A Place to Call Home: Tribes Seek Foster Parents
Written by LISA HICKS SNELL, Native American Times
May is National Foster Care Month
TAHLEQUAH – Regina Trainor doesn’t look like she’s had 60 children. Her natural brown hair isn’t shot with gray and the only wrinkles you see emerge when she smiles. But she smiles a lot when she talks of those 60 children, none of them biologically hers.
“The memories are neat. To this day, I will laugh about something one of them said or did,” she says.
Trainor has been fostering children for more than 15 years. She was a single parent when she received her first placements.
“It was so adorable when I asked my [then] 4-year-old how she would feel about doing foster care. It was so cute. She says, ‘Mama, if we get one we really, really love, can we keep it?’”
She smiles and this time it’s a little sad. She hasn’t gotten one she could keep.
Nikki Limore Baker, Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare executive director, says the fear she hears of most often is the fear of getting too attached and not being able to handle letting go.
“To me, being a foster parent, you have to go into it with the outlook of ‘I’m doing this for a child because that child does not have what they need to develop. And it’s going to be hard on me because I’m going to get attached to them. But so what. They need me to attach to them. They need me, to know that I love them. And if it’s hard when they go, it’s OK, because that child needed that. And I’m the adult and I can process that,” Baker said.
Trainor agrees when asked about the hardest part. She gets attached and letting go isn’t an easy thing to do.
“It’s hard. I had one I got as a newborn. I had him for 18 months. That was like giving my own baby away. That was so hard. It really was. I cry when any one of them leave, but that one, I felt like I gave my own baby away,” she says.
Cherokee Nation ICW shows a video to prospective parents to give them an idea of what they are getting into. The video encourages them to focus on what they are giving instead of what they are giving up.
“Your home might be the only home that I have a bed and food and I don’t have to worry if I’m going to get to eat. Your home might be the only home where my parents actually come and watch me participate in a school activity. Your home might be the only one where someone sits down and reads to me or plays games with me, and my time spent in your home will be some of the best times of my life,” says Baker of the film’s narrative. “‘I know that doing foster to adoptive care will be hard on you, especially if I can’t stay in your home. But it’s not about you.’”
Often, foster parents become aunts, uncles, grandmas or grandpas to the children they’ve taken care of and remain part of the support system for the parents who are trying to get their feet on the ground.
Trainor says she is thankful she is still in touch with that first one she had to give up.
“That one, I do get to see and take pictures. The people that adopted him, they refer to me as ‘auntie’ and I get to still be a part of their family and keep track of him,” she says.
Her home has been one of the most needed – a strictly foster home. No strings attached, no expectations beyond helping a child.
Baker says most of the homes Cherokee Nation ICW have available are adoptive homes – meaning the intent is purely to adopt the child placed in their care.
“National statistics, and the tribe is similar, is about 50 percent of children return home and 50 percent need to be adopted. If you look at that being the scenario, then I need to have just as many foster homes as I do adoptive homes,” she says.
Josh Bess, Chickasaw Nation Department of Family Services executive officer, stresses the need for Native American individuals and families to foster and adopt Native children.
“Ideally, kids in foster care are placed with a family member, a member of the Chickasaw Nation or member of another federally recognized tribe,” he says. “A Native American child who is unable to live with his or her family should be able to live in a Native American foster home.”
Bess also stresses the need of homes for teenagers and siblings, saying siblings are often separated when they go into foster care simply because there may be too many of them for one home, have different parents, or have behavior challenges. Age can also be a factor. The number of homes willing to accept teenagers is limited.
“Separation from siblings may be as traumatic as being removed from parents. That brother or sister may be more like a parent, or provide a needed sense of stability in a tough situation,” he says.
Today, Trainor is married and she and husband Daryl have a 4-year-old daughter together. Her home is a foster/adopt home. She would like a boy near in age to her daughter – a boy she can keep.
“So I have a baby I don’t have to give away. I’m…thinking hopefully, that if I ever find a boy baby… just one baby boy, I’m hoping. I haven’t had a boy. I want a boy.”
About ‘Between You and Me’:
"My inspiration for this piece has developed from most of my inspiration lately stemming from a desire to spread joy and peace in communities. Children and the elderly have the most to offer society and yet both are often cast aside. These populations are vulnerable, innocent, intelligent beings that if someone takes the time to listen will often have insight to the most beautiful parts of life. Children have the ability to teach adults so much more than they are given credit. Adults take a stance that it is us teaching them when in reality they are wiser beyond their years. This peace expresses the joy I often see between animals and youth. A kindred spirit of laughter and vulnerability as they share an inside joke that society as a whole just glances over without taking the time or energy to enjoy the small circumstances of this great life we are all lucky to live.” – Artist Mallory Taylor
Mallory Taylor is a self-taught artist who was born in Tulsa. She is of Cherokee, Osage, Blackfoot, Crow, Black Dutch and Irish decent. Her acrylic paintings and pencil drawings are expressionistic in nature. In an attempt to preserve her Native American history through her contemporary style, she will often include handwritten explanations of the stories and historical artifacts represented within her work.
Her work has been exhibited at the Oklahoma Indian Art Gallery in Oklahoma City and is currently on exhibit at The Jacobson House in Norman and Bella Fine Art in Monument, Colorado. She is most proud that one of her paintings is currently exhibited at the Fred Jones Museum in Norman alongside works by her father, Robert Taylor, who has been a great influence on her work.
You may find her on FACEBOOK