Audrey & Dean

I made the acquaintance of Audrey and Dean Hammond about ten years ago when I was serving as the foster parent licensing social worker for the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families. The Hammonds have always been strong supporters of foster parenting as well as being foster parents themselves. They were instrumental in setting up our local foster parent association and they have been involved in community education about foster parenting whenever the opportunity has presented itself.

It was nearly Christmas as I made the familiar drive to the Hammond home. The town was ablaze with Christmas lights everywhere. Homes were outlined, driveways were aglow as well as yard trees and almost anything else that could accept lighting was lit up. "I was so fascinated by the Christmas lights on your street that I nearly missed the house!" I said, stamping the fresh snow from my feet and entering the kitchen. The Hammond's daughter, Beth, who is now twenty, was home on college vacation. She had cleverly decorated the refrigerator, which was dominant in the large kitchen, to look like a giant Christmas package. The mood was set.

I had been invited to join the family for supper and, as we caught up on each others lives, finished dessert and cleared the table, we began reminiscing about the many successful foster placements this family has had over the years.

When I first met the Hammonds, their four children were all living at home. Beth is the youngest and the last to leave. I was always impressed with the way the Hammond children adjusted to the addition of a foster child or two to the family. They loved it!

Audrey and Dean have always shown respect for their family members and expected and usually received the same in return. The children were secure in their knowledge that their parents loved them and they, as well as their parents, were willing to open their hearts to someone else in need. I asked Beth what it was like and she replied, "I was about ten years old when my parents decided to become foster parents but I honestly don't remember when we didn't have foster children or relatives or friends here. Mom and Dad talked with us when they wanted to take in foster children and we all agreed to it and thought it would be fun. Well, it wasn't always fun, but, for the most part, we enjoyed it. Mom would say, `I got a call today,' and we'd all know what that meant. They always discussed it with us first. If we objected, they would turn the placement down. We only turned one kid down and that was because the kid came from our town and my brother couldn't stand him. We always had dinner at six o'clock and we all knew that we had to be home at that time for dinner. We always had family discussions at the dinner table and Mom and Dad would bring it up then, and we'd decide."

"We loved making room arrangements for the new kid. This is a big house and we used all of it, even the finished room in the attic. Sometimes we'd have the rooms all switched around by the time Mom and Dad came home. We thought it was important for a new kid to know where he or she was going to be and to have their own private space. We didn't want them to feel that they were putting anyone out of their room by coming here. Mom and Dad never told us how to swap or arrange the rooms, we just did it. If any of us didn't really like it, we knew it wasn't forever, so it was okay. I never did get tired of having foster kids come to live here."

Audrey commented, "We usually took short term placements. Most kids stayed with us for an average of seven months. Gradually, we increased the length of time a child could stay with us as the Agency requested. Several kids stayed with us for two to three years.

Beth remembered, "I really didn't want to always be the youngest. I worried that a foster child might end up telling me what to do. They never did. It was silly. I bonded to the ones who stayed with us for a long time. Some were adopted and we kept in contact with the adoptive family until the kids bonded with their new parents. They even came to my high school graduation."

"Petey was one of the younger children we had," Dean began. "He was eight years old when he was moved here from another foster home. It was sort of funny. Petey just gawked as we drove through town, like we might do if we went to Paris! It was sad, though, Petey had never had a childhood. He loved his mother dearly, but she was not a strong person and suffered with bouts of severe depression. Petey's father had left her and she couldn't cope with being alone with Petey and his siblings, managing a home, a family, and working odd hours as well. Petey didn't have any sort of routine. He felt responsible for his mother and thought he should be the one to take care of her. When he went into foster care he was very worried about how she would manage and who would take care of her. In our home he had to learn how to be a little boy."

Petey had trouble in school. Fortunately, Dean's work schedule allowed him to go to Petey's school where he volunteered in Petey's class. "I'd help the children, including Petey, learn to read,"Dean remembered "Petey was reluctant" to read to me at first, but when he saw the other kids doing it, he began to do it, too. Eventually, we were able to read books together and, in a matter of months, he was reading. I'll never forget when he realized that he could read, he just kept saying over and over, `I can read! I can read!' His self esteem had been so low. It was a turning point for him. We tried to read to him every night."

"Petey's mother, Kim, was involved with him off and on, as she was able to be," Audrey remarked. "She'd come in the summer time and we'd have a pool party. Petey misbehaved and he would have to be reprimanded. I gave Kim some
suggestions, then Dean and I would just stand back and let her deal with him. We had to let her try but we didn't want to demean her in any way. Kim and I would often sit in the kitchen and `just talk.' Dean and I would share with her what had happened during the week, what Petey did and how we handled it."

"While Petey was with us, his father died," Dean added. "He had been gone a long time. There had been some contact with him, but not a lot. Petey seemed to be trying to convince himself that his father loved him." He had bonded to his father and had kept treasured mementos of the short time they had been together. In his collection there were pictures, an old headband, rocks and a stick that his father had picked up once when they had gone on a hike. Petey had to keep it all. He took it all with him when he was reunited with his mother.

Petey constantly talked about going home to live with his mother. He visited her frequently prior to his return to her. At the time, she lived in an apartment on the third floor of a tenement building located in a crowded city. Her neighbors were struggling, frustrated people, many of whom had far more problematic lives than Kim ever had. Her neighbor, Rosie, was one of them. It all happened one weekend when Petey was visiting his mother. Audrey received a call from Rosie. She was very upset. Kim, she said, had gone out to dinner and left Petey alone. She hadn't come back. "When she's home, she's always yelling at him. You're his foster mother, come and get him," Rosie said. "Petey says he wants you to come and get him." Audrey didn't know Rosie at all and she didn't know exactly where Kim was living at this time. "Kim is incapable of raising Petey," Rosie continued. Audrey thought that this didn't sound "right" to her. Petey had always talked about going to live with his mother. It seemed doubtful that he would want to return after such a short visit. Rosie said that she had called the police and gave Audrey the police department phone number. "How did you ever get our phone number?", Audrey asked her. Petey had memorized it and given it to her. After Rosie had hung up, Audrey called the police. "Petey's okay," the policeman said. "Kim is doing fine. If you ask me, she doesn't need the hassle Rosie is giving her."

When Kim brought Petey back to the Hammond foster home she stayed and talked with Audrey about what had happened. Kim's mother lived in the same building and Petey knew he could go to her if he had a problem. She also checked on him. Audrey and Dean were understanding. It made Kim feel good to know that they didn't automatically blame her. They recognized that she was trying. She felt vindicated and supported by them. It was good for Kim to have someone to talk to about it, someone who would listen.

Kim pulled her life together. She secured a low income loan and purchased a nice house out in the country, with stone walls, fields and a dirt road. She and Petey are doing fine, helped to a large degree by Audrey and Dean Hammond.

The Director of New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families sent a Christmas letter to her staff in which she quotes Mary Cholmondeley as follows, "Every year I live I am more convinced that the waste of life lies in the love we have not given, the powers we have not used, the selfish prudence that will risk nothing... . No one has ever been the poorer in the long run for having once in a lifetime let out all the length of the reins."

Good foster parents are stable, caring people. They are internally strong enough to take a risk and give their time, energy and friendship to the children in their care and their families. They are also strong enough to "let out all the length of the reins" and give the child's parent(s) an opportunity to try using new techniques for managing their child. They act as supportive, encouraging coaches to the child's parent(s).

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