Foster parents still going strong after 22 years
February 25, 2021
Jan and Renee have been foster parents for 22 years. They began their journey in Hawaii and continued after moving to the Western Slope of Colorado. Over the last 22 years, they have adopted nine children and youth, many of whom are now adults. They have parented many others, sometimes for a short period of time and sometimes for longer. Currently, they have six children in their home including two biological grandsons, one whom they have adopted and one whom they are in the process of adopting.
Many of the children and youth they have cared for have grown and many have reunified with their biological families, but still call and keep in touch with their ‘ma’ and ‘pa.’
“It might be 10 or 15 years ago that they lived with us, but we're still mom and dad or ‘ma’ and ‘pa’ to them. They'll always be our kids, no matter who they live with or what their last names are or what their ethnicity is or background, they're just our kids,” said Renee.
Jan and Renee have always been willing to take on challenges. Whether it is sibling groups or children with high medical needs or behavior issues, they take it all in stride. Renee’s many years as a foster parent combined with her experience as a medical assistant in psychiatric wards and homes for people with developmental disabilities has helped her handle all types of issues. Although older and bigger kids can seem frightening to others at times, Renee realizes what seems like being defiant often comes from a place of fear.
“I think the biggest thing that we've learned is that when a kid is being disruptive, when they're freaking out, when they're acting out it's because they're scared. Screaming, yelling, and crying might mean: You need a mom right now. You need a hug. You need that processing time. Maybe you just need a break. Maybe you need a snack. I mean, it's so simple, but it could be a glass of water and it could be solved. We had to figure out each child,” said Renee.
Renee realizes that what seems like a big deal can be de-escalated with a simple solution. Renee and Jan are often able to defuse situations with humor or with some help from the family pets. The family recently welcomed a litter of German Shepherd puppies, and just picking up a puppy for a few minutes was all it took to help calm a child who was feeling stressed.
“If you can be silly sometimes that stress is completely alleviated and their body has softened. My husband is really good at that. When things get stressful, he can just totally flatten it with a good joke. At that moment, you need to just deflate all that stress. It just blows my mind just how simple de-escalation can be, but you need to catch it before it gets out of hand,” said Renee.
Renee and Jan could not have been foster parents for so long without the support they receive from their family, their church, their agency, caseworkers and the community of foster parents they have surrounded themselves with.
“Our agency, Ariel Clinical Services, is there when we need them and they help problem solve and give us ideas. We also have a complete team for each kid,” said Renee. The kids, she says, know that they have a lot of people in their corner and that awareness is empowering.
Renee also meets with other foster moms in her area who get together to support each other through foster care, adoption and caring for special needs kids. “It's a huge support system just to know that you're not by yourself. And maybe some of those kids that you're struggling with, they might have one just like it at home. So you do come back with a sense of, okay, it's doable,” said Renee.
Although Renee and Jan have been fostering for over 22 years (taking some breaks along the way), they aren’t planning or retiring any time soon. They plan on continuing until they can’t anymore.
“We feel like it's a calling. God gives people certain gifts and we just love kids. We fall in love with the kids and then they go off to do other things. And just to be a part of that is just too rewarding, not to,” said Renee. “As long as there are kids out there that have needs and we're upright and breathing, we will probably be doing this.”