Foster parenting is like a roller coaster. Just ask Priscilla King.
“Foster parenting has its ups and downs, but oh, what a journey! I never thought or predicted how rich life could be,” said King, a Jarrell resident, who has been both a foster and adoptive parent for more than 25 years.
King, 73, fostered more than 100 children and adopted five, but now has only her 5-year-old granddaughter legally in her care, she said Monday. That is because King’s mother lives with her now, as well as an adopted daughter and her boyfriend.
“I have my hands and my home full now and my energy level might be a little lacking,” King said. “Twenty-five years is good. I will be almost my mom’s age when my granddaughter graduates and might not be fully able to care for her. But I have family that can and will step in when the time comes,”
A different direction
King teaches foster parenting classes for Texas Department of Protective and Family Services.
“It is extremely important for Priscilla King, who has devoted so much of her life to help children in need of a safe, loving and nurturing home, to give back even more by helping teach prospective foster parents on what to expect and how to react in certain situations,” said Julie Moody, spokeswoman for the Department of Protective and Family Services.
Being a foster parent can be challenging, Moody said. “Parenting in general isn’t easy, and fostering children at times can be anything but easy,” she said.
When King and her husband, who died seven years ago, married, they planned to have children of their own, but that didn’t happen.“It was a big disappointment, but now I know why. God had a different direction for us to go,” King said.
The Kings first adopted a son and daughter and, when their youngest was in high school, decided to be foster parents.
“It wasn’t an empty nest. We just enjoyed parenting, so we got our license. We had every age and ethnicity and usually at least six children in our home at once,” King said. Three more girls, all with special needs, were adopted by the Kings.
King’s granddaughter has lived with her since she was 22 months old. The young girl’s father and mother, another of King’s adopted daughters, are both in prison for murdering the girl’s great-grandmother, Bonnie Harkey, in San Saba in March 2012.
Harkey, 85, was missing and her housekeeper, Karen Johnson, was found dead at Harkey’s home. Harkey’s body was later found in a shallow grave in Leon County.
Harkey’s stepson, grandson and King’s daughter were charged with capital murder.
King’s daughter recently accepted a plea deal of 45 years in prison, King said.
Her granddaughter weighed only 15 pounds when she was awarded custody because she had infantile anorexia. Food is still an issue, although not as big as it used to be since she assists King with cooking and has her own garden.
Acceptance is the key
Patience and love are big elements in being a foster parent, but the biggest component is acceptance, King said.
“Kids need acceptance more than anything. You have to accept them where they are when you get them. Once they feel accepted, you start to see little glimmers of change. You can’t be judgmental or you won’t be successful with them,” King said. “Foster parenting is difficult, but especially for the children. They’ve lost everything known to them. We just try to do the best we can with them.”
Foster parents have to be aware of what the children are going through to properly care for them, so King’s experience is invaluable to potential foster parents, Moody added. King has fostered children associated with gangs, with mental health issues, children of prostitutes, children on drugs, children raised in crack houses, and children with cerebral palsy and with fetal alcohol syndrome, to list a few.
“With foster kids, every day is a new slate, a brand new opportunity,” she said. “But you can’t love away what happened to them and the issues they come to you with. You have to build their self-esteem and be understanding. You learn to evaluate and analyze what is important. Some things just have to go by the wayside. You learn to pick your battles.”
One of the biggest disappointments is when children go from foster care into adoption and don’t do well there, King said.
“Many times I’ve taken them back. But the biggest joy is when children go back home to a rehabilitated home or into adoption with a new ‘forever family.’”
The majority of foster children go back into their former homes or are placed with other family members, King said, adding that the system has evolved from children spending five to six years in the system to much shorter periods of time.
King said Child Protective Services has a shortage of caseworkers and investigators.
“They’re spread way too thin and always need more resources. I always called them. The foster parent needs to call the caseworker and let them know what is going on in the child’s life.”
Texas residents interested in learning more about becoming foster or adoptive parents can call 800-233-3405.