“I’m from Saskatchewan. I don’t cry.”
It’s tough talk from a social worker who has placed more children and youth for adoption in B.C. than any other colleague. Those who know Sharon Foden, who works out of the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s Esquimalt office, know that it’s Sharon’s strong prairie work ethic – fueled by a heart of gold – that is the secret behind her success over the past 35 years.
“It’s a magical thing,” says Sharon when talking about her work in guardianship. “At any given time, I have 35 kids whose day-to-day lives I’m responsible for. And I’m entrusted with their futures, too, in finding the right adoptive parents for them.”
“You know that song from Fiddler on the Roof…Matchmaker Matchmaker,” laughs Foden. “That’s me.”
True to the song’s lyrics: “night after night, in the dark I’m alone, so find me a match of my own,” Foden doesn’t disappoint, having placed hundreds of kids with their forever families over the years.
“You get a gut feeling when you know you’ve got a good match,” explains Foden. “And it’s not just based on whether you think a prospective parent can handle a child’s particular needs. I look for people who are stubborn…who will never let go…who say …’No matter what, this is my child…forever.’”
And Foden knows what she’s talking about. She is the mother of three adopted children, all of them now grown.
“My kids – none of them biologically related – came to me at different ages. My eldest was one when we found each other, my middle was a baby and my youngest, five. And I raised my family as a single parent,” she says reflectively.
Taking a path not easily chosen and thinking outside the box is what Foden feels is the key to her approach.
“I do a lot of placements with single parents.”
And with each finalized adoption comes closure for Foden, but also a chance to remind everyone in the life of a child that it’s just the beginning.
“We mark every adoption with a candle ceremony in our office,” she explains. “The child is represented by a tall candle, anchored in a bowl of water, with each loved person in their life represented by a floating candle.
We’ve lit candles for birth moms, adoptive parents, siblings, grandparents, close friends, the family cat, dog, hamster and even a fish or two. And what’s cool is that those candles form a circle around the child’s candle…like the circle of love and support that every young person deserves.”
It’s emotional and tough work, stresses Foden. She says some days are hard and there are nights she doesn’t sleep very well knowing that when she moves a child, it’s upsetting for them.
“It’s hard to leave the kids behind when that happens,” she laments. “You see their little faces. But my training and experience has taught me that once a child transitions to their attachment, they settle and they grow.”
The kind of life-altering decisions Foden makes can be stressful, but she has no regrets. She could have retired two years ago.
“Why would I retire?” she asks. “I have tons of fun at work, I get to meet awesome kids and I get to be a conduit to their futures.”
And the impact guardianship workers make on individual lives is a powerful one. One 13-year-old girl Foden worked with asked an adult in her life if she knew what a hero was. The adult provided a perfectly sound explanation, but it missed the mark for the young girl who replied, “Sharon is my hero; she saved my life.”
There were tears for Foden that day, she admits.
With Social Work Week (March 13-19) fast approaching, the Ministry of Children and Family Development is honouring social workers throughout the province for going above and beyond the call of duty to make a real difference for B.C. families. To read the proclamation, please visit: http://goo.gl/C0CRZM