As long-time foster parents, we read last week's Jewish Star article, "Adopting Shmuel" (August 8, 2008) with great interest. While touched by the wonderful tale of Shmuel's adoption, we were also disappointed by the inaccurate portrayal of his life in foster care. We would like to set the record straight about the vital role his most recent foster parents played in the life of Shmuel (or "Ritchie" as he was then called), about what fostering entails and, in particular, what it means to foster an extremely difficult child.
Let us first address the specifics of this case. While the article accurately states that Shmuel was "an out of control boy" who went through six foster homes and two failed adoptions, it insinuates that the totality of his life was chaotic and that he suffered without a "truly permanent home." What it fails to mention is that one of those foster families, good friends of ours from Woodmere, despite raising four of their own children, took care of that whirlwind boy with dedication, love and unimaginable mesiras nefesh for the last three and a half years until the Weiss family came along. (Moreover, when the first two proposed adoptions failed, they took Ritchie back with open arms).
By the time Ritchie came to our friends' home, five families had tried and failed to foster him. As the article correctly points out, Shmuel was the kind of boy who "was barely controlled by a small army of special education teachers, teachers' aides and shadows." Nevertheless, our friends, without any such army, persevered. They fed him, cleaned up after him, clothed him, dealt with his countless tantrums, played with him, sang to him, hugged him, scheduled his many therapies, watched him like a hawk (he was liable to bolt out of shul onto the street if you weren't constantly on your toes) and provided the stability that he so needed. (And, despite the suggestion that Ritchie brought a "bag of tattered clothes" to the Weisses, Ritchie was always clean and very well dressed).
And here's where one must understand the important distinctions between fostering and adopting. While adoption involves a lifelong commitment, fostering is an awesome, but temporary, responsibility. It is, in a curious way, a "job." The "job" is to take care of a needy child (or children) to the best of one's ability and for as long as necessary. The "job" entails providing a loving home, stability, safety and structure to a strange, scared child who usually comes to you with a lot of emotional and sometimes psychiatric baggage. The "job" is usually much more difficult than raising your own children (and typically puts immense pressure on, and requires great sacrifice from, your own children). The "job" ends when the child is returned to his or her parents, when you (or Ohel) decide that despite your best efforts the "shidduch" between you and that child is not working or when an adoptive home is found (which, in some cases, could be the foster parents).
While fostering can be an incredibly difficult and demanding job, it is also a job whose rewards cannot be measured. Despite the challenges, fostering brings endless light and joy into a home. It provides life lessons to your children that simply cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
So, we were heartened to read about the happy ending (really a new beginning) to Shmuel's life with the courageous Weiss family. But Shmuel's story is also about another family, our friends, without whom Shmuel's happy ending would not have been possible.
Sara and Azriel Ganz live in Woodmere. They have been foster parents for the past nine years and are currently caring for a three-year-old whom they hope to adopt.