You could say that Dr. John DeGarmo, ’07, is the voice of foster care. He has listened to foster children and parents for 14 years and has spoke across the country on foster care for five. Through his heartfelt delivery, he captures and shares the essence of what foster care is really about and what children go through.
“There are some misconceptions out there in regard to foster parenting, and we need to breakthrough them,” said DeGarmo. “I also hear a lot of people say that they can’t be foster parents because it hurts too much to give them back. I would hope this would happen. Your heart is supposed to break because you’re the only parent that those children have ever had. Children need for their foster parents to love them unconditionally.”
According to DeGarmo, who received a Doctor of Education degree in education administration from Walden University, there are more than 450,000 children across America in foster care on any given day and not enough foster parents to go around.
During a 14-year span, the DeGarmo family has had more than 50 foster children come through their doors.
“The reward is found in helping each other heal,” he said. “It’s also watching a child laugh, smile and tell you he loves you for the first time. One boy who never spoke and lived with us for five months told my wife Kelly, ‘I love you Mommy.’ Those were his very first words.”
He writes for the Huffington Post as well as Foster Focus Magazine, Fostering Families Today Magazine, online publications and has written seven books and 10 ebooks.
His inspiration for the book “A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story” came to DeGarmo as a result of him fostering children.
“When kids come into a new home, they’re so terrified because they are often taken away in the middle of the night from everything they know including their mom, dad and sometimes siblings and even their stuffed animals,” he said. “They cry themselves to sleep. When we went through this as foster parents, I didn’t have the answers so I wanted to write a book that would help answer their questions and ease their mind, and the anxiety they have when they’re moved into a home of strangers.”
At one point, the DeGarmos had as many as 11 children live in their home located in Monticello, Georgia, including three of their biological children. Kelly is a Doctor of Nutrition who juggles her career and the kids. Fostering an average of nine children at one time, a typical day for them involves getting the kids to school, to visitations, to their birth parents, to doctor’s appointments, changing diapers and more all while helping these children heal.
“There are lots of tears and happiness,” said DeGarmo. “It’s just a very busy house on any given day. It’s nonstop. These children are coming and going through our lives and present many different experiences. We literally fall into bed exhausted from the day by 10:30 or 11 each night.”
For foster boys from ages nine to 18 in middle Georgia, he has established the non-profit organization Never too Late providing shelter and support for them.
“At Never too Late, we try to help boys before they age out of the foster care system,” he said. “Typically, what we see is that when boys hit about nine years of age, no one wants them because everyone wants a baby or a girl. As a result, they just bounce from home to home.”
DeGarmo and his team provide a home for these boys to encourage healing, hope and love.
To those considering becoming foster parents, he said, “You don’t have to have a big house, a lot of money, you don’t have to even be married. You have to advocate for children. If you have a heart for children, you can help them in some way.”
As a recognition for putting other people first, the DeGarmos were selected to receive the Every Day Hero Award from Up with People out of 22,000 alumni from around the world. They also received the 2016 Jasper County Citizens of the Year Award.
Although these awards are treasured, to DeGarmo nothing beats the reward of advocating for foster care.
“I realized at one point that I loved working with other foster parents and sharing my own experiences and what the research has found,” he said. “People with tears in their eyes come back to me and have said it’s so good to have someone understand what we’re going through. I love doing what I do.”