Cris Beam was a 28-year-old high school teacher when she took in a 17-year-old student who had been kicked out of her group home and was headed to juvenile hall — not because she had committed a crime, but because there was just no room for her.
“I didn’t have any experience,” says Beam about her foster care experience, “but I loved this kid, and she and I kind of figured it out together.”
As so many people desperately trying to have their own biological children, Beam tells Metro that another option might be overlooked.
“There are wonderful kids right here, all the time, right in your neighborhood that need homes,” she says.
She dives deeper into the subject, along with her own experience as a foster mother, in her new book, “To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care.”
A rewarding choice
Potential parents might picture the horrors of teenager-itis and their notoriously difficult attitudes — but think again, Beam says, because fostering a teenager can actually be a surprisingly positive experience.
“What I found is that having a teenager can be really great,” says Beam. “It’s rewarding because teenagers are funny, and these are kids that have lived very rich and resilient lives, so they have a lot to teach us about survival.”
Beam admits that most times, the reward takes time, but by then, “You have a family, you have this person in your life that really loves you back,” she says. “I was surprised at how deep the bond grew and how quickly with my daughter.”
Why foster a child?
“You do it because there’s a need,” Beam simply states.
According to Beam, as children are removed from their homes, they suffer a traumatic experience and need to grieve their loss.
“We were all 18 once, we’ve all been brokenhearted, we’ve all lost jobs, we’ve all struggled and what do we need? We need help, we need people to help us,” explains Beam.
“What they need is a family,” she adds. “We all need somebody to lean on for life.”
Get the truth
Being a foster parent isn’t the most talked-about subject, but that may be in part due to the numerous victims of its misconceptions.
“I think that there’s a misconception that the kids are really damaged,” explains Beam. “When you get inside [the foster care system], you see that it’s all human beings, and if you stick with them, they’re all kids just like any other kids.”
So, she suggests, don’t forget about the kids that are right in your community, the kids that could be your family.
“I think we’re so used to thinking of foster care as ‘other’ and that’s a really dangerous proposition,” says Beam. “There’s a tremendous number of kids, and there’s tremendous diversity, so it can be hard, but having a kid is hard. Love is hard."
Follow Julie Kayzerman on Twitter @juliekayzerman