Stacey Bentley and her husband, Mike, have been foster parents for less than a year. But already they have received an award for “outstanding service and laudable dedication to the children and families of Suffolk County, New York.”
Stacey and Mike, a pastor at Christ Community Church in East Islip, N.Y., are foster parents for special needs children who are neglected, abused, or addicted to drugs. A caseworker nominated Stacey for the Child Abuse and Neglect/Family Violence Volunteer of the Year Award when she saw the effort Stacey was making to stay in contact with her foster daughter’s biological mother.
“My caseworker thought I was going above and beyond what most foster parents would normally do to develop a relationship with the biological mom and include her in doctor visits and journaling with her,” explained Stacey.
The young mother of Stacey’s 2 1/2-year-old foster daughter had few good role models for parenting during her own formative years, so Stacey has become her mentor. “I try to encourage her not to give up and to remember that being a parent is a hard job and a big responsibility,” said Stacey. “Her daughter is definitely worth it.”
Stacey also tries to include the mother in decision-making so that when the young woman regains custody of her daughter, she will be familiar with the little girl’s medical history, such as the number of medicines she takes and how many doctors she visits.
Stacey and Mike’s foster daughter arrived at their home with a feeding tube, and she requires regular medical care. The couple, who also have five biological children ranging in age from 5 to 16, chose to be foster parents for children with special needs. Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, Stacey was a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit with premature and special needs babies. Fostering special needs children “was a very good fit for me,” she says. The county was happy to have her too as a foster parent with a medical background.
Reuniting biological families and children can be challenging, especially when the children have special needs. Mike and Stacey briefly fostered a baby who ended up living with his grandmother. Stacey has been in contact with the grandmother and was happy to hear that the baby and grandmother are doing well.
For Mike and Stacey, mentoring and building a relationship with their foster children’s biological parents is simply a way of loving others as Christ did. “We believe that reuniting children doesn’t only include the care of the children, but also care for their parents,” says Stacey. “No matter the reason for the child’s placement in our care, we try to show the love of Jesus in every aspect of our interactions with the biological family.”