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The Journey Through Foster Care - Bruton Edition

May is National Foster Care Month, a month that brings attention to the work and contributions of the many people who work in foster care, particularly foster homes. This year, the focus is on how we can better support youth in the transition out of foster care, as well as how we can better support the homes that open their doors and lives to children in need of a safe home. Restoring Hope is privileged to work with many foster homes that open their homes to our consumers, as well as continue to take in and care for foster care placements. Our homes, which are also working foster homes, are an important part of Restoring Hope, as they bring a wealth of experience as well as a different perspective on what it means to care for an individual with a difficult past. 

One of these homes is the Brutons. Julie and Lance Bruton have been a host home with Restoring Hope for six years and foster homes for nearly 25 years. Whatever the situation is – Julie and Lance have been there and done that. They are a fantastic and hardworking host and foster home, and they have cared for hundreds of children and individuals in their foster careers. Julie’s journey to becoming a foster home is an amazing and beautiful one and we thought it would be the perfect story to share this month.  

Lance and Julie Bruton

My foster care journey started in the winter of 1995. I had graduated high school the year before and was about to take my first-semester break from college. I was a young, independent student living on my own. I had my own apartment and no one to care for but myself. Growing up in a Christian home, my faith continued into adulthood, and I volunteered my Sundays working on a bus route with my local church. We would pick up kids and families, minister to them, and do our best to be a blessing. It was there that I met a young lady, not much older than I, and for the sake of privacy, we will call her Sarah. She was pregnant, the father was in prison for a gun charge, and she had been “hiding” a drug addiction. She knew her baby boy was going to be born in the spring, and with her not having any family, she knew the state was going to step in and remove him from her care due to drugs. She asked me if I would consider getting licensed as a foster parent so that I could care for her son while she attended a rehab facility. Fostering was something that I had no real prior knowledge of and was unfamiliar with the process, but knowing that the baby would be born close to the end of the semester, and I would have all summer to care for him, and then he would go back to Sarah before the fall semester started (or so my naïve self-thought) I agreed and began the licensing process.

I attended the first class I could get into, and after three months, I had a completed home study, background check, fingerprints, baby’s room, car seat, diapers, and everything I thought a young “temporary” mom would need, and I even had a license to parent! I was ready! I received a call in April from a caseworker that Sarah’s baby had been born and that I would need to go to the hospital and get training on how to care for a drug-addicted infant. Not only had I never cared for an infant, but I had zero knowledge of how to care for a medical baby. I was completely second-guessing my decision during the entire trip to the hospital. What was I thinking? However, once I laid my eyes on the cutest 5lb 10oz baby boy that I had ever seen, God gave me the peace and confidence to know that this was the right thing to do. 

I brought “Jacob” home and loved him with everything in my being. He had a lot of medical needs and required a lot of assistance, doctor’s appointments, and medical care that, thankfully, a wonderful medical team was able to help me provide. Unfortunately, Sarah never completed rehab and disappeared from Jacob’s life. The summer was coming to an end, and I was presented with the fact that he wasn’t going home. I knew there was no way for me to go to college, work a full-time night job, and care for a medical baby at the same time. I made the decision to withdraw from college, open a home childcare center, and care full time for Jacob. It was the best decision I could have made, and I have never had any regrets. 

Back then, there was no set time frame for kids to sit in foster care before pursuing adoption or reunification. So, kids would float around in the system for years with no permanence of any kind. I am thankful that this has since changed, but I had Jacob for almost four years with no change to our family situation. Then, I received the call that forever changed my life. Jacob’s caseworker called and said that his father had recently been released from prison, and since he had not served time for child endangerment, drugs, or violence, they were going to pursue reunification with him. It was at that moment I realized that I wasn’t going to have Jacob forever. I had been the only mother he had ever known. I took care of him, loved him, took him to all his appointments, potty trained him, taught him his ABCs, took him to church, and he was just as attached to me as I was to him. This was MY son, and then God quickly reminded me that this was, in fact, not my child. He did belong to someone else, and my time had come to let him go. I had come to an end of what I had signed up to do. I had served well and done my duty, but it was, in fact, time to reconcile this family. Children’s Division did two all-day visits and then instructed me to pack his things, and he would be moving. My heart was destroyed. I had never felt pain like I did on that Saturday morning in the Children’s Division parking lot as I handed over the one thing that meant more to me than anything else. Would Jacob’s dad remember that he likes to sing two verses of You Are My Sunshine before going to bed, or that he must sleep with a white noise fan and a hall light on because he gets scared, or that he doesn’t like his eggs any other way than scrambled? Would he remember that he doesn’t like to be pushed too high on the swing, and he only likes to drink out of the sippy cups with a straw, and he must have the tags removed from his clothes because it irritates his skin? All the things that had become so important to this little boy over the last several years were now in the hands of someone else. I still remember his little face as he drove away and the hurt that I had felt. I told myself never again … never again would I put myself through that. Never again would I allow myself to grieve like that. Never again would I allow such sadness to come into my life. Are you seeing a pattern here? I was worried only about me. I was consumed with how I felt that day instead of focusing on the years that I had to make a difference in Jacob’s life.

