Answering the Call: Medically Fragile Foster Care
Written by Michelle McManus, OhioGuidestone Foster Parent
When I was in middle school, I was introduced to this seemingly private world of foster care when my parents took custody of my younger cousin for several years. When his case worker would come to our house, I would engage in conversations with her. She told me about other children, complete strangers, who needed homes. From those monthly talks, my passion for foster care first began and I committed to becoming a foster parent.
Eight years ago my husband and I sat through pre-service training to become foster parents. We had an almost 2 year old son at home and I was currently pregnant with our second biological child. We would often receive unsolicited advice and egregious questions regarding the safety and love of our biological children. It was as if bringing another child into our home would somehow negate our previously praised parenting skills – that we would be harming our permanent children or unable to effectively parent them by temporarily caring for other children. The stigma surrounding foster children and foster care in general is unsettling to say the least. It’s outright wrong and often fueled by those completely on the outside with no real life experiences. Nevertheless, we were determined to make a difference one child at a time.
A year after we became licensed foster parents, we moved counties and needed to find a new foster care agency to work with. At that time we were introduced to OhioGuidestone and the world of medically fragile foster care. My husband and I both have our degrees in accounting and we had limited medical knowledge. Yet again, once we heard about the need we were determined to fill that need. We were quickly immersed in feeding tubes, genetic syndromes, every type of therapy imaginable, hospital stays, surgeries, and more medications than we could count. Over the past 6 years we have cared for 12 foster children and we are currently caring for baby number 13.
Along the way our two biological children have learned to love children who don’t look like them – babies who rely on medical devices to eat and equipment to help them stand. Our children have woken up to new breakfast guests and immediately welcomed them by sharing their toys, sharing their parents, and sharing their rooms with these new siblings. Our biological children have not suffered due to our decision to become foster parents. Their eyes have been opened to the huge need and the world that exists outside their comfortable suburban home.
Now, as I sit in the emergency room for the second time in five days with a baby who I can’t call my own, I am quickly reminded why I decided to become a foster parent. My phone rings and the caller ID shows the placement coordinator. I learn about a 5 year old boy, in the same hospital I’m currently at, who needs a safe place to call home. His diagnoses are listed off to me and it breaks my heart to have to say no. I became a medically fragile foster parent to stand in the gap for children just like him, but you also have to know your limits. The days are long, the sleep is scarce, the advocating is fierce, but the need is great so I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.