Honoring Holt Foster Families; A Photo Essay
The love a parent feels for their child is a fierce kind of love. It is selfless and unconditional. It is powerful. It is permanent. A foster parent’s love is no different. When a foster parent commits to care for a child, they also commit to love that child as their own. And inevitably, they do. The only difference is that while their love is permanent, they know their time with that child will be temporary. They let their hearts break over and over again — a sacrifice they make so that an orphaned or abandoned child will know what it feels like to be loved in that vulnerable time when they are without their family. For the children in their care, they are true guardian angels.
This month, during National Foster Care Month, we wish to honor the extraordinary foster families who love and care for the children in our programs around the world while they wait to rejoin their birth families or join an adoptive family. From China, Korea and India to the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, foster mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters provide the nurturing, attentive care that children need at every stage of their development — but especially in the critical first few years of life. In foster care, children bond naturally and deeply with their foster mother, which can be difficult to do with multiple caregivers. And because of this bond, the children more easily bond with their adoptive families. Just like any parents, foster mothers also see what others don’t. They notice potential health issues that busy orphanage caregivers may not notice right away. Foster families engage and stimulate the developing minds of children. Most of all, they love them.
Below, we share photos of foster parents and children in a few of our programs overseas. Some have cared for just a few children. Others have cared for 100 or more. But they never forget them. Not a single one.
Premarag has been a foster mother with our legacy partner BSSK in India for more than 15 years. In that time, she has cared for more than 70 children. Currently, she has two children — a 2-year-old girl and a 4-month-old boy. Together, they live with Premarag’s husband, son, her son’s wife and their 4-year-old granddaughter. The whole family helps provide care for the children, and because the family speaks multiple languages, their foster daughter can already say words in three languages. With other children in the home, foster children learn important skills, like sharing, that may help their transition into their adoptive family. Premarag says she feels proud when the children she fosters reach a new milestone or say a new word. In the past, she has fostered older school-aged children, and she says she loved seeing their success in the classroom. “I like when they call me mom,” she says. “I’m always happy when one of my children finds a home, but it is sad because I will miss them.” When one child leaves Premarag’s home, she receives another child the same day.
Ms. Das has been a foster mother with BSSK for more than 14 years. In that time, she has given a loving temporary home to more than 45 children — many with profound special needs. Five years ago, Ms. Das’ husband died tragically, so now she lives with her 21-year-old daughter and son-in-law. Ms. Das attends regular training sessions with BSSK’s doctor, physical therapist and clinical psychologist. Over the years, she’s built a tremendous bank of skills that help her provide nurturing care to children with special needs — everything from feeding issues to physical or developmental disabilities. She cares for just one child now who was born prematurely at barely four pounds and spent 3 months in BSSK’s neonatal unit. He struggled to build strength, and he couldn’t hold his head up or rollover. Now, Ms. Das believes her foster son will start crawling any day. He is 6 months old and weighs just over 13 pounds — a huge and positive development. “Every time a child transitions, it is hard,” says Ms.Das, who like all BSSK foster mothers receives counseling when a child leaves their care. “I get attached to each one, but I know the child will go — and it’s a happy moment knowing they have a family.” Ms. Das says it bring her great joy to continue to receive photos of the children she’s cared for as they grow.
Mrs. Pillar has cared for 84 children during her 15-year tenure as a foster mother with Holt’s legacy partner, BSSK, in Pune, India. A model foster parent, today she serves as the supervisor to all the foster mothers in the program. She coordinates meetings with BSSK staff, attends weekly well baby clinics and conducts home visits to ensure children are receiving the utmost quality of care. She currently cares for two children — one who will join a family in the U.S. in three short months. “She often cries when saying goodbye to the children because she has grown so attached to them,” says Sunita, BSSK’s resident child psychologist who oversees the foster care program and assesses all the children. “She hopes they will grow up in a good family and in a good environment.”
Over 11 years as a foster mother with BSSK in India, Mrs. Kengar has cared for 40 children. She says she will continue fostering children as long as she is capable and fit. She doesn’t often receive updates about the children once they leave her care, but she does feel a special kinship with many of the families. “She hopes they can live peacefully in a home with a family,” Sunita says of Mrs. Kengar’s wishes for her foster children. “She is also very eager to meet them again.”
We visited this foster mother at her home in southern Vietnam last June. We sat in the family room — a small but well-kept space with photos of her grandchildren covering the walls — and chatted about the small 16-month-old boy in her lap. Her foster son was severely malnourished when he came into care, weighing only 7 pounds at 10 months old. At the time, she was feeding him six times a day — three bottles of formula and four bowls of porridge — to help him gain weight. It is not uncommon for foster mothers to go above and beyond regular care for their foster children — taking them for specialized therapies, or receiving training themselves to help the children thrive. Today, this boy is still in her care and — as neither his birth family nor a domestic adoptive family have come forward in Vietnam — he has been referred for international adoption.
Although foster mothers are the primary caregivers for the children placed through Holt, foster fathers are often just as involved and devoted to their foster children. In a lush green farming community in a southern province of Vietnam, we met a couple in their 50s who have fostered 13 children in eight years as foster parents. A grandfatherly gentleman with intricate lines around his eyes from years of smiles and laughter, Mr. Bui — the children’s foster father — clearly embodied this notion, tenderly holding one boy in his lap while he snacked on treats. This family is unique as several of the children they care for have joined domestic adoptive families in their own community. Although difficult for them, both foster parents keep their distance so as not to confuse the child. But some children visit their “auntie” and “uncle” from time to time. When asked if they will continue fostering much longer, Mr. Bui breaks out in laughter. “Oh yes,” he says. “As long as children need care, we will continue providing it.” Both the boys pictured above have since joined adoptive families in Vietnam.
* We have blurred the faces of children in some photos to comply with guidelines in our partnering countries.