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Foster Parenting: Loving and Letting Go

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Seven years ago, a toddler Julie and Shawn Burdge cared for as foster parents was reunified with her mother.

It was, Julie Burdge says, one of lowest days of her life.

But today, “this little girl knows she has two mothers who love her and I give her mother a huge amount of credit for understanding it is OK for two women to love her child.”

That mother now has a stable home and a stable job. Her children are well. The two families stay in touch and remain close.

“She will tell you that I was the first person to believe in her, the first person who told her she could do it. She told me that she reminded herself every day ‘Somebody believes in me,’ " Julie Burdge said of the girl’s mother, who asked that her confidentiality remain intact.

The Burdge’s have five children, ages 16 to 5. Four of the children were adopted from foster care during the 11 years they were foster parents. They currently are taking a break from foster parenting, but Julie expects them to return to what she says is a “calling.”

Julie also has been a foster parenting trainer in DCS PATH classes. She often talks to other foster parents about remembering that the goal for a child is permanency, and that often means reunifying with family – even when foster parents may not believe that is the best idea.

“You go in thinking you are going to save the world from a horrible situation, but in reality, it is not always a horrible situation.  People do make mistakes and they do get their lives together. Why wouldn’t they be given the chance?

“The No. 1 skill a foster parent can have is open-mindedness.”

Strangers and acquaintances, she says, more frequently comment on their perceived inability to become foster parents because they wouldn’t be able to let go of the children.

“You have to get attached, if you’re doing it right,’’ she said.

Fear can keep you from missing out on is witnessing small victories and miracles, she said.

Some examples:

  • A father whose infant was cared for by the Burdge’s learned from Julie, a nurse, how to care for his son’s severe reflux. The baby thrived in foster care and is doing well with his dad.
  • A young woman who once lived with the Burdge’s called them first when she was diagnosed with a chronic disease.  She has told them she always appreciated seeing and feeling the love of a father, which she did not have.
  • The Burdge’s daughter was recovering from a devastating head injury when she came into care. The couple was told she may never walk or talk. This Fall, she starts school in a regular class with minimal special education support.

She added: “Any pain that I have from a child going home and my not having any contact is far outweighed by the benefit I was able to give that child. Foster parenting is just knowing you’ve been able to love somebody who needs it so much.”

Learn More

To learn more about becoming a foster parent in Tennessee, you can: