There is a tremendous need for foster parents in Georgia and one Georgia Tech professor has taken it upon herself to help meet that need. In this month's employee profile we talk to Nicoleta Serban (ISyE) about her decision to become a foster mother, the process involved, and the unique mindset it requires.
How long have you been at Georgia Tech and what is your role?
I've been here since 2005 and I am an associate professor. My background is in statistics. In the last few years I've started working in the healthcare area and I work on some projects related to improving the Medicaid system. I have some collaborators who do work in pediatric healthcare. That's where most of my research is focused right now.
What got you interested in becoming a foster parent?
In 2011 my sister fell ill with leukemia. She spent about nine months in a hospital and she eventually passed away. That experience changed my perspective related to life and priorities. I learned a lot about myself as well because I was her primary caregiver during that time. I was tested, and I learned about caring for others physically and emotionally. That's when I started playing with the idea of adopting or foster care. I kept hearing about foster care so I looked into it and learned more through the community "Single Mothers by Choice." I talked to a woman I met through an agency who fostered and I learned about the experience and process through her.
What is the process for becoming a foster parent?
You have to go through some training and show that you have a stable income. They want to make sure you're going to be able to provide a good home. You also have to go through impact training. In my case it was a weekend full of classes. You get connected to other people in the foster world and you learn more about it. They try to scare you away a little bit, to make sure you really want to do it, and about half of the people drop it at that point. And that's fine. You need to know if it's for you or not. After that training you have to take some more classes, like CPR and other things you may take anyway if you are a parent. You have to take 15 hours a year of classes, which is not a big deal. Then you are approved, you enter the system, and you start getting phone calls.
How were you connected with your foster child?
I have a little boy who is now six months old. I've had him with me since he was born.
I wanted to have an experience with a young child. I thought I'd be able to have a better impact that way, so I chose 0-6 months. Down the road I may be interested in other foster ages but this is what I wanted to start with.
I was in NYC and they called me on a Friday saying "We have this little boy who was just born and he needs a home. Would you be willing to take him in?" I came home on Sunday and picked him up on Monday. It was very short notice to put everything together, but that's how it works. You have to understand it and be prepared for it.
How difficult is it to be a parent for him knowing that he may not be with you for a long time?
You have to think one day at a time and love one day at a time because you don't know the future for your child. You don't know how long they will be with you, so you don't think about what you will get back or what the future holds. You get back what you get today and you don't expect anything tomorrow.
I realize not everyone can do it, but that I can. I know my little one will probably go back someday to his family. People ask me how I'll be able to give him back, but I just don't think about it. I just enjoy my time with him now.
The time commitment is very open ended. Sometimes it might only be for a weekend and other times it may be for two or more years. Some foster parents end up adopting the children. Some want to but can't because they go back to their families. You have to enter the process with no expectations.
Why should others consider becoming foster parents?
For families with children of their own, it's a great experience for children. I talk to families who have cared for foster children and their children all talk about how much they learned. The children keep in touch with the foster kids and it helps them appreciate what they have. They also learn how to care for others and be compassionate.
It sounds like an intimidating process because it's a big investment of time and energy. You think "Why should I invest like that in somebody else's child?" But it's not about getting a return. It's about helping others and once you do it it's so rewarding. It's just a different mindset from what many people are used to. When the time comes for me to let my little boy go, I just have to let him go. That's part of the deal. That's what I signed up for.
This is something I will probably do all of my life. It just makes sense to me. It's a very special relationship with the child because you love completely unconditionally.
Where can people go to find out more about foster parenting?
I work with an agency called Giving Children A Chance. They, or any other agency would be happy to tell you more about it. They're very helpful at teaching you about the process and determining if it's a good fit for you.
I would encourage people to strongly consider being foster parents. There is such a need for it and it is a nice way to give.
Industrial and Systems Engineering