Foster Care Awareness Month: The Conleys

by Joshua Conley

Ava and I have been foster parents for 11 years, we have had several kinship placements, and we are coming up on the first anniversary of adopting our daughter Journey later this May!

What got you started in Foster Care (Our Why!)

This is such a great question and there are many layers to answering this question.

One thing that Ava and I agreed on was that we have grown and changes throughout the years of fostering and our "why" can look different during different seasons of life, but knowing why has anchored us to keep going during tough times and keep considering saying "yes" to opening our home.

Back to the question though: why foster?

-Well the need is great! There are more children in the foster care system within in Shelby County than the next two largest counties combines. So many factors contribute to this and we wanted to be a part of meeting the needs of those children.

-Our faith! We were driven to live out what we believe with our faith by practicing hospitality and generosity to children and families in need. With that though, I do want to stress that foster care, kinship care, and adoption are not reserved for faith communities but it was a foundational reason why our family wanted to get involved.

-Modeling what we saw modeled for us! Ava and I both, during some of the most pivotal and most difficult times in our lives, had a community of people step up to love and support us. Without this community, who knows what our outcomes may have been? We know the value of community and we wanted to be a part of providing that community of love, support, care, and encouragement for the children and families we have welcomed into our home!

What Stories of Hope have you experienced?

-It is no secret that caregiving in any capacity, but especially foster care, adoption, and kinship care is difficult.

The children we serve are coming into our homes after suffering some form of trauma and we have the privilege of walking with them through these impossibly difficult times.

My wife has been a constant hope in troubled times as we opened our home. Her ability to connect with, empathize with, and unconditionally love those children always gives me a sense of "We can do this!"

There is also hope in saying "Yes!" We can never control the outcomes of foster care. Reunification is the goal which means you are always prepared to say goodbye to that child. But with each day, and each new milestone, there is hope that healing is taking place in that child. I think about my adoptive daughter and how much she used to cry and scream when we first welcomed her into our home. We watched a video of that the other day and she said, "Daddy I’m bigger!" She recognized that she had grown up from that tiny little one and I have found so much hope and gratitude in watching her grow up.

Ultimately, what gives me hope is the children! We have been so blessed to welcome so many diverse and unique children into our home and they have changed us for the better (not just changing my hair color from brown to gray)! The children are worth it!

What is one thing you can share with those in foster care and those wondering about foster care?

-For the caregivers: Remember that in foster care, reunification is the goal. We open our homes and our hearts to children with the intention that they will one day return to their families.

My family and I have had the impossibly difficult situation of saying goodbye to children we have fully loved and we were not always happy about that decision.

A few things:

1. We see you! You are not alone! Saying goodbye is not easy!

2. Make every effort to build a strong, lasting relationship with the birth family. We have been blessed to stay in contact with several children we've fostered and our efforts to connect with the whole family have allowed for that.

-For those wondering: You may not be called to foster or adopt, but I believe you do have a role to play in caring for the children in this system. From making a meal to delivering a Welcome Pack, providing childcare, or a note of encouragement, you can be a blessing to the families and children involved in foster care.

There are so many great ways to get involved and Foster Village Memphis is just one... check us out to learn more. 

Speaking of Foster Village Memphis:

We did not know about Foster Village Memphis during the majority of our time as caregiers through foster care and kinship care, but I wish we did.

What Foster Village Memphis provides, we desperately needed and worked hard (on top of jobs, family, etc.) to create in our own spheres of influence. Our communit was vital to our journey of caregiving (foster care, kinship care, adoption) and we could not do it if we were isolated.

Foster Village Memphis is such a valuable gift! We are an organization that will walk with you through all phases of your caregiving journey. From the day you open your door to say hello to the day you close your door and say goodbye or walk through and finalize your adoption of a child, Foster Village is with you each step of the way. From the first day to the last day, helping to provide community, support, training, encouragement, tangible needs, meals, advocacy, and some respite too!

Foster Village Memphis, to me (and I may be biased), is a breath of fresh air, a cool cup of water, and a word of encouragement for those running the marathon of caregiving for some 1200+ children in our county.

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