Miss Barb. Mama Barb.
Barbara, a Treatment Foster Care parent, answers to more than one affectionate name, earned during her time providing care to girls who’ve come to find a loving, stable home with her as part of Good Shepherd’s Treatment Foster Care program (TFC). Our team salutes her for the wonderful work she does and thanks her for sharing insight into what it’s like to open your door to children.
How did your TFC journey begin?
I grew up in St. Louis and moved to Atlanta as an adult. I became a foster parent there when I heard people talk about the need, jumping right in and offering to take teenage girls. I’ve also been a 9-1-1 operator and have worked with the Children’s Division. After about a year and a half, my supervisor pulled me aside and said, in her insightful way, that wasn’t the job for me. I couldn’t stop caring for the families even after my work with them was done.
I began working with Good Shepherd a few years ago. They gave me the training I needed and I decided to again specialize with older youth. I have a 15 year old and 17 year old in my home right now.
How do you know if a placement is a good fit?
First, you go on gut instinct. I believe face-to-face contact – sitting back and connecting with them, really getting to know them as much as you can – is irreplaceable. With one of my girls, Dairy Queen was her spot. I would pick her up at the group facility where she was living and we would go sit across from each other and talk. It let me get a feel for where she was emotionally and mentally.
I will also say read everything you can. Get the psychiatric evaluation, read the case notes. Know that everything you read is a starting point to get to know the youth. I use what I learn to make sure I can help this kiddo.
There are many options for helping youth. Why did you choose TFC?
I chose TFC, and specifically teenagers, because they’re a disparaged population. They’re not easy to place, to find homes for. You go into this knowing TFC work is hard because these youth, through no fault of their own, are coming from a hard place.
What advice would you offer someone who’s considering becoming a TFC parent?
You’re going to be responsible for making sure all their needs are met, from medical to emotional to physical. You see it as your job to watch them, but they’re watching you, too. And they see you caring about them.
I’m constantly making myself available to them. When they want to talk, I stop and listen. I’m present. We learn in training about this invisible bag these kids carry with them. It’s full of hurt, and you try to help them unpack it. You have to let them know you’ve got their backs.
I’d also say to anyone considering becoming a TFC parent: You’re going to need a lot of patience. We all need grace, and kids make mistakes. I have rules in my house and sometimes they get broken. Usually, the best way to deal with it is to let them make and learn from these mistakes. Natural consequences are the best learning tool.
What’s the reward for doing this work?
The reward is seeing that kid prosper. Seeing them go from being angry and hurt and rejected to a kid that his happy, whole, and loving life. We’re no longer talking about hurting ourselves – we’re talking about life and our future and college and going into the military. They understand that life isn’t as bad as they thought it would be. They learn that they aren’t as bad as they were told.
For some of the kiddos who have been with me, my house was the first house they had Christmas in, the first refrigerator that had food in it. They see me cooking for them and cleaning clothes. They tell me, “Mamma Barb, you’re a real mom.” They see it and they know you’re not faking it. Seeing them break through is the real reward.
How has Good Shepherd supported you?
I love my team! I’m a talker, and when I have an issue I can pick up the phone and they always answer. I don’t want them to come over here and fight my battle, but I do need someone to talk to and give me a different perspective. I can also text any time of the day or night and they respond.
Good Shepherd appreciates Mama Barb and all the Treatment Foster Care parents who assure that children have a safe, stable place to heal. If you’re interested in learning more about our program, please contact us at (314) 854-5716 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.