"We’re a stepping stone"

Colorado foster parents, Roseann and Anthony Prieto have been involved with Savio House’s “Treatment Foster Care Oregon” program for nearly a decade. Roseann and Anthony both worked in youth services, diversion programs and substance abuse treatment. They have parented more than 20 young people, some of whom have struggled with substance abuse or been involved in juvenile justice programs.

We sat down with Roseann and Anthony and asked them about their experience as foster parents.

Q. What made you decide to become a foster parent?

My husband and I worked for a really long time at Denver Area Youth Services. I started in 1994 and did substance abuse treatment for adolescent boys and some work with pregnant adolescent girls. My husband worked there too, helping youth get job experience, do community service to work off fines and get their GED.

Someone we worked with said “Oh, I wish you could be foster parents.You guys would be awesome.” Eventually, we both switched jobs, but we were still interested becoming foster parents.

We were certified in 2008 and we’ve been with Savio’s treatment foster care program the entire time. I really like it because it's evidence based, it's really consistent and there’s a lot of support.

Q. You’ve parented a lot of teenage boys. Why this group?

We normally ask about teenage boys because my experience with teenage boys is that they're always forgotten. If you take, for example, Christmas time. Everyone wants to give to the little kids or they'll give to the pregnant females, but the adolescent boys are forgotten. That's always been difficult for me because I've always worked with them, and my husband did too. We want to try to give and support that population.

Q. Many people would be intimidated by teenagers, especially a teenager who has been involved with juvenile justice, how do you handle it?

When I talk to people who are thinking about doing foster care, they think the kids are bad. We don’t see that. We see their strengths and build on their strengths. If you focus on what’s missing or what’s scary then the kids won’t be able to change.

You also need to make them feel welcome. Feel like part of the family.

They're coming into a home that they've never been to with people that they don't know, and they have to come and sleep here and take a shower here. It's scary. They don't know us, but once they get to know us the scary kid becomes just a kid.

Q. When you see difficult behaviors, how do you respond?

There’s a honeymoon period. Some behaviors don’t happen until after the first 30 days, but it’s good when that happens because then you know what needs to be worked on. When you have a child who starts to show these tough behaviors you have to try to understand them.

Listen to what they’re saying. There is something on their mind that is creating fear. You’ll pick up on little tidbits about their childhood. What it was like for them to grow up. They’re still trying to understand that.

Q. Do you stay in touch with the children and teens you’ve cared for?

Yes, our home is always open and it has always been that way. There's always something going on. There are always kids. It's always loud. There's always food in the kitchen.

If they need to see us or to talk to us, all they have to do is drop by. When you come into the house, you’re a part of the family.

It's hard, though, when they go home. The parents usually say, "Oh, thank you very much for everything you've done for my son,” and we appreciate that, but we also keep in mind that we're a stepping stone, and there's another kid waiting to take advantage of that stepping stone to go home, too.

Q. What do you think makes a foster parent successful?

I think an openness is important, because if you get a kid and you show judgment of their behaviors or judgment of their background, or anything like that, there's not going to be a bond. 

The biggest part of our success is the program we work for. The TFCO program at Savio House is so supportive and structured that we get to focus on being a parent and we, including the kids and their families, are not alone.

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