Atrium Health Nurse

Nursing | one year ago

Fostering Care Beyond the Hospital

Hakeem Sanders is a health care technician by trade. But his role as a caregiver extends far beyond the walls of our facilities. As a registered foster parent, Hakeem has fostered more than a dozen children, even providing emergency support and a safe place to stay for patients in his care.

When we care for a patient, we aren’t just caring for the individual – we are caring for the entire family. As a health care technician in the emergency department at Atrium Health, Hakeem Sanders’s role is to assist nursing staff in providing care to our patients, helping keep the patients comfortable and communicating with them about their care. But sometimes that care extends beyond the walls of our facilities.

During one of Hakeem’s recent shifts, a patient with young children came into the emergency department in very serious condition. When the patient was admitted, there was no one else to care for the kids. A social worker was contacted and began looking for arrangements for them. That’s when Hakeem volunteered to care for the children himself. It wasn’t a sudden decision for Hakeem. He’s been a registered foster parent for three years and has fostered 16 children in addition to caring for one of his own and is currently working through the adoption process. He’s also helped care for several children outside of fostering. Because Hakeem was already a registered foster parent with the state, the offer was processed quickly and Hakeem took the children home with him, ensuring the siblings stayed together.

“These children are amazing – they all are,” Hakeem says. “One of my main concerns when something traumatic happens in a child’s life, is to make sure the children stay with their siblings. It makes it a little easier for them.”

When a longer-term placement option for the children fell through, Hakeem again offered his home as a safe place for the children until the patient is well enough to take them back into their care. 

“As a foster parent, you are supporting children at a difficult point in their lives,” Hakeem explains. “Your job is to keep them safe and to make sure they know they matter and are loved.”

Like many Atrium Health teammates, Hakeem’s calling to health care started early. When he was just 8-years old, he helped care for a family member following surgery – even learning how to clean and bandage the wound.

“I love people and caring for them,” Hakeem says. “I love the feeling of being helpful and being able to make a difference in someone’s life.”

As a teenager, he helped care for additional family members and after graduating high school, he trained to become a registered medical assistant and worked as a caregiver for a company providing in-home care services for seniors. Thanks to his medical training, Hakeem even once saved an infant’s life by performing CPR, and was recruited by Fort Mill rescue, which eventually led him to Atrium Health.

But he’s always had a passion for mentoring young people. In high school, he spent his free time volunteering at local schools and daycares, helping children with their schoolwork, which led him to mentoring on a wider scale. But he wanted to do more. That’s why Hakeem and his partner became foster parents.

“All children need stability and love,” Hakeem says. “You have to have a lot of patience. All children have different struggles and deal with them differently. As a foster parent, you have to be able to adjust.”

Children sometimes stay in foster care for a year or more before reuniting with their family or being placed in a permanent arrangement. It’s not always an easy process.

“If a child is new to foster care, referrals are sent to different agencies about the child or children and the family,” Hakeem explains. “Then a foster parent agrees to take the child in. If they’re already in the foster care system, referrals are sent out until a foster parent agrees to take care of them.”

Hakeem loves to spend his free time with his ever changing and growing family, eating and playing games. (Though he admits his guilty pleasure is going to the movies by himself!) He also hopes more people will be inspired to consider fostering and the positive impact they have the chance to make on a child’s life.

“All children deserve love,” Hakeem explains. “My advice to new foster parents would be to get ready to adjust and try to have plenty of patience. Love the children as if they were your own. Most importantly, never introduce them to others as your foster kids. They are your family. And you are theirs.”