Atlanta social worker, single adoptive mom and foster parent Amanda Vandalen says being a foster parent is “the most beautifully broken thing you’ll ever do.”
“You’re willingly going into heartbreak, into trauma, and into somebody else’s story,” Vandalen said.
And she should know: she’s been taking foster children into her home for the past five years.
Vandalen doesn’t glamorize the job of a foster parent. She says it’s hard work that’s likely best performed by someone with a flexible job, strong support system and probably a counselor.
It also requires a heart for helping, a big one that tugs for kids, which is something friends and colleagues say Vandalen has.
Her desire to be a foster parent began in high school when it was emotionally painful to say good-bye to the little ones she babysat. It was something the 34-year-old Vandalen counted on doing once she was married, and she struggled for years over whether a single parent could provide the love and support these children would need.
“I came to the realization that a kid doesn’t need to have two parents to feel loved,” she said.
Those who know Vandalen call her compassionate and generous.
During the day, she is director of residential services and coordinator of assessment programs for Atlanta’s homeless at the Gateway Center.
Her boss, Gateway Center CEO Raphael Holloway, said: “Amanda is genuine, and her authenticity can be easily noticed when you speak with or meet her.”
Longtime friend and former roommate Jessica Thompson said Vandalen “has always cared immensely for those that are marginalized and need someone to show that they care.”
When Vandalen decided she was going to become a foster parent, the first thing she did was gather her support team. In the summer of 2014, she sent an email to close friends and family, explaining that she had the desire and the means to do this and felt like God had called her to it. Her mom, Lisa Oliver, was among the first to jump on board.
“I have to say I’m super proud of her, and just amazed by how she just took on the role of a foster mom then adoptive mom to now continued fostering. She is so inspiring to all. I have been thankful for the additional support from her friends she receives on this journey,” Oliver said.
Six months after starting the process, Vandalen got a call about two children who needed foster care. One was a newborn. Her mother encouraged her to take the baby and offered to help. Jeremiah wasn’t expected to be with her long, but life situations changed and Vandalen ended up adopting him, even fighting for the adoption in court when an out-of-state relative wanted to move him away.
“It was really hard,” remembers Vandalen, recalling the adoption process. “I felt like his mother, and he felt like my son, and we were supposed to be together.”
Jeremiah, now 4 1/2, is an only child, but with many foster brothers and sisters moving in and out of his life. With every foster opportunity, Vandalen gives her young son a say in who comes into their home. He’s affected by the trauma that other children bring, she said, and while he loves having siblings, it takes his mother’s time away from him.
“He’s very much a mommy’s boy,” Vandalen said. “We have a great bond and healthy attachment, and sometimes it’s hard to share.”
Thompson said Vandalen’s “temperament and patience towards children has made her an incredible foster parent,” and she treats every child that comes through her life “like they were the most important person in the world.”
“I feel that there are very few single women who choose daily to put others before themselves and then actually see it through,” Thompson said. “Amanda does that. She has sacrificed many comforts to make sure that others have what they need. The generosity, compassion, and stability that she provides to others have left lasting impacts on so many lives, including mine.”
Vandalen has inspired a few of her friends to become foster parents and to get involved with others who are fostering. Bringing a meal is one of the best ways to help a foster family, especially during the first couple of weeks of a placement when everyone’s getting used to a new routine, she said.
“I’ve had people tell me I couldn’t do this because I’d get too attached,” Vandalen said. “Well, that’s exactly what the kids need you to do. They need somebody to get too attached. They don’t need somebody to keep them at arm’s length. They need to see and feel that love every day.”
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