‘Never in a billion years would I have imagined myself a stay-at-home mom with 3 foster kids.’: Foster mom starts movement to help others understand ‘the effects of childhood trauma on foster and adoptive youth’

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“When I was a teenager, my parents adopted a child with emotional disabilities internationally. My parents generation was sold a rose-colored vision of adoption. A beautiful picture of giving a child a forever family. And while that can be the case, there was also great loss and trauma their generation wasn’t prepared for. There was less documented studies on the emotional effects of trauma. Less information out there, even for the parents who were actively searching for help and answers. Resources and information were scarce. It wasn’t the rosy picture people were being sold.

In my junior year of high school, I took an introduction to psychology class at our local community college. My sister had lived with us for two years, and to say life was being lived ‘in the trenches’ would be an understatement. However, this class is what really lead me to believe all the things we were seeing and struggling with were far deeper than anything we currently understood.

As time went on, I graduated high school and finished college at a school in South Carolina. Though my degree was not from the psychology department, I used every assignment I could to further explore the effects of childhood traumatic events and common diagnosis in the foster and adoptive youth community, such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Disruptive Mood Disorder. These diagnoses and their relation to childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) fascinated me.

During this time in South Carolina, I had brief guardianship of a high school student who had many adverse childhood experiences as well. This student taught me so much about living daily with the realities of pasts not chosen by ourselves.

Courtesy of Caitlin Johnson

I graduated college and married an Air Force officer and moved three states in three years. I wasn’t able to settle into a career that allowed me to focus in this area. However, I desperately wanted to begin fostering. Both weren’t really possible with so much moving around and uncertainty in our lives due to the military lifestyle.

I worked online as a marketing consultant for small businesses during this time. While I enjoyed my interactions with my clients, working from home proved far too isolating for my extroverted personality. Shortly after we moved to Las Vegas, I left to speak at a few conferences on the east coast. It was one of those conferences where I met Monique Melton. She is a powerhouse in racial reconciliation education. This is a world changing woman. And little ‘ol me ended up sharing a room with her at this conference.

While of course we discussed business at one point, she asked me what I was really passionate about. And I believe I got on a soapbox about trauma and foster youth and the importance of foster parents connecting and understanding behaviors aren’t coming from a malicious place. She just looked at me and said something along the lines of, ‘That’s your passion girl. That’s your thing. Until you are all in that you’re not gonna get where you want to be!’ That comment always stood out to me. But at the time, I sort of brushed it off. Because I still had bills to pay with my marketing gig and our life was settling, though still uncertain.

Courtesy of Caitlin Johnson

When I got home, I shortly decided I couldn’t keep working in isolation. I found a job doing marketing for a local private school and helping with behaviorally challenged students. I was able to use my marketing know how, and my connection and trauma training. It really was a great gig! All the while beginning the process to get licensed as foster parents.

When we moved to Vegas, my husband was put on a deployment schedule. So we knew he would be in and out of the house. We decided not to begin with traditional foster care and rather go straight to adoption. We felt it wasn’t fair to kids who were already in unstable positions to be put in a home where Jeff being home wasn’t a guarantee or even really scheduled in advance enough to prepare for. We also knew with my experience we were open to some of the ‘harder to place’ kids.

We ended up preparing our home for a sibling group of three! These three joined our beautiful family in the summer of 2018 and their adoption is being finalized this summer of 2019!

Courtesy of Caitlin Johnson

Once the kids moved in, we struggled to get approved for the therapeutic services the children needed and deserved. There was a lack of therapeutic supports in place that left us often floundering. We were finally approved for services about 5 months in. But at that point, the kids’ clear need for parental involvement and connection was clear. Jeff also got orders for a 5 month deployment. So we sat down and agreed it was time I quit to stay home with the kids.

Many people in our circle and community have been incredibly supportive of this journey. Some have learned about trauma’s effect on children to help understand our family. Others have purchased items we’ve needed or made meals. While not everyone has understood why we do this or why we live our lives a little differently, we have felt so much love and support from our community.

Never in a billion years would I ever have imagined myself as a stay at home mom. Especially after working at home went so poorly and was so emotionally draining! But here we were. Jeff left for deployment and I was home alone with 3 kids.

I couldn’t handle the lack of adult interaction so I started school again. I began working on my Masters in Developmental Psychology. I also connected with some of our local foster care ministry and support agencies. Many urging me to blog some of my tricks and information. I was very hesitant to start anything because I have a deep respect for my children’s privacy. Their story does not need to be shared with the world and internet. However, I was hearing from all around, many parents lacked the trauma informed information I was sharing.

Courtesy of Caitlin Johnson

So after some push from some friends, I started the Angry Foster Mama Instagram account. I believe it is important to note I am not an angry person. But I am passionate about doing what is best for kids. And seeing up close the broken system, the foster parents without resources or enough trainings feeling lost and helpless, the kids being re-traumatized being moved home to home because parents aren’t trained for their needs, and seeing overworked and underpaid social workers…well, it makes me a little angry. I don’t want to paint a rosy picture of foster care or adoption; I want to equip people to handle it with understanding, wisdom, and evidence-based practices.

By the first month,I had 300 followers. By 4 months over 1,000. It quickly became a bit of a beast! I have been so blessed by the community it has created. So many foster parents sharing their stories and information, so many former foster youth teaching me their perspective. The world this has created is far beyond what I ever imagined when I originally set up the account. Monique Melton was right though. This is my passion! Now, I am chatting with parents all over the world and sharing resources and information that are better preparing them to help the children in their home heal. It’s been absolutely amazing!

If you’re considering getting into foster care but are overwhelmed, please know, there is a community here with open arms to support, train, and guide you. It really doesn’t take some special, magical, person. Just people who want to be better for kids. That’s all.

As for our family life these days:

Jeff and I feel passionately that families belong together. And there is a great sense of loss in adoption as well as celebration of permanency. Especially seeing it through the kids in our home. While we are getting ready to celebrate, we are also mourning the loss of their original family. We have also extended our license to teenagers in our community as there is a huge need for foster parents of teenagers. I feel privileged to be a part of the change.”

Courtesy of Caitlin Johnson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Caitlin Johnson. You can follow her journey on Instagram and on her website. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more beautiful stories about fostering and adoption here:

‘WHAT!? Going from no kids to 2 under 2 in 1 day?! What on earth were we getting ourselves into?! My husband and I looked at each other. ‘WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?’

‘I called my dad. I was afraid to tell him. ‘WHAT DID I JUST SIGN MYSELF UP FOR?’ I made a mistake saying I could foster by myself. What was I thinking?’

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