As I get more accustomed to life as a Family Teacher, I can’t help but think about how much my previous job as a paramedic set me up to be successful at Thornwell, specifically in an assessment cottage. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are a lot of of similarities between Emergency Medical Services and Foster Care.
A little background: I’ve worked in EMS for 5 years in 2 different states. I worked and volunteered as a Basic EMT in Western New York for 3 years, and I spent the 2 years prior to moving to South Carolina as a full time Paramedic in Port Huron, Michigan. Prehospital Emergency Medicine is something I have a strong passion for, and even though I am not currently involved in EMS, I still care about it very much, and it’s a calling I hope to return to at some point in my life.
It’s a weird feeling to have 2 callings. I feel very strongly called to EMS, and I miss it tremendously, but I also feel an equally strong calling to help out kids who can’t help themselves. I know there are a lot of people who struggle to find any type of calling in their life, so I’m not trying to gloat or sound self important, but the struggle is real. Every time I hear sirens or have an ambulance fly past me I miss it, and on the days that I’m struggling with my current job, I wish I had never left EMS. At the same time, I know that if I went back to full time EMS, I would miss spending my time with kids, and doing my best to provide with them with what what they’ve had stolen from them: a normal childhood experience.
That being said, here are some of the commonalities between my last 2 jobs:
Bad things don’t always happen between 9 and 5 Monday-Friday. People don’t stop making bad decisions on major holidays. Kids don’t have issues when it’s convenient.
When most people wake up in the morning, they have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen that day. You have a good idea of what’s going to happen at work, you have a set schedule for school, you have dinner plans and tv shows you’re going to watch. Working in Foster Care and EMS (and other jobs), you never know what your day is going to look like. You could go from sleeping to doing CPR in a span of 5 minutes. You could have to handle 3 separate tantrums with just the 2 of you. We never know how bedtimes are going to go, or how kids are going to react to correction, so we need to be ready to handle a multitude of situations. It gets a little easier once kids are with you for a few weeks because you start to learn their habits and reactions, but they can always surprise you.
Dependent on people being hurt:
The worst parts about EMS and Foster Care is that in order for you to do your job, something bad has to happen to someone else. The sad fact is: Thornwell wouldn’t be open if parents didn’t abuse and neglect their kids. If people didn’t misuse drugs and alcohol, we would need a lot fewer foster parents and paramedics.
All throughout EMT school, Paramedic school, and countless CE classes, I learned about trauma. I’ve been learning about trauma for a long time, and I still am. I deal with more trauma as a family teacher than I ever did as a paramedic. Every child that comes into our home has experienced trauma. It’s a very different kind of trauma, and requires a very different approach. There’s no golden hour for a kid whose mom likes meth more than them. There’s no splint for a broken family. There are a lot of differences between physical and emotional trauma, but the goals are ultimately the same: Pain management and as much of a return to normalcy as possible.
Since we deal with trauma on a daily basis, in EMS as well as in foster care, it’s easy for us to be affected by it. Heidi and I are blessed to work at a place that retains their employees 4 times longer than the average residential foster care group home. There is a strong support system and a community of believers here that we know has dealt with or is dealing with the same things we are. That makes it very easy to talk openly about how we’re feeling and what we’re struggling with. There is a huge push right now for improved mental health and open conversations among public safety folks due to an alarmingly high rates of suicide and PTSD among fire, police, and EMS personnel. Thankfully, there are not similar trends in foster care, but burnout is just as real and just as possible. It is easy for Heidi and I to see how the average tenure for our line of work is only 9 months. There were a number of times during our first few months where we felt overwhelmed and asked ourselves how much longer we could keep this up. Thankfully, we serve a God who is strongest when we are weakest, and we are surrounded by encouraging friends and coworkers.
Just like in EMS, we have protocols. The Teaching Family Association provides us with a set of guidelines as to how to handle different situations with different kids, and we have a basic outline of how each interaction should go. We are given the freedom to work within the guidelines, and are trusted to analyze a situation and respond with the appropriate intervention. One of my favorite things about EMS was the freedom to choose my own adventure. I was given a set of skills and guidelines for when to use those skills, but I was free to use or not use whatever I felt was appropriate for a certain situation. The same is true for Family Teaching. We are given skills and guidelines, but due to the inherent unpredictability, especially in an assessment cottage, we have the autonomy to make the decisions that we feel is most appropriate. Most often that occurs after consultation with our supervisor (or med control), but we feel like we are trusted and supported in the majority of the decisions we make for our kids.
These can be very heavy and depressing jobs. You’ve probably read some our other posts about how we struggle and cry our way through shifts, and you might wonder how anybody could do what we do and survive. The first answer is laughter. In both EMS and Foster Care, if you can’t laugh, it will be very difficult to survive in that line off work. Laughter is definitely the best medicine. But moreso, we do what we do because we know it works. We know that (most of the time) if we do what we are trained to do, people will get better. It makes all of the stress and craziness worth it when we see a kid who has grown more in the 7 months you’ve been working with him than the last 4 years that he lived with his parents. It’s really nice when someone who was trying to wrestle and fight with you 10 minutes ago can shake your hand and say thanks after a simple shot of sugar. They’re not all success stories, and for every diabetic that thanks you, theres a drunk who will cuss you out. For every kid who tells you they feel safer here than they ever did at home, there’s one who will smash barstools and yells that he hates it here. But through it all I firmly believe that good always beats evil. In the darkest room, one small light can illuminate the whole place. Cheesy, I know, but it’s true. On our most stressful and darkest days, one hug or one sweet comment can make it all okay.
Nobody gets into EMS or residential foster care for the money. Both jobs could easily be considered ones that are overworked and underpaid. But to those who are called to these careers, we’d do it for free if we didn’t have bills to pay. It’s about the people, not the money. We can’t imagine doing anything else, because we’re sure that we are doing what we are called to do.
The world is always in need of people who are willing to help other people. EMS and Foster Care are just what I chose, there are a lot other great ways to help people. It doesn’t have to be a full time commitment, and you don’t have to move across the country. Look around you, and see what is needed. Foster care is something that’s dear to Heidi and I, so we would love it if you would research ways you can help kids in your area, or contact us to find out more.
I feel very blessed that I absolutely love the 2 careers I have chosen. I love the adrenaline rush and quick thinking required by a job in EMS. I love the time spent with kids and the chance to provide a happy and safe environment that I have as a family teacher.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17 NIV)