Tina Brown of Beacon has been a foster parent to more than 100 children and teens. Her responses are excerpted from an interview for the podcast Beaconites.
What was your introduction to foster parenting?
I was 18 and a family member needed a placement. I became licensed and kept going from there. The first group we took in was six kids. My grandmother was a huge help. She taught me to cook — because I had no idea how — and how to manage a large group.
What’s your go-to recipe for a large group?
Baked ziti. I always have homemade sauce ready. And when I buy ground beef, I fry it all and put it in 1-pound containers, so it’s always on hand. You throw in some sauce. Cook up some noodles and throw it all into a foil pan. Chop up some peppers and onions and fresh tomatoes. Add your seasonings, throw some cheese on top, bake it up and call it a day.
What’s the largest number of children you’ve had living with you at one time?
Eighteen, for 27 very long days. We do not separate siblings, if at all possible. So whatever they call us for, we open our home and we figure it out. We’ve had kids anywhere from a 24-hour emergency placement to 19 years. I have two biological children. They’re 5 and 11, and they’re very welcoming. They love when their siblings come. They’re a little sad when they leave, but a lot of the kids stay in contact.
I’m trying to picture what the holidays are like at your place.
We go big for everything. Our Easter egg hunt has between 4,000 and 5,000 eggs. We do every holiday, from Cinco de Mayo to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas, New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Dr. Seuss Day, National Doughnut Day and National Sock Day. Kids are only young once and you have to build memories.
What does it take to become a foster parent?
You go through a background check, fingerprinting, home inspections, monthly fire drills. You go for 10 weeks of classes, and then ongoing classes if you have children with special needs. It sounds like a lot, but CPS [Child Protective Services] is very supportive. And when you see them smiling and graduating, it’s amazing. My kids get mad at me because I wear those corny “proud mom” shirts to every event. It will change you forever. You can tell somebody all day long about abuse or neglect. When a 6-year-old looks at you and says, “You took my nightmares away,” it’s all worth it.