Trust In God

Through the help of God, I taught him what true unconditional love was; I taught him how to trust, and I taught him that he could count on someone to be there and that he never had to be alone. I taught him that even when our “big people” fail us, God will always be there. I was instantly reminded of Moses in the Bible and how his mother refused to allow him to be harmed by the king, so she hid him until she couldn’t hide him any longer. She was only able to raise him for a short period of time and then had to hand him over to another. She took what short time she had and made every minute count. She taught him everything she could. However, the Bible says when he was grown that Moses “recalled the things he had learned as a child” My prayer is that when Jacob is grown, he will remember the love that this mama had for him and remember what I tried so hard to teach him. Thankfully, this story doesn’t end on grief, but joy did come in the morning.

Jacob left on a Saturday morning, and that same Saturday afternoon, I received a phone call from the Children’s Division home finder that they needed a home for a sibling set of four. I immediately said no. I was not ready to do that again. However, she assured me that it would only be until Monday because they had a family member that was going to take them. I told myself that it was just for a couple of days, and it might help me stop feeling sorry for myself. I agreed, and Monday came and went. I had these four kiddos for eighteen months! I went through the same heartache, the same sadness, and the same traumatic goodbye, but it was during this time that I realized the importance of opening a home to kids in need. They didn’t ask for their traumatic circumstances, and they want nothing more than to be loved and cared for; I promised God that if it was in my power to do it, then I wouldn’t say no again. 

Fast forward twenty-five years, and we have seen one hundred and fourteen children come through our door. Some have been reunified with their families, some were adopted by us or other families, some have aged out of the system and done great in society, some have left our homes and instead of having a goodbye party we had a we “survived” party. God saw fit to give me the best life partner that I could ask for when He brought me Lance. The love, patience and guidance he shows these kids everyday never ceases to amaze me. We opened our hearts up to Restoring Hope six years ago, and it has been our greatest blessing. It is truly amazing the things they do for us host home families. The trainings, support staff, fun family events and holiday get-togethers. Always coming up with ways to support and help make our lives easier and know we aren’t in this alone. Having these resources has allowed us to meet other families in our area that we can relate to, seek advice from, and share experiences with. To anyone thinking of becoming a host home, my best advice would be to take the plunge! This job isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s not an easy path to walk. It can often be filled with frustration and make you question your sanity at times. Yet, there will be days when all the negativity falls away, and you see those big smiles from small achievements, laughter, and faces of joy. For those moments we live and those moments we hold on to. 

I leave you with what Paul Harvey would call “the rest of the story”. I was able to stay in contact with Jacob and became known as Aunt Julie. He grew up and was an active member in his 4-H and is as country boy as you can get. He is now married and has two children of his own, and my little “Moses” did grow up to recall the things he learned as a child, and I am thankful and blessed to have been a part of his story. 

Child Resting In Bed

According to the National Child Welfare Information Gateway, there are over 365,000 children and youth in foster care, 18,500 youth emancipated from foster care without a permanent family, and in 2021, 77 percent of eligible youth in foster care, ages 14–21 years old, left care without receiving the federally funded services necessary to prepare them for adulthood and independent living. It goes without saying that foster homes are urgently needed, as well as families or individuals who might consider adoption. However, there are also other ways to support youth in foster care, such as volunteering at organizations that support foster youth, such as the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, or becoming a CASA worker. Research what local organizations or programs are in your area that support foster youth and foster homes, and one easy option – recognize the foster homes and host homes in your life by offering your support, an ear to vent to, a shoulder to lean on, and a very strong cup of coffee when needed. 

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David Calvert
David Calvert
5월 20일
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Such a beautiful and inspiring story of God's love through one of His children, a great example for so many. Thank You

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