Going back 30 years, Kathy and Vince Cata wanted to have several children. While that did not happen the way they hoped it might, the couple became foster parents to 20 children and eventually adopted four of those youngsters.
The Jackson couple’s interest in becoming foster parents was sparked when they were informed about a child whose parent was going to prison. They heard of the situation from a friend of a friend. “We never did get that child, he wound up going to another house, but then we got 20 other children over the years,” Kathy Cata said. “We had a lot of special needs kids, and out of the 20 we fostered, we got to adopt four of them. There were another four children we did not get to adopt, but they still consider us mom and dad.”
Cata said being a foster parent is challenging and rewarding.
“When we started, we said we wanted to start out easy because we did not have any children. Our first foster child was 4 years old and he had been in four homes and was legally blind, neurologically impaired and hyperactive, so that was our first initiation into parenthood,” she said.
Cata said it took a lot of prayer, work and one-on-one attention to help that youngster.
“That was one of the success stories because his parents got the help they needed … and he went back home, and we have kept in contact over the years,” she said. “It is a lot of work, but there are definitely a lot of blessings.”
In the late 1980s, Kathy and Vince decided to adopt medically fragile babies, as there were many infants waiting for a home.
“We had gotten involved with a child, who was born in 1989, when she was 6 months old. She did not come home with us until she was 10 months old,” Kathy said. “We learned about taking care of her, and it was very challenging because we had to learn all kinds of medical things. We had to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). … We wound up having to do CPR on her twice. She was one of our challenges. She was very fragile, but she is a 26- year-old little love. She will be forever 8 years old, but she is a sweetheart and loves everybody and she brightens up your day.”
Although she never had a child of her own, Cata said she would not change the way things worked out.
She offered the following thoughts to people who may be thinking about becoming foster parents.
“People say they want a normal, average child, but any child who is in foster care is not going to be your normal, average child because they have been through so much,” Cata said. “They come with emotional, physical and mental baggage, so if you want to become a foster parent, you are not going to get this cute little 3-year-old who is going to love you unconditionally. It is going to be work. You have to be willing to spend the time to deal with their issues.”
Cata said support from family members and the church got her and her husband through the challenges of being foster parents.
“You have to surround yourself with some good support systems. … We go to the First Assembly of God in Freehold and we are just starting a King’s Table organization that reaches out to families with disabled children and young adults,” she said. “We are doing a Christmas party and then we are doing a respite program where you can drop off a child or young adult. We are going to be giving gift cards to parents and caregivers so they can go out and have some quiet time. That is the main (concern) with taking in special needs (youngsters), it is a 24/7 responsibility. We have two adoptive children right now who are 26 and 22, but will be with us forever.”
Lynn Patmalnee, the director of communication and development at Foster and Adoptive Family Services, South Brunswick, said the agency offers support, training and advocacy for foster parents.
“We offer foster parent support groups so they can meet with their peers and talk about fostering and the rewards and challenges of being a foster parent,” Patmalnee said. “In addition to our services for foster parents, we have programs for children in foster care, and those are donor-supported programs, so if someone cannot become a foster parent but they would love to help kids, donating to those programs is a great way to do so.”
Individuals who want to become foster parents go through training that is offered through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
“There are mandatory training courses. We have mental health courses, adolescent depression and suicide courses, post traumatic stress disorder, and more,” Patmalnee said, adding that foster parents may choose to parent a baby, a young child, a teenager, a boy or a girl, for example.
She said the benefits of being a foster parent are that people are keeping a child safe and showing a child a loving, stable home.
“Later in life, children who have had good foster parents stayed in touch with them. Even if a foster child ends up going home, which we always hope they do if it is safe for them to do so, a lot of times they still want to keep in touch with their foster parents and they always remember the kindness their foster parents showed them. Foster parents really can make a difference,” Patmalnee said.