What it takes to foster. Foster parent of 15 years provides insight on the journey.

May 26, 2021

Honoring game-changers

Celebrating the life long work of foster parent and Gateway staff, Mr. Marvin Henderson

As we recognize Foster Care Awareness month, we feel it is important to honor the game-changers providing support to the children we serveMr. Henderson not only has almost three decades of experience working in child services through Gateway, but he also has first-hand knowledge of what it means to be a foster parent. 

The ability to build rapport with younger foster youthfoster parents and staff alike is second nature for Mr. HendersonHe has dedicated his career, as well as personal time, to pouring into our community through leading his church, training foster parents, providing direct mental health services to children, and opening his home to foster youth in need 

Mr. Henderson has helped countless youth achieve permanency and is an invaluable member of the Gateway teamHis dedication to providing a gold standard of service has left a lasting imprint on the agency as well as the children in his careMr. Henderson’s testimony highlights the immeasurable impact that just one person can have on a foster youth’s life.  

Read the full interview for more! 

How long have you worked in foster care or child and family services?

My wife and I have fostered for close to 15 years and I have worked with Gateway for about 27 years.

How many children do you and your wife have?

We have built a big, beautiful family with a total of 15 children outside of our 6 biological kids. Our oldest is 44 years old and the youngest is 25.

Why do you foster?

Because of the love we have for working with children. It is a passion and calling to work with children –and we always have a home full of children. It is a passion and a call from God.

It can be very challenging, but it also can be very rewarding as well. I remember our first child came into our home at the age of 7. He is 20 now, and is still a part of our lives, but when we came into our family he had experienced trauma and showed aggression. He regularly got in trouble at school and at a certain point they kicked him out and wanted to put him in a treatment facility. Throughout his stay, we made it a point to make sure he knew we were still there for him and so we drove to visit him every weekend until he could come back home with us. 

Providing consistency was one of the biggest ways to help him heal. The greatest thing that stuck was reassuring him that, “Where you are now is not where you will be always – and we will never give up on you.” I think that made him want to do better and he is doing good to this day.

We have been there for him for the better part of 13 years and today he calls us dad and mom. Over the years, he has touched our lives as much as we have touched his.

What is your main goal as a foster parent?

Most of the children that we have welcomed into our lives, their story is one of abuse and neglect. So when they come into our home the first priority is always to make sure that they feel safe. We don’t push them to immediately connect with us and instead we meet them where they are at that point. There were two girls that we fostered, sisters, who LOVED the movie Frozen. We learned that that’s what they liked, so when they got to us, we took them to Walmart and bought them all the Frozen things - pillows, clothes, the movies you name it. It was a simple way to provide something familiar and that we knew they enjoyed to help their self-esteem letting them know You are in a safe environment and you are loved.” As a foster parent, it is so important to make that connection before you start any correction. You have to establish a rapport with them so that they know they are safe and that they can trust you before you start correcting any adverse behavior they may have because of the trauma they have been through.

You are a veteran foster parent now, but when you started this journey were there any hesitations?

As I mentioned, our first child was 7 years old and very aggressive when he came to us. In fact, the first thing he said to us was “I fight adults.” But we didn't let it scare us off and we just responded with, “I love you,” and let him know time and again that there was nothing he could do to make us give up on him. You realize there is a great need for someone in their life that they can trust and count on and once you build that trust - where they know you aren’t going anywhere- that’s how you help that child make a lasting connection. Being a therapeutic foster parent, you will face challenges, but once you stop and look through the eyes of that child you realize they have had experiences that had no control over. And you work together  to help them heal.

What is one thing you have learned?

I learned that we can better the quality of life for the children that come into our care. If we open our home and hearts to meet them where they are then we can walk with them to a better place. But we first have to love them where they are. One thing me and my wife talked about - being parents and having 6 biological children – is that sometimes as adults we only see things through our eyes, but we have to stop and see things through theirs. We have to look through their eyes and if you do you will see where they have been and where they are in that moment. Especially in therapeutic foster care, being a therapeutic foster parent the children who come into your home will have needs others may not have. They have been in hard places and because of the trauma they have gone through they need a little extra care and attention.

What is a piece of advice you would share with someone who is thinking of becoming a foster parent or working in the field? 

I would say to an individual thinking of doing this work to open up your heart and mind. You have to think about how you can touch the lives of children in need that need your love and care and just give them an opportunity. From the first child came into our home we have carried with us  share love with them and provide safety, time and attention. After our first placement we were hooked and just wanted to keep giving back to these children who are in desperate need of love and compassion.

One of the biggest challenges you face as a foster parent is the times when they have to leave their home. The end goal, if it is safe to do so, is to reunify them with their family. And when that day comes it is really hard to let them go to their forever home because you build a bond. But even then, what helps is knowing that when that child came into our home – they were in a hard placeSeeing how they grow, how far they have come once they leave, and understanding that together you helped that child and their family get to a better, safer place – That’s the call of being a foster parent. It is simply wanting to get them to a good, safe environment and walking with that child into a better place. And at the end of it, that child may be physically leaving our home, but they never leave our hearts and minds. - It is always worth it.

Join us in honoring Foster Care Awareness Month and Mr. Henderson's service to Alabama children and families!

Thank you to Marvin Henderson and game-changers is this field for the positive difference you make in the lives of foster children and families.  Thanks to his work, we continue to recruit and train great foster parents, support youth in foster care and create life changing outcomes.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent contact us today for more details!

Pictured: Mr. Henderson leads Mandt training.