04 May Reunification is the Primary Goal of Fostering
On the day before her second birthday, “Flower” will experience reunification with her biological family and say goodbye to Amy and André Estrada and their three-year-old daughter, Téa. She’ll take with her 13 months’ worth of nurturing and care – and 105 books that Amy has collected from friends and family. There’s The Little Blue Truck, Good Night Moon, and the How Do Dinosaurs series. Flower may even get to keep the sparkling butterfly wings she grabbed from the family’s bright yellow playroom.
Amy and André Embrace Their Role in Reunification
Saying goodbye is what most people fear will be the hardest part of fostering, but the Estrada family is taking it in stride. They will miss Flower, of course, but they recognize that reunification with biological families is the primary goal of the foster system. “The goal of the system is not to find better parents for the children,” says Amy. “It’s not a competition between us and the biological family.” The parents say people sometimes assume fostering is a stepping stone to adoption, but they’re very clear about their role. They take satisfaction from helping a child, and his or her biological family, during a rough patch in life. Amy and André also say that since Flower is their first placement, they won’t really know how they’ll feel until the little girl leaves.
Amy says she’s sending Flower home with books to continue cultivating her love of reading. In Amy’s former career as a high school teacher, she learned that access to books is a better predictor of future academic success than parents’ income or education level. The Estradas are thoughtful, pragmatic people; she is an attorney, he’s a mechanical engineer. But there is also a great love of play, imagination, and just plain silliness in their North County home. André likes to horse around with the girls like a big brother. Family pooch Cuzco bops around the house, his paws tapping against the hardwood floors. Angelic-looking Téa comes to the table in a red Disney princess dress and lines up her pinecone family of four that she’s named after her crew at home.
Like her parents, Téa seems at ease with the situation. She doesn’t fuss when Flower has extended visits with her biological family. In fact, she has an imaginary biological family of her own: Jenny and Charlie who live in Blueberry Grove. She sometimes tells her parents that she will be reunifying with the other family soon.
Fostering and Parenting – It’s All Just Childrearing
André says there’s really no difference in their approach to fostering and parenting. “It’s really all just childrearing,” he says. “You can’t be effective if you separate being a parent and being a foster parent.” The couple says they were able to use what they learned from the Angels Foster Family Network training at home with Téa as well as with Flower. “I think everyone who is getting married or about to have children should go through the training because we learned so much about discipline and communication. It goes beyond fostering; I was asking questions about my own daughter.”
In addition to providing ongoing education and training for parents who foster, Angels also offers support in working with biological families. “You hear these horror stories, but we haven’t found that to be the case at all,” says Amy. In fact, most families tell Angels that they are pleasantly surprised by how gratifying it is to help parents do what they need to in order to reunify with their children. Many have ongoing relationships with their placements as well as their biological families. “Angels gives you great information on all that,” adds André.
On Flower’s second birthday, she will be with her biological family blowing out candles on her cake. She will also open a few gifts the Estradas sent home with her. She’ll have the love of two families, and enough books to last a long, long time. And that, in anyone’s book, is a happy ending to her story.