I have known Ingrid and Stephen Burnell for years. I’ve written about their now 19-year-old son, Chandler, several times over the years and their daughter, Lindsey, played lacrosse with one of our daughters. But only recently did I find out that Ingrid and Stephen have been fostering children for the past four years.
Since it is Foster Care Awareness Month, I thought it appropriate to speak with Ingrid and ask her to share their journey as foster parents. Ingrid said early on in their almost 30-year marriage, they discussed adoption and even looked into it. With two biological children and an increasingly busy schedule, adoption was put on the back burner as the couple forged ahead with carpools, sports, school, work and just life in general. Then, four years ago, she bumped into a friend who had an adorable little boy with her who turned out to be a child she was fostering.
“Through our conversation that day, I felt the spark of being there for a child who needed a home, food, love and stability,” Burnell said. “Our pastor Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church left us with a quote, ‘Do for one as you want to do for many.’”
She said her and Stephen talked extensively about fostering and prayed about it.
“We asked lots of questions and investigated our options,” Burnell said.
The Burnell’s decided partnering with a private agency, Giving Children a Chance of Georgia in Alpharetta, turned out to be the right fit for them.
Since becoming foster parents four years ago, the Burnell’s have opened up their home and hearts to 30 children. Ingrid explained to me that while some people think foster children are unruly, on drugs, or violent, that has not been their experience at all.
“We have fostered children who have been abandoned, or have had a parent who died or is incarcerated. And of course children who are placed in care due to neglect,” she said. “Each child is different and comes with their own set of problems, but we find that through love, modeling a loving family, providing shelter, food, routine, validating the importance of education and advocating for special services the child needs, we are making an impact on a child’s life.”
When asked for advice for people thinking of becoming foster parents, Burnell said it is important to have a good support system.
“We really made the decision to do this as a family — and even now, everybody helps out,” she emphasized. “My advice is you get involved with the foster care community so you learn how everything works. You can do this through online support groups, local foster care groups, church ministries and more. It’s important to do the research.”
She said it is also important to be flexible. “My best advice is to model the love that God has so freely given to each of us and work to build the child’s self esteem.”
“I think back to our very first placement, four years ago,” Burnell said. “The doorbell rang and I looked at Stephen and said, ‘Here we go. We opened the door to see a frightened 7-year-old girl whose life, through no fault of her own, was walking into her fourth foster home in two years.” Burnell said while all foster children are special, this particular little girl worked her way into their hearts in a way the couple was not expecting. That little girl is now celebrating two years with her forever parents in the Burnell home. Talk about fate.
I love that Ingrid and Stephen were willing to share their story and their journey of fostering these children. There is such an incredible need for foster parents out there. If you feel called, please consider being a foster parent. You have no idea what an impact you may have on the life of a child. I have no doubt the Burnell’s have positively influenced and impacted each of the children they have fostered. God bless all of you foster parents and the children you so selflessly foster.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.