As a teacher, Angela* helped children and families. Now she’s pregnant with her first biological child, while also parenting a child in foster care as he battles leukemia. These days, she’s the one needing help. This February, as child advocates observe Family Support Month, her journey shows the vital importance of parents asking for help in tough times, and of the home visiting programs that come to their aid. Angela and her care coordinator, Mallory Jacobs of Epworth Children’s Home, recently reflected on the family’s experience.
Q: How did you come to be a foster parent?
Angela: I studied elementary education and became a teacher out of college. I taught first grade for about four years. We had a lot of training about trauma-informed teaching. That’s why I suggested to my husband that we should become involved in foster care. When you’re a mandated reporter and you’re making the calls (to report potential abuse or neglect), it’s hard to go home to your nice house and full fridge and leave it at that.
So, we signed up with Epworth’s Foster Care Program, and we got licensed to be foster parents. About two months later, we got a call for our son David, and he has been in our home for about 18 months. In June, he was diagnosed with leukemia. I recently had to resign from teaching to take care of him.
When he was first diagnosed, I felt like I was on the phone all day. I called my case manager from Epworth, and I said, “I can’t do this. I can’t stay on the phone all day when he’s here in the hospital. I need help talking with (South Carolina) Department of Social Services and whoever else I need to talk to.” She said: “Say no more. I will talk to all of them.” I was so thankful. And my current care coordinator, Mallory Jacobs, helps me all the time as well. I text her often, sometimes probably when I shouldn’t, at all hours, and she’s always very gracious and very kind and very patient with me.
Q: Tell us a little more about how she helps you navigate the child welfare system.
Angela: I think we all know the system is broken, but I think that’s why it’s important to engage with it. Even when I’m frustrated or upset, she’s there to celebrate the highs and the lows with me. She visits me weekly to check in. We usually talk much more than that. And then on top of that, a staff member at Epworth, Rev. Kathy, calls me often and prays over us, as well as puts us in touch with churches and people who send us gift baskets. Defend the Fatherless is an organization near us and they’ve dropped off meals and gifts and gift cards as well.
Mallory: The Rev. Kathy James is our director of church relations. She helps local churches connect with foster families and provide ongoing support throughout the fostering journey. She connects with the churches, and they’ve been able to provide care packages for David and the family when they are in-patient.
I just want to say how much I’ve loved working with this foster family. It really is such a God story. I have learned so much from them about never giving up and taking what life throws at you and doing the best you can with it.
And when I look at David, just from reading his file at the beginning, he would grunt to say words. Now he has graduated from speech therapy. He used to not be affectionate. But when we were playing on the floor this week, he went to Angela and gave her a kiss and said, “I love you.” It’s just a beautiful, beautiful story that I feel honored to be a part of.
Q: Does your work require you to help advocate for the family with other agencies as well?
Mallory: Yes, I work closely with DSS and other agencies to support the family. Angela and I meet weekly with David’s DSS case worker. We come together as a unit to meet David’s needs. We also attend court hearings with the family and advocate for the child in foster care.
Q: Do you have a role in his medical care as well?
Mallory: Particularly for David, we’ll attend meetings at the hospital with the family. We try to get them to ask for even more help than they do. We offer frozen meals and we can also put together care packages.
Q: Angela, is it hard asking for help?
Angela: I think when you are a helper in general, it’s hard to step away from that role and be helped instead. But Mallory does a great job of reminding me of that. And I think on the tough days with our child – I mean, there’s some days when we’re giving him shots at home and medicine 12 times a day – I do often need to call and ask for help.
Q: It sounds like quite a challenge. How are you holding up?
Angela: I probably would not have planned for cancer treatments with pregnancy, but this is how it’s happened. Some days are better than others. I think a lot of it depends on how our little one is feeling. I think for any parent, it’s so hard to watch your child go through a diagnosis like this. The other day he asked me, “Why did I get cancer?” which was very hard. I didn’t have an answer, but I think we have such a great support system. I can call my Mom, and I can call Mallory. My husband is such a rock, much steadier than I am.
They all help me every day. Some days I’m like, “Why did we sign up for this?” and then I remember my son, who has grown so much and learned so much and loves so much. Before this interview, he was going to the soccer fields with my husband and he said, “Why aren’t you coming?” and I said, “Well, I have an interview.” And he said, “What is that?” and I said, “Oh, they’re just going to ask me about being your mommy.” And he’s like, “Oh, well,” and he brought me down to him and he whispered, “Tell them that you’re the best.” So, I mean, just little things like that keep it in perspective.
Q: He sounds like a great little guy. How is he doing?
Angela: The doctors are often amazed by how active he is, even now. It doesn’t keep him down for long. He often doesn’t feel well, but I think he’s so busy and so happy that he wants to play. Treatment will be done in November 2024; he’ll be 5 by then. I feel like I can see a light at the end of the tunnel now. When he was diagnosed, I could not, but he’s responding to treatment. The doctors told me the chance of relapse is pretty low, so I’m hopeful.
Q: What advice would you give to other parents, not just foster parents, but anyone struggling with the demands of parenting and needing support?
Angela: We might not all be called necessarily to be foster parents, but I think we’re all called to care for children who need us. We’re all broken, to some extent. I try not to shy away from the brokenness. And I think just engaging with it, even when it’s hard, and just really building that support system around you, helps so much.
I think when you love hard, you get love in return. So that would be my advice to every parent.
* Angela’s and David’s real names are being withheld in order to protect their privacy.