‘I never got to say goodbye’

Realities of fostering: Gabriel Byrd’s experience

Byrd+teaching+Geometry+to+his+6th+period+students.+Students+describe+Byrd+as+a+caring+and+helpful+teacher.

Ariana Castaneda

Byrd teaching Geometry to his 6th period students. Students describe Byrd as a caring and helpful teacher.

By Alexa Bu and Kate Griffiths

He grabs his keys and runs toward his car. He needs to get home as quickly as possible. All he wants to do is say goodbye to a child he and his wife had been fostering for three months. Thirty minutes later, he arrives at home, but he’s too late.

His wife shakes her head. Defeated, he heads to his bedroom and starts crying. He just learned that his infant foster son had been taken from him.

Gabriel Byrd and his wife Heidi Byrd were planning on adopting their first foster child, an infant. The foster agency assured them that the child had no family that would take him. However, that was incorrect, as a surprise family member stepped up to care for the child.

FCA and Spikeball Club sponsor, husband and father Gabriel Byrd has one biological son, 3-year-old Noah, and has fostered seven children with his wife.

“It’s easy to live in your little happy bubble and think the world is going great until you step out into those dark spots where kids are taken from their parents,” Byrd said. “We had the resources and the means to do it so [fostering] was our way of giving back and honoring God in the ways we could.”

Byrd said that he had his own experiences in Child Protective Services as a child, allowing him to empathize with those kids.

“It’s really bizarre to me that the government is…willing to give us money to take care of [these] kids when they can just [give] money to the parents to help take care of their kids,” Byrd said.“[If] they devoted some money to accountability and to helping out the parents, I think that’d be a better use.”

According to Byrd, taking children out of their home environment scars them.

“The impact that it has on children is so severe,” Byrd said. “That pattern [of changing environments] is going to devastate [them] to a point where [they] won’t be in a good spot.”

He recalls a recent experience with fostering a five-year-old boy from Liberty, Texas.

“He wouldn’t let it go [of his mom],” Byrd said. “He was crying and scratching [my] face because he just wanted to be with this mom so desperately.”

For Byrd, a big factor in deciding to foster was his faith.

“Not that I wouldn’t have done it [if I wasn’t Christian], but I wouldn’t have done it with the right perspective,” Byrd said. “I just want to give all that [I] can, helping kids get where they need to be.”

For Byrd, fostering hasn’t been an easy ride though. He experienced instances where kids would steal his personal belongings.

“I had my 18-year-old [foster child] steal $700 from me on two separate occasions, using manipulation and lies, and so that was really unfortunate,” Byrd said.

On top of that, he is often frustrated with the foster system, where on one occasion, the agency did not fully explain the extent of an autistic child’s needs.

However, despite the challenges, fostering children has been immensely rewarding to Byrd.

“I may not be able to see the fruits from any of the kids that [I ] fostered and I’m okay with that,” Byrd said. “Maybe [I’ve] planted the seed, [that] another person will water, and [eventually there will be] a flower that you didn’t get to see but you were a part of.”

Byrd has fostered newborns to 18-year-olds. He believes in the importance of opening his home to older kids as he claims they have a bad reputation in the foster system, leading to less people willing to open up their homes.

“Unfortunately, older kids do get a bad rap, so we wanted to make sure we went that direction with fostering,” Byrd said.

Whenever Byrd takes in a new child, he always takes the child shopping so they can pick out something they want. It has become a ritual for him to buy foster children new sheets every time they arrive at his home.

“You don’t know if those kids have had [the] opportunity to make decisions,” Byrd said. “Rather than just being handed things and saying, ‘This is yours’, we loved taking them to look at bed sheets [since] you gotta sleep with those.”

Mindful of the vast cultural backdrops of the kids he fosters, Byrd takes the time to learn about different cultures and incorporate them into his household. At school, his former and current students describe Byrd as a caring teacher who also takes their identities to heart.

“Mr. Byrd is really supportive and a great teacher to talk to if you need something,” sophomore Camille Lasics said.

Lasics isn’t the only student that has kind words to say about Byrd. Sophomore Erma Rosas also vouches for Byrd’s care toward students.

“Mr. Byrd is amazing,” said Rosas. “He really cares for his students.”

Byrd said his biggest takeaway from fostering is the perspective that he gained on life.

“It only takes a moment for you to go into a house like that [for] you [to] realize the severity of the need,” Byrd said. “If you could kind of get past your comfort [zone] you could be such a big light for kids who don’t have [homes].”

This story was originally published on Three Penny Press on December 7, 2021.