“We all need help in one way or another and by reaching out, you could be stopping a child from going astray. They might just need a guiding hand to make them feel comfortable. And, you never know, that child may one day grow up to become president.”
For Grace Towns*, children are a part of what makes a house a home. Growing up, her parents always welcomed other children into the house and cared for them in whatever way they needed. As an adult, before she had her own son, Grace brought children into her home, helping to raise children of friends, family, and neighbors any way she could. To her, they were all God’s children and if one was in need, she was there to help.
So, when Grace’s biological son grew up and raised children of his own—with her help, of course—it was only natural for Grace to continue parenting.
Now, Grace is a seasoned veteran of foster care and professional parenting currently fostering a teenager who came to her a few months ago. With all that experience, she has some advice for those interested in becoming a resource family.
What is a Professional Parent?
A professional parent is someone who offers support to youth and teens during a critical time of transition in their lives. There are two types of professional parenting programs at Uplift Family Services: Placement Support Services (PSS), which is short-term and lasts up to a few weeks, and Uplift Wraparound, a longer-term bridge of up to six months for teens and older youth. These programs are designed to connect with youth while helping them transition to a permanent family connection.
Grace’s Journey to Becoming a Professional Parent
Grace first considered becoming a resource parent (formerly called a foster parent) many years ago. After all, she had been helping raise and foster children her entire adult life. Grace feels so much gratitude for her community and the support she has in her own life. Whenever she needs a hand, even with something as small as loading her truck, there is someone there for her to pitch in. Becoming a resource parent was her way of returning the favor.
Grace went through the foster care and adoption process to be certified by the county decades ago, but in the end, didn’t take in any children. After some time, a friend introduced her to Uplift Family Services and convinced her to pursue foster care again.
One of the reasons she chose Uplift Family Services over other options is that her impact could be felt over a much wider area. With her initial certification, Grace was limited to only helping children in her own county, but with Uplift Family Services, she could take in children from nearby counties, as well. To date, she has fostered children from all over the San Francisco Bay Area, including San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties.
Another big advantage Grace saw with Uplift Family Services was the robust support network and the variety of programs that continually help children and teens as they grow and their needs evolve. One program in particular caught Grace’s eye and she’s been a proponent of it ever since: Wraparound.
The Importance of Wraparound and Foster Care
Wraparound services aim to keep children and their families together through individualized services developed in a family-centered, team planning process. These programs are designed for high-risk children and adolescents with the most complex needs and are provided at home and in the community.
A wraparound team member is partnering with Grace’s teenager, Sam*, now and the support they provide is absolutely invaluable. This staff member is a critical outlet for Sam, as it’s another trusted adult with whom they can talk. Sometimes it’s about things they might otherwise not bring up with Grace, or at all. Grace understands this because, as someone who was a teenager once herself, she knows that you don’t always feel comfortable sharing everything your parents.
The Uplift Wraparound team member has a “partner” or “advocate” relationship instead of a parental one, and this is an important dynamic for teens like Sam to feel comfortable enough to freely express themselves.
Her Advice for Professional Parents
First, be prepared to work. Parenting is already a full-time job and many of the teenagers in foster care have more needs than a typical teenager. The harder you work, the greater the reward, though.
Be ready to empathize. Many of the teens who come through your home will have experienced trauma that causes them to act out. It’s important that resource parents not only understand the “why” behind it, but also help the teen understand. This way, you can approach a solution as a team.
As Grace puts it, “some of the teens know the root cause, others only think they do, but many others are unable to recognize it and that’s the role of the professional parent.”
It’s not all one-way learning, though. “I’m not just teaching them. I’ve also learned a lot from the children,” Grace notes. “I’ve learned even more from the teenagers,” she adds with a chuckle.
Finally, saying goodbye is never easy. Sometimes parents and children bond and it’s hard to see them move on. But, try to help the child make an easy transition to the next place in their journey. Be supportive when they move on to help ease their anxiety. At the end of it all, you can still stay in touch if you’d like to keep up with their progress and continue to be a trusted adult figure in their life.
Establish Goals and Have Hope
“These are God’s children and He has given them to us on loan. We must do whatever we can to help them while they’re in our homes and in our lives.”
In the end, Grace hopes to see all children reunited with their biological or extended families permanently.
In her time as a resource parent and professional parent, Grace has had youth transition into their own apartments, to their families/grandparents, and some to Therapeutic Housing where they can get the care they need.
“When they can get to a place where they truly feel wanted and needed, that’s the goal,” Grace notes.
For other professional parents, she hopes they all try to teach and help the teens learn whatever they are passionate about. Find out what their goals are and help the child to achieve them. Whether it’s college for older kids or just getting back to their parents for the younger kids, it is the role of resource parents to help the children get to where they want to be in life.
No Better Feeling in the World
Grace says the experience of touching someone else’s life has been exceedingly rewarding for her. There is no better feeling in the world than helping someone in need, according to Grace.
“It’s very rewarding. The only problem is, I’ll have to dye my hair after. I didn’t have gray hairs when I started,” she jokes.
But, if you work at it and put in the effort, Grace knows you’ll be rewarded tenfold.
How to Become a Professional Parent
If you’d like to learn more about becoming a professional parent, you can read more about foster care or start an application here and a local resource family recruiter will contact you to answer your questions.
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.