Fostering Connections: Maintaining Relationships Between Foster Parent and Child Beyond Childhood

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Sherry Jones with her boys Andre Barnes and David Brown (Provided)

Sherry Jones and her husband, Donald, each have one biological child, she says. For more than a decade, they have also been raising two foster children.

Andre Barnes is now 22, and Dave Brown is 24.

Though now both grown, the Jones’ foster children are still firmly part of the family their parents created when they said yes to fostering 15 years ago.

Then in their 40s, Sherry and Donald knew they were not going to have any more children, so they decided to try to foster, “and see if we like having people around 24/7 and having someone depend on us at this age in our life,” Sherry says. “And we did.”

But unlike some foster families—which dissolve after their foster children reconnect with their biological parents, or when the children become adults—the Joneses made an effort to keep their relationships going beyond age 18.

The Jones family lives south of Baltimore City, in Brooklyn Park. Barnes still lives with the family. Brown, though, has moved to a nearby apartment. Yet he still calls his parents to tell them what he’s eating for lunch and dinner each day. Sherry and Donald also take the young man to get his haircuts.

It all comes down to family—and the Joneses always wanted Barnes and Brown to feel like part of theirs.

“They don’t have a family. So, it’s important for us for them to be able to identify with a family just like all the other kids,” Sherry says. “We want them to feel just as important as the other children.”

And for that reason, the Jones family wanted to treat their foster children just as they would their biological children as they got older.

The Arc Baltimore, a nonprofit organization that connects foster parents with children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, says this is important for foster families.

“We want kids to stay in one foster home for as long as possible,” says Ashley Willis, the Arc’s director of foster care and clinical services. “Every time a child moves, it’s a trauma.”

But as Willis explains, foster care is not adoption. Some parents are open to adopting their foster children. Others are not. But it is common for relationships to last even after foster kids leave the homes of their foster parents, according to Willis.

Now, the Jones’ foster children can rely on their foster parents for both connection and support.

The Arc offers resources and training, but the Joneses only needed so much help. Once they built their “bond with the boys,” as Sherry describes it, they knew what to do.

The couple’s parental support helped them win the 2023 Foster Care Excellence Award from Arc Baltimore.

“Sherrian and Donald exemplify the program’s values and mission, and demonstrate unwavering commitment to their children, always prioritizing education and opportunities for enriching experiences,” says Kathleen Durkin, Arc Baltimore’s chief executive officer, in a news release. “They also ensure that each child maintains connections to their primary family.”

One way Sherry and Donald have shown support is by helping Barnes to work toward getting a driver’s license, finding a job and finding an apartment. But he has been a little hesitant about it all, according to Sherry.

The Joneses are willing to let him live in their house until he figures it out. “We said, ‘Let him stay here as long as he needs to. If he gets his wings and wants to fly, that’s fine,’” Sherry says.

The Jones family is making living wills for both boys. They are also looking into life insurance policies for them. “We are all they have,” she says.

Walking to the ropes course; For campers at Camp Connect, even rain can’t dampen the magic that happens at camp. (Courtesy of Camp Connect)

Camp Connect
In addition to parent-child relationships, maintaining sibling relationships can be very beneficial to children in the foster system. Even when a foster care situation goes well, the kids do not necessarily forget their original families. That’s why Camp Connect, in Knoxville, Maryland, tries to reunite siblings in foster care each summer.

“Think about if you never get to see your siblings, and then you get to spend a week at overnight camp with them,” says Judith Schagrin, the camp’s director. “The out-of-the-ordinary things you get to enjoy together. Staying up late. They go horseback riding and tubing. There are personal challenge things. Going on the zip line. Everybody working as a team to get over the wall.”

In other words, it’s fun. It’s also a place to enjoy your siblings while forgetting about the difficult situation surrounding the relationship.

“It’s an opportunity to get away from their daily lives,” Schagrin says. “Not only with brothers and sisters but with other kids who are in the same boat.”

Kids go around in groups of 10, according to Schagrin. That ends up being about two or three sibling groups per bunk. There are occasionally big age differences. That’s why the camp plans activities that everybody can do.

Most of the siblings get together during the year as well. But camp allows them to spend more time together, according to Schagrin.

“It’s really different spending time overnight with your brother or sister than sitting in McDonald’s and playing in the play area,” she says.

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