James and Sarah Braxton have been foster parents in Arlington since 1984. Recognizing their 35 years of fostering, and unwavering dedication to doing it right, an award for excellence in fostering was created in their name.
Photo by Eden Brown.
Heidi Kaplan has been a foster parent for Arlington County since 2015. Kaplan came into fostering initially wanting to help children in her community and not necessarily wanting to adopt; she also thought that she would be better suited in fostering children ages 6 through 9.
Since she originally started fostering three years ago, Kaplan has welcomed two school-age children into her family unit. She helped to bridge the gap with their birth families and continues to be a source of support to them today.
When Kaplan was asked to welcome a sibling group of teenagers into her family, she accepted the challenge, and in September 2017, that sibling group joined Kaplan’s family. The sibling group goal has recently changed to adoption and Kaplan is currently in the process of adopting them.
Kaplan was recognized on May 20 for going beyond expectations by keeping the sibling group connected to their family of origin, maintaining cultural connections, and even taking Spanish classes to learn how to better communicate with their family.
Kaplan is active in Arlington’s Foster Care Program, by supporting outreach and recruiting events. Most recently she participated on Arlington Foster Care Program’s PRIDE panel for prospective foster families, where she was able to provide her perspective about fostering and adopting teenagers. She continues to be a source of support to other foster families by providing respite services, so the fostering families can take a break if needed.
Kaplan has done all this as a single parent. She said her mother, who attended the event with her, has been supportive all along, and while long distance (she lives in California), she said the children are looking to her more and more as “grandma.”
Like many adoptive parents, Kaplan said people always tell her what a great thing she is doing, and she always tells them, “What the kids give me — love and trust — and watching them grow up — is the great thing.”
James and Sarah Braxton were also honored during the dinner. The Braxtons have been foster parents with Arlington County DHS Child and Family Services for 35 years. Non-stop. They have contributed to the Arlington community by taking care of vulnerable children and their families, while raising three children and adopting a foster child. Over 35 years, the Braxtons have parented hundreds of children. They were still doing it as they received their award: waiting at home were two teenagers they are fostering, meeting a critical need in Arlington for fostering teenagers.
The Braxtons say the secret to their successful parenting is to let the children know what is expected of them and that there are consequences for not meeting those expectations, but they don’t lay down too many rules or go in for draconian punishments. They are supportive, but firm. “Like the case of one of ours right now, he came down late and missed the bus to school. I told him the phone had to be plugged in downstairs from now on, that’s it.”
The Braxtons began being foster parents just as some of the first impactful child welfare laws were being put in place, like the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. There have been numerous legal, welfare, and practice changes since 1984; the Braxtons stayed abreast of the changes. They rode along with the changing expectations of foster parents and learned to “bridge the gap,” a “new practice” Sarah Braxton had been doing all along, just following her intuition.
The Braxtons parented toddlers, school-aged children, and teens. They helped manage loss and parented children through very challenging behaviors. Sarah Braxton has the admiration of the entire foster family program, who refer to her spirit, determination, and insight, and give her husband, James Braxton, plaudits as well. They refer to his unwavering guidance and support for the youth who come back to their home to visit. As the award was presented he was praised for being the extra set of eyes, the different view, the calming presence that makes the Braxton home and family work.
Arlington Foster Program is further honoring the couple by naming an Arlington County Child and Family Services foster parent award in their honor. The “James and Sarah Braxton Excellence in Fostering Award” would be given annually to foster parents who exhibit the attributes demonstrated by the Braxtons. Fostering for 35 years straight is not one of the requirements, but it does demonstrate how, for the Braxtons, fostering is not a burden, but an added joy in their lives.
Foster parents, especially for teens, are always needed at DHS. Sixty percent of children in foster care in Arlington County are above the age of 12. Between the ages of 18 and 21 is when teens age out of foster care. The average age that a young adult leaves home to live independently in most American homes is 26.
For more information, see: firstname.lastname@example.org or attend the next information session: Tuesday, June 4, 2019 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Call: 703-228-1550.