Tag Archive: recruiting foster parents

The Starfish Story revisited

The Starfish Story speaks to the heart of why I’m a foster parent.

Edward, a long-time foster dad has a slightly different take on the story:

There’s an old story… you’ve probably heard a version of it, but it bears repeating.
An old man sees a young boy walking down the beach. The boy picks up a starfish from the huge number that had been washed ashore, looks at it, and throws it into the ocean. The man watches as the boy does this a number of times. Finally, the man approaches the boy and asks why the boy is doing this. “If I don’t, the starfish will die,” the boy responds. The man asks the boy, “Considering the number of starfish on the beach, do you really think it matters?” The boy looks at the old man, picks up a starfish, tosses into the ocean and says, “It matters to that one.”

The story usually ends there, but I often wonder what happens next. Does the man walk away shaking his head at the naivete of the child, or does he recognize the wisdom of the young child and start helping? Do they clear the beach of starfish, or just a few more?

There is more to the end of this story that we don’t know. That starfish that the child threw back into the ocean…. Did it get eaten? Did it get washed ashore a few hours later, just to die after all? Did it find a better purchase and live a long, healthy starfish life, giving rise to a whole new generation of starfish? We can’t know. The boy will never know.

What we DO know is that at a very specific point in time in that starfish’s life, when all seemed lost amongst the dead and dying peers, someone came along and saved its life. For whatever reason, probably because it was in the right place at the right time; IT was picked out of all those others to be helped. The boy didn’t take it home and add to his collection of starfish. The boy didn’t try to tag it, to be followed later. The boy just helped because it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time.


Foster parents are a lot like this. I’ve heard them ask, “I wonder if the child will remember me?” “I wonder what happened to that child.” The fact is, though, that most children WON’T remember and most foster parents will never know what became of their foster children. What we DO know, and what THEY know, is that at a very specific point in time in that child’s life, when all seemed lost, someone came along and gave him/her security, health, and love. For whatever reason, that child was picked out of all of the horror stories in our society, to be helped. Most often, the children are returned home, and the foster parent never finds out what happens next. Unlike the starfish, that is simply gazed upon as an interesting object and then tossed into the sea, these children are loved by their foster parents, fought with and advocated for – for months or years, and the parting can be very painful – very much like giving up your own child.

It may be a little selfish to want to be remembered. It may be a little voyeuristic to want to watch what happens next. Mostly, though, I think it is the greatest gift an adult can give a child – love, security, and safety at a time when the child is most in need (and maybe even a little resentful) – just because it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time.

If you think you have what it takes to love a child, battle the child, advocate for the child against a system that isn’t always understanding, and then let that child enter back into the world without you there… I encourage you to contact your local Foster Parent office.

If you don’t think you can do those things, but you think you can advocate for a child in court, check into Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or Guardian ad Litem (GAL).
At the very least, notice when a child needs help, and get involved… call someone.

Edward and his wife, Renee, have been foster parents for over 10 years, and volunteer as Court Appointed Special Advocate/Guardian ad Litem (CASA/GAL).
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