When Brenda Nicholson was in her late twenties, a bad day working as a retail manager prompted her to completely change her life focus.
“I wanted to do something that felt meaningful,” said Nicholson, who is now the area co-ordinator for the Central Island Foster Parent Support Services Society (FPSSS). She has immersed herself in all things related to foster families for Nanaimo, Parksville and Ladysmith. This includes workshops, advice, listening, advocacy and even commiserating with the foster families who reach out.
“I’ve always been a rescuer,” said Nicholson. “When I was seven years old and my baby sister was only about eight or nine months old, I’d pull her out of her crib and have her sleep with me because I felt that she was safer there.”
Brenda is referencing the domestic violence that was happening in her childhood home.
She knows that her own childhood scenario is just one of many that children in B.C. live with. “The majority of people who have had their kids put into foster care are living in poverty; they’ve been in the system and living on the edge, often homeless, often with addictions. Malnutrition and hunger is a real issue that too many of these kids face,” she said.
Around her 30th birthday, Brenda saw an ad in The Province newspaper seeking adoptive parents and she realized, “I don’t want to have babies. I want the ones nobody else will take.”
In 2003, she adopted two boys, half siblings, who were four and 10 years old.
She has a vivid recollection of that day. The youngest boy shouted down to her and her husband from an upstairs landing, “Hi mom, hi dad. Do you want to see my bedroom?”
“I couldn’t believe that he already thought of me as his mom,” she said.
The boys are now 16 and 22 years old, and even though they’re struggling, when things get overwhelming, she reminds herself about where they’d be if they hadn’t adopted them.
“I adopted these children knowing the tragedy had already happened. They were born with their disabilities.”
The couple also have two other adopted sons who are now six and 12 years old. The six-year-old first arrived in her home when he was a year-and-a-half old. “That early intervention and us being his only placement has made all the difference,” she says. “You’ll never meet a more thoughtful person. He’ll always push the swing. He’ll always give up his toys to share. He’s fun and easygoing.”
Both younger boys first came into Nicholson’s life as foster children. “I’m so about getting these kids out of the system and giving them a mom and dad,” she said. “What I’ve learned after all these years is something that might surprise some people. I’ve learned that being neglected and ignored is more damaging than some of the more obvious forms of trauma.”
Her advice to those thinking of fostering or adopting is to leave all judgement at the door.
“If I was to judge their parents, the kids would know it. You have to have empathy for both the kids and for their parents.”
- October is Foster Family Month in B.C.
- November is adoption Awareness Month in B.C.
- As of 2017, 49% of children in care were adopted by their foster parent.
Learn More at:
- If you’re interested in finding out more about fostering, please call our fostering line at 1 800 663-9999, or visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/family-social-supports/fostering
- If you’re looking to build your family through adoption call 1 877 ADOPT- 07, or visit: www.bcadoption.com/aam