Pam and Geoffrey Farmer always wanted to expand their family, but they were unable to have any biological children. After adopting a child late in life, they explored foster care. Since they made the life-altering decision to become foster parents in 2011, more than 40 teens and youngsters have lived in the Farmers’ home.
After years of caring for dozens of children and youth in need, the Farmers have this advice for parents of their own biological children or foster youth: “Listen, be there for them, have a servant’s heart, put their needs first, and never give up on them.”
Building a family
In 2011, the Farmers partnered with BCFS Health and Human Services and enrolled their youth in foster care in BCFS’ Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program, which serves young people ages 16 to 21 who are in the state’s custody after being removed from their biological parent or guardian for abuse or neglect. The primary goal of the PAL program is to help youth in foster care and those aging out of care transition to adulthood and independence.
The Farmers try to have four youth in their home at a time so they can each have their own bedroom, but they can care for up to six young adults. Today, they have three teens in their home.
A “day in the life”
So, what’s it like to care for this many teens? The Farmers say it’s not easy, and they’ve had to overcome many obstacles. “It’s a constant juggling act between their caseworkers, attorneys, therapists, and making sure everyone is working toward the same goal when it comes to the kids,” the couple says. Plus, with lots of daily appointments at doctors, schools, relatives and dentists, at times they’ve driven 100 miles a day to get each youth where they need to go.
It is common for children in foster homes to have unique needs. They are sometimes lagging emotionally, socially and developmentally due to trauma they experienced. Many of them have been abused for years, which can leave emotional scars. According to the Farmers, parents must give these children more leeway, stability, patience and support, while showing them they are wanted.
Coming full circle
The Farmers described a difficult “adjustment period” that occurs as each new youth enters the home. They tend to be slightly stand-offish out of fear and anxiety.
“We try to make them feel at home, and ensure that this is their final home,” the couple says.
“Many of them have moved around a lot and think this is just another place to stay until we kick them out. But once they start to trust us, those walls they’ve built up around themselves come down. It’s great to see them grow to that point.”
In the Farmer household, it’s a time of celebration when youth they’ve cared for in the past come “home” to visit and show the current group of youth how their time spent with the Farmers prepared them for the outside world.
Expectations breed success
“We try to help them reach the next level with school, the military or getting a good job,” Mrs. Farmer says. “We have high expectations for them and express that we want the very best for them. If you expect a lot from them, they will rise to that level and succeed. The BCFS PAL program has done a tremendous job in helping us and the young adults reach these goals.”
The Farmers have tapped into all the services built into BCFS’ PAL program to help the youth with their education, employment, case management, life skills, mentoring, and any additional needs identified on their transition plans.
All the Farmers’ hard work is paying off, because most of their youth have gone on to college after high school, and most still come home for the holidays to spend time with the family.
BCFS Program Director Stacy Lee praised the Farmers as outstanding foster parents for the way they take care of the youngsters.
“Being a foster parent means dedicating yourself 24/7, which can be exhausting,” Stacy says.
“The Farmers have a genuine desire to serve and be a positive influence on these young people’s lives. They do an outstanding job of showing them they are all important.
Wise words for any parent
“Our home is a constant teaching environment – they need to learn how to be independent so when they are out on their own they can schedule and keep their own appointments with doctors and school advisors,” Mr. Farmer says. “Constant guidance, family time, discussing the day and listening to them is what we do in our home.”
“If we can help change the life of just one child and get them on the right path, then we have done our job. It is very rewarding when you see them succeed — it’s a feeling that is indescribable. Even if they misbehave, you never give up on them and welcome them home with open arms. Unconditional love is key — even if they do wrong.”