'It really is life-changing': Island foster mom aims to inspire other families
Watching Jessica Bennie’s family interact is seamless. The children play and one helps another.
You can’t tell which are Jessica’s biological children, and which are foster children.
It’s a Nanaimo-area family which also includes goats, chickens and horses. The horses are a big part of helping the foster kids connect and flourish.
"It’s such a healing tool to be able to offer these children that come in," said Bennie.
She has two foster children, a three-year-old boy and two-year-old girl.
Both come with special needs, and the family knew it would be a challenge for the little boy to reach milestones as quickly as other kids.
So Bennie got him up on the family horse, Jack.
"I would ride with him on my lap and that’s kind of where we started. He was just grinning ear to ear and loves being up there and just walking around and running his fingers through the horse’s mane and fur," she said. "It just warms your heart when you see that and you know they are building that connection and that bond."
Building not just a bond, but also core strength, which Bennie credits with getting her foster son moving physically.
"We weren’t sure whether or not he would ever walk and now he’s running," she said, choking up, "Sorry, it’s huge."
With two teens plus two girls already making up a big family, it might sound like a lot to take on two foster kids – but Bennie said it’s worth it.
"The most amazing thing about fostering is just seeing the children blossom and come into themselves after experiencing some of the things that they go through."
She said people seem so concerned with how the other kids in the family would react to adding a foster child into the mix. Bennie’s daughters took time out from teaching their foster siblings how to groom the horse to allay those concerns.
"It’s fun to have them be with us and brush the horses," said eight-year-old Selah.
Her sister Halie, 11, said they love helping their foster siblings, and she believes teaching them how to handle the horse is part of that.
"It’s important because if they don’t have confidence with animals they might not have confidence with anything, really," she explained.
The decision to foster didn’t come out of the blue. Bennie knew exactly what kind of a difference it could make in a child’s life, first-hand.
She was inspired by her mother.
"My mom is an amazing woman, and she, I’m going to cry already, she fostered over 150 children over 25 years," said Bennie.
She was one of those foster children, but her mother then adopted her.
"She’s a saint, she really is. Just so unconditionally loving, patient, kind," Bennie continued.
One of the most valuable lessons she learned from her mother was that none of the foster kids was ever made to feel different.
She also knew she was meant to foster when she found out later in life that she had an aboriginal background.
At any given time, about two-thirds to three-quarters of the foster children in the B.C. system are indigenous.
Bennie is hopeful more indigenous families will become care-givers and she places high importance on teaching children about their background and traditions, even asking for family songs, so she can do singing, payers and drumming with them.
"It’s the children’s identity," she said.
She said she knows people are scared it would be too emotionally difficult to foster, but insisted it’s not as hard as they may think. All you need is room in your home and your heart.
"It gives you a sense of helping your community and children in need. It really is life changing."