An Unlikely Foster Parent?

A single, retired man is not the typical person that comes to mind when you think of a foster parent. However, foster father Paul Patterson broke this stereotype and the tough exterior of a local teen in foster care.

Paul is a man of integrity with a heart for children. He has worked with youth and served in law enforcement before retirement. As President of North Port Knights of Columbus, he invited a speaker from the Sarasota YMCA’s Safe Children Coalition to speak about foster parenting. Paul was so moved by the need for foster parents in our community that he decided to become a foster parent himself.  

Paul Meets Sam…

Sam, age 13, entered foster care as a victim of physical abuse at the hands of his father and was living in a shelter when he and Paul first met. Described as a troubled young teen with poor social skills, little respect for authority and anger issues, Sam rarely attended school and was sent by truancy court to an alternative school. He refused to cut his hair and wear anything but dark, heavy clothing that hid his body and his face. 

At their first meeting, Sam expressed his disdain for police officers. After learning that his potential foster father had worked in law enforcement, Sam was unsure of what his home life would be like; but the two bonded quickly and both agreed to give it a try. Sam was Paul’s very first foster child, and both were anxious. On Sam’s first weekend in the home, Paul took Sam with him and his grandkids to Disney World in Orlando. It was Sam’s first ever vacation, and he didn’t stop talking about it for months. Shortly after, Paul took Sam with him to several professional baseball games. Sam began a baseball collection and started talking about the possibility of joining a baseball team; something he had never done. Sam soon requested to get his hair cut and began wearing gym shorts and tank tops. He started to look healthy and was proud of his appearance.  

Sam was placed with Paul near the end of his 5th grade school year which, by all accounts, he was destined to fail. But things began to change with Paul in his life. Paul began working with Sam on his grades and catching up on his homework. Over the next few weeks, both Paul and Sam dug deep and Sam’s attitude, grades and social skills improved exponentially. The result… Sam went from being an F student to earning all A’s and one B. He made the Honor Roll and received accolades from his teachers for the drastic improvement in his behavior and effort in class. Sam received awards for his art work, perfect attendance, and was promoted to the sixth grade. Sam was also singled out by his bus driver who reported how proud he was of Sam for being the bigger person when he witnessed Sam control his temper, endure and report mistreatment by other children; whereas the “old Sam” would have fought without a second thought. Over the summer, Paul worked diligently with the Sarasota County School Board to advocate for Sam to be mainstreamed to his districted school. Several meetings, emails, and discussions later, the School Board agreed that Sam could return to regular school. 

Perhaps the greatest irony is when asked about a future career Sam says he wants to be a police officer. From loathing law enforcement to contemplating it as a career is evidence of the transforming power of a caring foster parent.

Sam was eventually reunified with his parents and Paul has remained in regular contact with him and his family. Paul’s work with this young, impressionable child has changed Sam’s life for the better. It has also enriched Paul’s life knowing that he made such a powerful difference.

Foster parents of all ages, races, genders and family types are needed for children in foster care. The Safe Children Coalition strives to train and license a diverse population of foster parents who want to make a difference in the life of a child or teen.

"I am not afraid to grieve. I am afraid of what will happen to these children if no one took the risk to love them” – Foster Parent


We have a great need for safe and nurturing foster homes to care for children in need in our community and to assist families in healing and getting back together.

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