May 10, 2011
HOUSTON — There is an old expression about a mother always on her knees, laboring for her children. Paula Spear said she is a testament to that, but besides her “24/7” workload as a guardian, she is constantly praying for all of the infants she has cared for through Catholic Charities foster care services.
“All of my children and their families are always in my thoughts,” she said. “We think about them all of the time.”
In 28 years of collaborating with Catholic Charities, Spear has nurtured more than 60 infants who were placed in her care and continues to love each of them.
Since Catholic Charities opened its doors in 1943, the social agency has provided a foster care program that offers services and assistance to children in Harris County in need of a temporary home.
With the belief that every child has the right to love and protection from a caring family, Catholic Charities is in the managing conservatorship of Children’s Protective Services and serves those who suffer abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Alane Barnfield and her husband have been working with Catholic Charities for more than three years. They currently have three boys (ages 3, 6 and 10) in their care. It is their first foray into parenting and Barnfield said the challenges arrived quickly and often.
“We have always been aunts and uncles and we just spoiled the heck out of our nieces and nephews,” she said. “We learned the hard way you can’t be doing that with kids who are going to be living with you long term.”
The Barnfields adapted in swift fashion as new parents, ably facing the unique challenges that come with each child placement, and have grown exponentially in their faith and in their marriage because of it.
“The whole [experience] has been very rewarding,” Alane Barnfield said. “The kids themselves are tremendous and you have to grow so much as a person to deal with those challenging moments. But our faith and our relationship helped us get through it all. When we have a very challenging placement, I pray and ask for wisdom or forgiveness. I’ve grown from that. And many times we have an opportunity to live out that faith in front of [the children] … not necessarily teaching them directly, but just in the way we are living while they are watching us.”
The children placed in homes through Catholic Charities’ foster care program are between the ages of birth to 17 and represent a broad range of ethnic and racial backgrounds. The agency recognizes the family as being the most favorable setting for a child to develop and grow physically, spiritually and emotionally.
Spear, a member of St. Michael Church in Houston, is currently caring for a 13-month infant. She and her husband discovered Catholic Charities pre-adoption services through another parishioner.
“At the time we started, we had two adopted children and two biological children, and we never got to meet the people who took care of our adopted children but always kept them in our hearts,” she said. “When our youngest was ready to go off to kindergarten, we considered doing foster care.”
The program at Catholic Charities offers foster care services to two different groups of children and their parents. The first are pre-adopt infants whose mothers are considering whether or not to make an adoption plan. Children in the program require foster care until the decision to parent them is made by the mother or they are legally and medically free for adoption.
The second group of children are those placed through CPS; the children usually remain in care a minimum of six months but more often from 12 months to 18 months.
The Spears normally take on pre-adopt babies, many of them born premature and require specialized care.
“You really have to monitor their weight gain and food intake,” Paula Spear said. “Almost all of the babies we get are prenatally exposed to drugs, so that creates its own issues. The babies very often cry a lot and sometimes have feeding problems, digestive (issues) and reflux.”
After all of these years — and having cared for so many children — Spear said she will never “master the craft” of foster motherhood.
“Each baby comes in with their own issues, their own personalities and temperaments,” she said. “You never know what kind of needs they will have. You never quite learn everything, because the next challenge comes up and you figure out the best way to handle it.”
Despite the number of hurdles that always lie ahead, it is an experience she absolutely cherishes.
“We never gotten to thank the people who took care of our children for us and I feel very strongly about getting these babies to the best start they can have,” Spear said. “It has given me a bigger picture of the world; it has taught me about patience … and has [given] me a broader understanding of what these birth parents may be going through.”
Not surprisingly, Barnfield said that one of the hardest parts about being a foster parent is when the children leave their home.
“You become very attached to the children but you know it is only temporary and you have to let them go,” she said. “That process is very difficult, so you turn to your friends, family and faith to help you heal before you can take the next placement.”
That is when the support staff of Catholic Charities and the network of foster mothers really come through. According to the agency’s mission statement, the foster care services staff “recruits, studies, trains, certifies and supervises families for the purpose of caring for children in temporary foster care.” In addition, the program provides for the medical, physical or psychological services children in foster care may need.
“When we have those real challenging placements, I finally did ask for help and Catholic Charities really rallied around us, pooled us together, had a whole team of people together to discuss options,” Barnfield said. “They took a lot of time to help us deal with the issues, along with the camaraderie with the other moms, which is so important. We feel like this is a call from God, we don’t only do this on our own volition. We feel that this is something God has called us to do.”
It is the bonding during the monthly educational meetings at Catholic Charities that resonates with resilient mothers like Barnfield and Spear.
“I don’t know how I would survive without the support of other foster mothers,” Spear said. “They are a great resource for help when you need it — they [provide] hugs when you need them, a shoulder to cry on when you need it.”
Every now and then, Spear admits to considering retiring from foster motherhood, “but every time I think about it, I end up weeping in a corner,” she said with a laugh. “I guess I’m not ready yet.” †
At a Glance
The Foster Care Program of Catholic Charities is designed to provide temporary assistance to families and children who are experiencing a crisis. For a variety of reasons, children are often in need of other families who can share their time and love with them until they can be placed in a permanent home. There is a tremendous need for families who can work with Catholic Charities for these children.
Services Provided to Foster Parents
• Assist families with the application process
• Provide education classes to help parents learn the unique needs of the children
• Work closely with families to determine their strengths through the home study process
• Provide ongoing educational opportunities to meet the annual training requirements
• Provide support and guidance to the foster family throughout the time a child is placed in the foster home
How to Access
To learn more about Adoption or Foster Care through Catholic Charities, contact Barbara Feliciano.