Brian and Jessica Flaherty of Easton became licensed as foster parents in Talbot County amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The couple’s first foster care placement was a two-year-old medically fragile child who is blind and has cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease – having to be hospitalized several times while in their care. The Flaherty’s confronted these challenges with grace and perseverance, earning them the recognition of being Talbot County’s 2021 Foster Parents of the Year.
“Jessica and Brian joined our agency just a year ago and have shown to be a tremendous resource for families in that time. They have a calling to care for children with special needs. Not only did they hit the ground running during a pandemic but they have demonstrated tremendous flexibility and capacity to care for children with very high levels of need. They continue to amaze everyone who works with them and gracefully tackle the challenges of working with three different local departments on top of all of the children’s specialists and medical providers,” comments Paris Quillet, Special Projects Coordinator at the Talbot County Department of Social Services.
The Flaherty’s have four biological children, including one child who has Down Syndrome. Both had experiences with children with special needs – Brian was raised with a child who had Down syndrome and Jessica was raised with foster children. Jessica shares. “We knew we wanted to adopt a child with special needs one day and instead had our child born with Down syndrome. It is our lane and it’s what we are good at.”
As she reflects on the past year, Jessica states that there are many variables and moving pieces in being a foster parent and even more moving pieces caring for a medically fragile child. She adds, “Advocacy is critically important with medically fragile children.”
“This is a need I can meet. I believe everyone has something to teach and something to learn. This is how I can serve. Many people run away from children with this level of need, but we’ve hoped for the opportunity to run toward them.”
Jessica explains that everyone in her family has to be on board for taking on the challenges that come about with foster care and every family member has a role in helping out. The Flaherty family members all want to rise to the occasion. She states that learning compassion for others has come from the family living with one another. One of the couple’s children was born with a deformed ear and was aware of being different and targeted by bullies. Their daughter Ellie, who has Down syndrome, has helped each family member to realize the blessing a child with special needs can be to a family.
“Our children know that their opinions matter. We listen to them and their needs in deciding about taking foster care placements. We would take any child who would be a good fit for us,” Jessica adds.
In June, the Flaherty’s will be adopting the three-year-old medically fragile foster child who has been in their care. They are also currently fostering a 12-year old medically-fragile boy.
“I think everyone has some passion or gift they can either act upon or choose to walk away from. It is important, however, for people to check their motivations and expectations for wanting to become a foster parent. You will be giving your family to a child, instead of getting a child for your family,” Jessica comments.
She also explains that there is unique grief that comes with foster care and it is important to acknowledge that grief. The Department of Social Services offers therapists to help foster families deal with the separation that happens when a foster child is reunited with his/her family.
“When foster parenting is done well, we can sometimes continue to be a support for a family that is reunited – helping to keep that family together,” she adds.
When asked about how to encourage someone to think about becoming a foster parent, she states, “I would tell them to take the first step and make themselves aware of how foster parenting works. Educating yourself before you make the decision is important as is taking the process slowly – one step at a time.”
For people who may not want to become foster parents, there are many ways to support foster families on the Mid-Shore. Jessica suggests asking foster families what they need to support them and help them with what they are doing. She states that it might be bringing them dinner one night or helping them with their biological children if they are overwhelmed.
For further information about becoming a foster parent in Talbot County, call Christine Montague at 410-820-7371 or visit midshoreresourceparents.com.