle.
An even bigger piece of the puzzle is foster parents. They are the glue that holds everything together, and although the support and comfort they provide is temporary – it’s a critical starting point.
Foster parents play an essential role in providing a safe and nurturing temporary home for children when their parents are unable to care for them. Shantell Rock, a mother to three grown children, grandmother to her precious grandchildren, and a foster parent from Woodbridge, Virginia, is that glue for her foster children. She selflessly made the decision to open her home and heart to join an agency that fosters to adopt, and she and her husband have fostered a total of five children over a period of three years.
When asked the motivation behind becoming a foster parent, Shantell said, “I always wanted to be a foster parent. My older children would tell you that I’ve always taken in their friends when they were going through problems and difficulties. I did that out of the kindness of my heart.”
Shantell went on to say, “When I purchased my home and got married, I realized that this house was big enough to open it up [to children who need a home]. I was watching [a movie], ‘Instant Family’ with Mark Wahlberg, and [I thought] now’s the time. [That movie] prompted me [to become a foster parent] and I told my husband this is what I want to do, and he [was supportive], so I found an agency and the rest is history.”
Since becoming a foster parent, Shantell adopted two brothers, who she fostered for a few years, and she is in the process of adopting two other brothers. One of her adopted children made the enthusiastic comment after his adoption ceremony, ‘Mom, what took you so long’!
Shantell also recalls the feeling of watching her adopted children grow. “What’s so rewarding for me is to watch how much their lives have changed. We don’t do anything different—we just offer them a safe space and I love them. Watching them grow from [being] the shy kids when they first came [to my home] to a completely different person—that’s what’s most rewarding for me.”
She also commented that both of her adopted sons have grown into strong young men, and her oldest is close to celebrating his high school graduation and is thinking about joining the military. Watching him excel in life brings tremendous joy to Shantell. “Although these kids aren’t my biological kids, I love them as if they were—I can’t imagine life without them.”
Children living in Foster Care often move around every couple of years. Shantell didn’t want to see the foster children she’s taken care of move to another home, she wanted to be the stable and safe home for them. That is why she decided to join an agency that allows her to adopt the children she fosters.
“The reason why I chose foster to adopt is because I get attached to kids very quickly, and I didn’t want to go through [giving up the kids] in a year or two—I knew my heart couldn’t take that.”
When asked if she could list the most memorable moments of being a foster parent, she answered with one moment being the most memorable of all. “The adoption ceremony. Just making it [official] and the kids can [finally say] ‘we have a home’, and they [are no longer bouncing from place to place].
Toys for Tots’ support throughout the year will be impactful to even more children in need—because needs aren’t seasonal. We want to be the year-round force for good for children and families who face adversity every day. We also want to bring awareness to the good we are providing year-round—not just at Christmastime. Shantell wants the same for Foster Care programs throughout the United States. She encourages more individuals to learn more about the Foster Care system and the good that everyone involved with the system is doing for foster children.
“There are so many [children] in the Foster Care system [and a lot of children need help]. I hope the impact is more awareness. I know people get deterred. We had a challenging foster child experience, and that does make you want to [ask], ‘is it really worth it’, but it really IS worth it.”
Shantell also realizes that becoming a foster parent comes with many challenges, but her advice to anyone who wishes to become a foster parent is to be patient.
“Clearly examine your life to see if you have time because [these children] need time. But don’t be discouraged and be okay with asking for help.” She continued, you are going to have anxiety because you don’t know [the challenges you’ll face, and it can be overwhelming]. But, at the end of the day, it is something that you are called to do. Take your time, and don’t go in thinking that the kid will be perfect. Most of the children in the Foster Care system are dealing with [traumatic] backgrounds—you [need to have] patience.”
Shantell’s heart grows bigger each day she sees her adopted and foster children grow—making all the challenges worth it at the end of the day. Even through all the challenges the foster parents and children face, they are not alone in this experience.
“Get into Foster Care for your heart [and know that you have help]. You aren’t parenting these [children] alone. They have a case worker from the agency, a [Social Services] worker, the court system— [there is a whole team] to help you help the children. Even when you’re having difficult moments, you’re still not doing it alone.”
Toys for Tots stands ready to provide hope and emotional relief to children living in Foster Care. We are also hopeful that our newly established initiative will bring more awareness to the Foster Care system, supporting not only the children but also the families that open their homes to provide a safe place for foster children.
We are champions for those in Foster Care.