For Patrick Foley, Washington D.C.'s 2009 Pride march was a life-changing event.
Then a single gay man in his mid-50s, Patrick was walking through the streets of D.C. enjoying the celebrations, when he noticed a table set up by Child and Family Services. They were looking for gay singles and couples to house gay teens in the foster care system.
Patrick had grown up in a large family with two wonderful parents, three brothers and seven sisters. Although he said they didn't have lots of the “extra stuff” their friends had as kids, they never doubted that they were loved. “I think every kid deserves that,” Patrick beamed.
When he started fostering, Patrick was still working 70 hour weeks as a hotel manager. But he found a way to make it work. He took the state-required foster parenting classes every Saturday for ten weeks, and he decided to foster older youths who could live with his busy schedule.
“People have told me they could never raise teenagers,” Patrick said. “Personally, I would never want to raise an infant! Neither one is easy, they just require different skill sets. When I started fostering, I needed someone who could let himself into the house after school, fix a snack, start their homework, all before I got home. Teenagers have enough independence to do that, and if you show them you trust them, they won't let you down.”
In March 2010, Patrick welcomed the first of five gay foster youths into his home. 16-year-old Rashard had been raised by his grandfather, but he had been turned out of his home for being gay. Since his grandfather would not agree to terminate his parental rights, Rashard asked Patrick if he would obtain legal guardianship over him instead, and Patrick of course said yes.
After taking in Rashard, Patrick decided to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for other gay foster care children as well. The CASA program allows volunteers nationwide to complete training that lets them advocate for neglected and abused children in court.
“I became a CASA because I knew how difficult it was for them being gay,” Patrick explained. “At that time especially it was very difficult to find homes that would be accepting.”
In April 2012, Patrick took in another gay Black 16-year-old foster kid; Eric. And in summer 2013, 16-year-old Emmanuel joined their growing LGBTQ+ family.
The following year, Patrick was advocating in court as a CASA for Isaiah; a young gay teen who had experienced a tough time in the foster care system due to his sexuality. Isaiah ended up as the fourth boy to join Patrick’s clan.
“Isaiah was being raised by his great-grandmother, but she got ill,” Patrick explained. “His mother had died, his dad was incarcerated, so he went into foster care. He knew he was gay. And he wasn't treated well in the foster system, at all. I started as his CASA. When he found out I was a foster parent, he asked if he could join my family.”
A few years after he’d fostered four gay teenage boys, some of whom had since become adults, Patrick’s friend asked him if he could do it all over again, what career would he choose?
“Without a moment's hesitation, I said I'd become an advocate for kids in foster care,” Patrick admitted. “That answer surprised me, because I had a successful career managing hotels, including being past-president of the Virginia Hotel & Lodging Association, and serving 14 years on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Hotel & Travel Association. I decided since that answer came so easily, I needed to make it happen, so in 2015 I left the hospitality industry behind.”
In 2017, Patrick took in his fifth gay foster youth Western, who arrived right before his 15th birthday.
On June 22nd 2021, more than a decade after he fostered Rashard, Patrick and his sons will attend their final court hearing to officially be adopted. Three of them have decided to change their names.
“I think they need that legal permanency,” Patrick said. “I think it’s important to establish that. Even though they know they are already my sons, and they always will be. In fact, in our family we have a special toast; ‘To Family. Forever. For Always. No Matter What!’"
While he’s adopting his sons as adults, Patrick said the process isn’t much different to adopting a child. Although he did have to create his own adoption forms to submit online.
As the Foley family looks forward to becoming official on paper, Patrick said they are also picking up the pieces after the pandemic.
Covid-19 was a challenge for most of his sons. With the exception of Emmanuel, who is serving in the Army in Georgia, the others are living at home with Patrick.
“My oldest son Rashard was working as a restaurant manager, and saw his restaurant close,” Patrick said. “My second son, Eric, had just landed a job in a hotel, only to be laid off. Isaiah thought he had found his dream job, but Covid shut that down too. My youngest, West, graduated online, and was cheated out of a real prom and graduation.”
As a loving father and guide to his sons, Patrick said it has been extremely hard to watch them all go through their individual struggles over the past year.
“It’s been difficult,” he said. “I try to keep them motivated. They are just like brothers,” he added, smiling. “Some days they get along very well, some days they hate each other.”
Patrick admitted that life as a foster parent has its challenges.
“My five sons are wonderful kids, but each one has been a challenge at some point,” he said.
“I know I cannot raise my son's the way I was raised because our backgrounds and life experiences are so different. When things get rocky I remind myself that we can get through this, and hopefully, we can find a life lesson to help them grow.”
Since he left the hotel management game, Patrick has been keeping incredibly busy. Not only with his own family, but also by volunteering in his local foster community.
For the past 3 years, Patrick has been co-chair of the Child & Family Services Agency Parent Advisory Committee. He’s on the D.C. Family Court Education Workgroup for teens who are in the criminal justice system, and he’s a member of several workgroups with the Foster & Adoptive Parents Advocacy Center.
He also became a co-facilitator teaching the NG PRIDE curriculum for people in the process of being licensed as a foster parent in D.C., and he serves on the D.C. Council's Citizen Review Panel for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
“I somehow manage to keep busy!” he joked.
As a trainer for other potential foster parents, Patrick said he’s happy to report that the state curriculum has changed since he first signed on to foster in 2010. Now, in D.C., there is a law requiring foster parents to take a class on LGBTQ+ teens.
“During our training I always let future foster parents know; ‘If there is any reason at all you have a problem accepting an LGBTQ+ foster child, you need to be very honest and say so right now so we don't place someone with you who has to be removed from your home,’” he said. “We don't want to increase that trauma. It’s something we proactively engage with now.”
Patrick said he and the other facilitators at foster parenting classes in D.C. will now inform potential parents that LGBTQ+ kids are coming out at all ages, and even younger than before.
“So we say, if you have a foster child in our house who is 9 years old and you think everything is fine and then they identify as LGBTQ, what are you going to do? Are you going to throw them out? If that's the case, you're not suitable for this,” Patrick said. “Maybe you need a younger child. In D.C., the child takes precedence over whatever your objections may be.”
To other single gay men who may be considering fostering LGBTQ+ teens, Patrick said it does mean letting go of the “comfortable life” you've set up for yourself, and taking a giant leap of faith. But, he said he considers it a fantastic opportunity that, without a doubt, has made him a better person.
“I’m a better man because I know they're watching me and I have to set an example and I have to show these guys what's possible,” he said. “It's been a fantastic experience. When these little lessons dawn on them all of a sudden, to sit back and think ‘yeah he got it,’ it’s just awesome. My only regret is not having started fostering earlier. If I had room in my house I'd take 10 more!”