Elizabeth “Liz” Shuman has been a single mom to 16 children over the last 11 years. The kids — usually middle and high school age — arrive at her Asheville area home struggling with mental health and behavioral issues.
Liz shuttles them to therapy and counseling appointments. She makes sure they take any prescribed medications. She ensures they are attending both school and church. She teaches them life skills like cooking, finding a job, and household chores.
“I’m a professional parent,” she says. “That’s my job title.”
Liz is a full-time therapeutic foster parent. Her work is different from that of a more traditional foster parent. Liz has gone through additional training and is equipped to take children diagnosed with conditions like ADHD, anxiety, and depression, bipolar disorder and anger issues.
Unlike what most people think of as fostering, the children who stay with Liz aren’t typically moving on to an adopted home. They may return to their families who are better able to care for them. Some may need more treatment at a facility.
All of them keep in touch with Liz.
“The kids will be here and say they hate it and can’t wait to leave, but they come back,” Liz says. They show up at church, call her out of the blue, or drop by her house. “That is rewarding. They are going through a lot of struggles, so you think they are going to walk away and never look back. And, yet, they do.”
Liz also gives the kids a faith foundation while in her care. Some of them have never been to church. Some hate God because of what has happened in their life. But at Seacoast’s Asheville Campus, they feel accepted and loved. She says Seacoast’s casual, “come as you are’’ vibe is perfect for her kids.
It’s impossible to know if her foster kids will go on to live a Christian life, but she’s done her part in giving them a head start. “You can only do so much while they’re here,” Liz says. “It’s knowing you’ve planted the seeds. You may never see the fruits of your labor. You just know God is going to take care of it later on.”
Being a safe haven for struggling teens was never part of Liz’ plan. But it was part of God’s plan for her. An animal lover, Liz had fostered plenty of dogs, but she’d never even thought about fostering children. Then, God started dropping hints. Liz picked up a magazine and saw an ad for therapeutic foster parents. She heard about it on the radio and saw ads on TV. “It was not something that had ever come to mind before. But everything except some neon lights was saying, ‘Look into this.’”
In July 2010, Liz was licensed as a therapeutic foster parent. The next month, she had her first foster child, a 12-year-old boy. She recalls looking at him in the rearview mirror as they drove home, realizing she was entrusted with his life. “It was daunting and awe-inspiring,” she says.
Even though Liz hadn’t considered this path initially, she can look back and see how past jobs and experiences laid a foundation for this season of her life.
“What God does is he puts you where you never thought would be your calling. And then he provides,” Liz says. “There is nothing I’m left without in doing this. It’s totally taken care of. I’m blessed beyond anything I could imagine. When you find yourself smack in God’s will, he will take care of everything. That’s really awesome.”