Foster

Retired nurse wins Foster Parent of the Year for Fairfax

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) has been working with child welfare agencies local to the DMV area since 2003 to compile annual lists honoring the region’s dedicated foster parents. Their 2022 Foster Parents of the Year included Fairfax County resident Sue Christenson.

“I don’t do it to be recognized. I do it to make a difference in somebody’s life,” Christenson said about the shock of receiving the award. She retired as a psychiatric nurse in the late 80s and has been a foster parent with the county for 14 years. Her home is a haven for infants, thanks in part to her healthcare career.

“I had wanted to be a nurse since I was a little kid,” Christenson said. She attended the School of Nursing at Old Dominion University while her husband was stationed in the area. “We had a psychiatry rotation and I absolutely loved it.

“My husband and I had thought about fostering, but at that point, we would be moving to a new assignment faster than most of the children were being moved out. I thought, ‘we can’t do that to a child,’” she said.

Once they settled in Fairfax County after moving to Germany for a few years, she joined Alexandria Hospital on a trial basis and wound up being a charge nurse on the evening shift for about a decade. Christenson then went to Mount Vernon Hospital and retired from there after several years.

Her husband passed away after she retired, so all the plans they’d made together went out the weather and she had to make new ones. “Do I want to join a bowling league? I thought, ‘this retirement stuff stinks,’” she chuckled.

She read about being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in the paper, but still wanted something more involved in lives than paperwork. Christenson then read about the county offering fostering classes, so she went for it. Shortly after completing the courses, she fostered a teenager.

There’s an elementary school behind her home so she told Department of Family Services that she could take younger kids. They gave her a newborn and she has gotten them ever since. “I don’t care if they’re purple, pink, or plaid. That doesn’t make any difference to me,” she said about the kids.

Christenson added, “The goal of fostering is to return to home. I worked with the families as much as they were willing with visits, calls, questions, and things like that.”

With her last foster child, the mother designated Christenson the child’s godmother. Christenson now sees the family once a week for pizza nights at each other’s homes. She has been contacted by the families after fostering on many occasions, getting updates on how well they’re doing. “It’s things like that that just blow you away,” she said.

Regarding any challenge in the process of loving and letting go, she said, “I don’t think about it like that. It’s just a little one who needs snuggles and love and I can do that. It gives me so much pleasure.”

Part of the pleasure is in educating others on how they can be a foster parent. She recalled a memory of passing by an older couple who asked about the baby she had at the time and how they could do what she did. Before saying goodbye, the man asked to bless her baby. “He kissed his fingers and then he touched her forehead and said, ‘God will always be with her,’” she said.

“People always assume it must be a young couple that fosters. It doesn’t have to be a couple, and they don’t have to be young. I’m 79!” she emphasized. “[People] figure they couldn’t possibly do it because of age, race, or whatever, but that’s wrong. They need loving, good homes for these little guys and if that’s what you can provide them then go for it… If you’ve got the time and you’ve got the love, what are you waiting for?”

For more information about fostering, please visit Foster Care and Adoption | Family Services (fairfaxcounty.gov)

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