Imagine experiencing your concept of “family” being turned on its head, an experience in which you are forced to pack your few belongings and move to a new home and a new family. You are not making the move with your brothers and sisters, who are being placed in other foster homes. And imagine for a moment that you are the new family taking in a child who is confused, rootless and likely angry. Very little imagination is required if you are one of the 2,200 children in foster care in the state of Maine, or one of the 1,700 foster families who open their hearts and homes to children in desperate need of stability, because this is their reality.

I have had the pleasure of working with Laurie and Chris Tomascik, who have been foster parents in this community since 2012. Laurie’s and Chris’ very first foster child was an 8-year-old boy named Ricky. They spent three years fostering him and went on to adopt him. Laurie and Chris believe he was meant to be with them and that he would not be where he is now without them. Following the adoption of Ricky, they continued to foster.

“Fostering experiences vary. You have to adapt and find your balance. Put yourself in the shoes of the biological parents, and be that stopgap for kids to fill the void while they need it,” Chris told me of fostering. “What I would say to someone considering foster parenting is, ‘It’s not all a bed of roses, you know? There are many positives and many negatives, but don’t get discouraged! You just have to remember why you’re doing it. It’s all for the kids.’ ”

What I love about this family, and all of the foster families I have worked with, is their incredible dedication to supporting children in need. They continue to persevere through the good and bad times, and have been a brilliant light for children who are in an otherwise-dark experience. When I think of the Tomasciks, I think of what a foster parent should be. That is why we are honoring them with the KidsPeace Maine Foster Parent of the Year award.

May is designated National Foster Care Month – a time when I shine a spotlight on the children and teens, the foster families and the dedicated child welfare professionals who make foster care work. The foster care “system” is only as good as the people who choose to be a part of it, and I choose to be a part of it. As more Mainers like myself, my friends, family and colleagues begin to feel responsible for children who are in foster care, the system will become better and better.

When was the last time you read a positive story about a child in foster care who was succeeding in school or in life? When was the last time you read a profile about a foster family opening its doors and hearts to children who desperately needed them? Not many of them are shared in the media today, but I can tell you dozens of inspiring stories that I have seen firsthand of children who overcame the challenges presented through their lives in foster care.

There are countless opportunities for you to make a difference in the lives of the children in foster care here. There are also countless reasons for not becoming a foster parent. But new foster families are desperately needed. Every jurisdiction in the nation is suffering from a shortage of foster families. More and more children need you. As long as children are in need of safe, loving homes, we have work to do.

Urge our local media to tell the whole story of foster care in our community. For every story about a child in foster care whose life ends in tragedy, there are thousands of stories of children being raised in loving, nurturing foster homes. We must have the opportunity to hear those stories, too.

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