“I think foster care is a beautiful way of bringing the hands and feet of Jesus into your home.”
Tiffany McKnatt had often thought about becoming a foster parent before she was licensed in 2011. As a paraprofessional with Elkhart Community Schools, she saw a lot of kids get bounced around the system. Then one girl inspired her to act.
“I went to our social worker and said, ‘How can I take her home?’ and she said, ‘Go get licensed,’ ” Tiffany remembers. “By the time I did the whole process, [the girl] was in a good home and was being adopted.”
But Tiffany soon discovered a passion for helping teen girls. She’s also uniquely qualified for it.
“I came from kind of a rough childhood and some people came along and helped me. Had they not, I probably would not be the adult I am today,” she said.
Tiffany’s mother struggled with alcoholism. They moved often, and Tiffany spent periods of time living with her grandparents or an aunt and uncle. At 16, she struck out on her own. She eventually married and had three children. But in 2007, Tiffany and her husband divorced. While she’s quick to say she still believes in the sanctity of marriage, her status as a single mom allows her to model healthy independence to the girls she fosters – girls who may have witnessed domestic violence, addiction and other unhealthy relationships at home.
“They see that, hey, you can stand on your own two feet and run a house and work and be a happy, peaceful woman without a man bringing you your happiness,” she said.
Tiffany takes mostly teen girls, but has taken elementary age kids and infants when there were no other homes available. And she’s learned a lot in the eight years since she started.
“I had misconceptions,” she said. “My thought was, I was going to become a foster parent and help kids for six months to a year while their parents beat down DCS’ door trying to get their kids home. Then we could all have Thanksgiving together and go to church together. That was my vision of foster care – healing of families. But that hasn’t happened yet.”
Most of the kids she’s fostered have aged out of the system and are now living on their own.
“All of them are doing pretty good,” she said. “They’re in an OK place and I have contact with all of them. On Mother’s Day or Thanksgiving, a lot of my foster girls get in touch with me before my bio kids do.”
She’s also learned the importance of self-care, of investing time in her relationship with her biological daughter who still lives at home, of asking for help when she needs it and even saying no to a placement that doesn’t suit her home or lifestyle.
“When I first got licensed, I just said yes to everybody, because I couldn’t stand the idea of a kid not having a home,” she said. “Then I realized, diapers aren’t my thing – they’re just not anymore – remembering a diaper bag. I’m more of a, ‘Put you shoes on, we’re headed out the door’ kind of mom.”
Although Tiffany’s children were mostly grown when she became a foster mom – her youngest daughter was 16 – she doesn’t generally recommend waiting.
“One of the biggest things I hear from people is, ‘I’ll do that when my kids are older.’ Why?” she said. “I think foster care is a beautiful way of bringing the hands and feet of Jesus into your home. It helps children see that there is a bigger world out there that we need to help.”
For Tiffany, fostering is also an act of obedience and an offering of faith. She references John Fuller from Focus on the Family, who she heard speak in 2012: If two families from every church in America would take two kids, the church could end the homelessness of kids in foster care.
“As I drive around this Michiana region, it amazes me how every corner has a church on it,” she said. “[Foster care] isn’t everybody’s calling, and I get that. But I have to believe that there’s more families out there who just don’t realize how desperately our kids need them.”