February 23, 2016
Jeannette Rush is a veteran Foster Parent of 20 years who graciously shares her experience and wisdom with everyone at SOS Children’s Villages Illinois. We had the honor of hearing her thoughts about our model of care, the rewarding aspects of her role, and what she thinks is absolutely essential to know and possess in order to be a successful Foster Parent.
Why do you think the SOS Children’s Villages Illinois model of care works?
Because you’re equipped with everything you need in one location, and you have resources all around you like other Foster Parents and administrative staff. It’s the perfect setup to have everything in one place.
How does the community aspect of the model impact how you do your job as a Foster Parent?
With SOS, we’re a village, and it takes a village. I know back in my day it took a village to raise children, and you could always depend on your neighbors. What I’ve found with SOS is that a lot of parents are dedicated to that and say “Let’s help each other.” So you can always turn to someone for help when you need advice about this or that or whatever might be the issue at the time. There’s always someone that has the skills or the expertise to help.
Describe your typical day.
My typical day starts at about 5am because I have two younger children that are up by 5:30-5:45am. We’re up, bathing, and getting them dressed. By that time the other four children are getting up and getting dressed. Then we’re downstairs for breakfast, vitamins, shoes on, and then we’re headed out, all six of them and me, taking the four older children to school. Then we come back, do a light snack or arts and crafts or some educational program. And depending on the day, a therapist might come in for both of the younger children. Then I pick up the younger of the (school-aged) four because he’s in a half day at school. Then we’re coming back and I’m feeding the two younger ones lunch and the five-year-old has a snack. Then the youngest children take a nap, and I sit with the five-year-old to find out how his day was. I also try to get dinner prepared so that by the time the youngest ones wake up we’re getting ready to go get the other children. Most times my dinner is done when the children are out of school. It’s that kind of day! Then it’s home again with everybody, and tutors come in and we do homework, and then we eat dinner. Then we do another snack and get ready to start the next day: nighttime meds or whatever needs to be done. And somewhere during the day I get a couple of loads of laundry done and pick up the house. I usually have everybody in bed by 8:30, and I clean up and get ready for the next day.
How do you find time to relax and take time for yourself?
I like to read a lot, so sometimes during naptime I read or just sit by myself to have a few minutes to have some clear thoughts about what my next step will be. Then I have relief time, eight hours of relief on the weekends, where I spend time with other adults or go shopping for myself — but usually it’s for everybody, though. You find time for yourself in those eight hours.
Then I have another day of relief during the week where I do nothing but grocery and clothes shopping – just to keep the house running as smoothly as I can. But I keep a calendar so I have everything down: all appointments, all visits, everything. And I think that’s the key to it all — to be structured.
What would you say are the biggest challenges and biggest rewards of your job?
The rewards, I can talk about those: it’s seeing the kids smile, seeing them being happy and being content and comfortable knowing that they’re secure—and trusting me with handling everything. Children come with different traumas. They come with different expectations of a foster home, and it’s my job to make it feel like it’s their home.
Those are my rewards, just seeing them thriving and moving on.
I don’t know what my biggest challenge is, because it’s what I do. And you always find a way to get what you need, done.
What advice would you give to interested Foster Parents?
Anybody that is interested in becoming a Foster Parent should know that it’s not just welcoming a child into a home: it’s a job, it’s work, and if you’re not in for the long haul and the ups and downs — because there are ups and downs — and if you don’t have the heart for it, then it’s not something you should do. It’s a very humbling experience and it makes you grateful for a lot of things.
If you want to make a difference, and if you want to be proactive, apply yourself, and have all that humility, then you can do this job. But you have to know that it is a job and it takes, like any other job in corporate America or wherever you are, work. And it only gets perfected by your being persistent and having the structure and having the order to do the job, because you already have the support.
Could you share a success story or a story about a child you’ve cared for that’s special to you?
I had a foster daughter who came to me when she was twelve. She was rough around the edges and had gone through a lot of things. She left my house when she was twenty. I’m so happy to say that she now lives in Oklahoma, and she has two children. I’ve watched her grow from a scared little girl to a very efficient young woman. Those are the stories and those are the things that make you know you’re doing the right thing. When I started at SOS, I said that I didn’t know why I was doing this again. And she said, “Mom, because you’re good at this, and you can help somebody else.” And I said I hoped so. And she said, “Look at me.”
So that’s what makes it worth your while. You have to have the heart and the stamina to stay, and not walk away from it. What we have to understand is each child’s invisible suitcase is filled with so many things, and the truth is that we all have invisible suitcases. We’re just older and we know how to deal with it a little better.
What do you think are the most important qualities for SOS Illinois Foster Parents to possess?
Education, experience, and the heart for the job.