During the summers of my high school and college years, I worked as a lifeguard and taught kids to swim. It all started with a family friend who managed one of the textile mills in town. He had been an amazing college swimmer at North Carolina State.
John started teaching swimming lessons on the side. He had such a huge response that he soon needed an assistant. I was about fourteen or fifteen at the time, so it seemed like a good job for me. Plus, he taught at our house, so it was convenient! After a couple of summers, he left town to pursue the next phase of his career and left me with the swimming business.
John always began a new batch of kids’ lessons with a parent meeting. I’ll never forget him telling the parents that his goal was simply to get each kid from “Point A” to “Point B.” That each child’s beginning and ending places would likely be different. He didn’t make lofty promises. Nobody left the meeting with visions of college scholarships or Olympic medals. But he did promise that each child would make progress.
And each one did.
Over the past five years, Andy and I have discovered that foster care is a lot like swimming lessons. Each child is unique and comes into care at a different starting place. The goal of a great foster parent is to meet a child at her own “Point A” and lovingly coach and encourage her toward whatever “Point B” is uniquely hers.
Like Coach John, we don’t make promises we can’t keep. But we do work to ensure that every child who comes into care can take a next step—his or her own next step. Sometimes progress is imperceptible. On some days it feels like we’re going backwards. On those occasions we have to remind ourselves that even a temporary place of provision and safety with a picture of what a future can look like is progress.
Occasionally, the time a child spends with a foster parent or foster family is life changing. His progress is astounding. Instead of a short A to B, he makes huge strides and finds himself much further along on the continuum.
Either way, the common denominator for foster kids who make progress is time—not necessarily the length of time in foster care, but the time spent with caring adults who made them feel worth it.
It’s not rocket science. It’s not even swimming lessons. It’s simply time invested in a kid or two as they discover their Point A’s and journey along to their Point B’s.