There are parents, and then there are parents.
There are plenty of folks who do an outstanding job of nurturing, protecting and guiding their children to become healthy, successful adults. For these people, excellent parenting is a high priority in their constellation of life-consuming activities. But then there are those unique individuals for whom parenting is not just an important responsibility, but rather, it is their vocation.
Parenting, for them, is a mission, a calling, a summons to fulfill an inner drive of intense intrinsic importance. These individuals are programmed to parent, wired from inception to be part of a special, elite class with a unique purpose.
One of the key characteristics of these remarkable individuals is their seemingly unconditional and uncanny ability to nurture, care for and support children and youth in the most dire and uncomfortable situations.
I count foster and adoptive parents in this elite league of vocational parents. Sadly, I don’t think our society and culture shares this viewpoint; most likely because the incredible responsibilities they take on and the work that they do are rather abstruse and only noticed by a few. True, too, is the fact that societal perceptions have been darkened and jaded by the sensationalizing of a few rare instances of inappropriate conduct.
California will soon be rebranding foster and adoptive parents to the title “resource parents,” which is a more apt and suitable description. It is my hope that the rest of the country will follow suit in this necessary rebranding.
Vocational parents provide a service, a level of quality and care which cannot be replicated elsewhere. Sure, you can institutionalize children, but every bit of research over the last three to four decades has cast a bright light on the fact that institutionalizing these children is more damaging than helpful.
Unnecessarily warehousing children and youth under the guise of “treatment” is an injustice, and a horrible, damaging disservice to these young lives. Thus, the role of the dedicated vocational parent becomes so much more essential and valued. This need is especially true of resource parents, who serve the most vulnerable children and youth in our society. In fact, family-based treatment services have been identified throughout the country as the “intervention of choice” for children and youth whose lives have been impacted by trauma.
I hope most of you have sweet memories of a parent who had a positive, affirming impact on your life. Unfortunately, there are still many who have had very adverse childhood experiences, primarily at the hands of a “parent” figure and who are still reeling or healing from these wounds. This reality only accentuates the value and importance of vocational parents.
A huge body of research literature suggests that children who have not had ample physical and emotional attention are at higher risk for behavioral, emotional and social problems as they grow up. Researchers such as Dr. Bruce Perry have demonstrated that physical and emotional deprivation damages the brain.
The literature also tells us that with the appropriate parental intervention, healing can occur and some of this damage can be reversed. This is not parenting for the masses. This is parenting born out of the artfulness and skill of those whose patience and high tolerance for challenging behaviors serve as a catalyst for healing.
We should all recognize, acknowledge and applaud the healing hands and sacrificial giving of our vocational parents, especially resource parents, as we celebrate National Foster Care Month this May. These parents are life and hope and encouragement and love in a specially designed package.
Jim Roberts is the CEO and founder of the Family Care Network and a 42-year veteran of human services.